These are my initial impressions fresh from watching Prometheus. It’s not the kind of review I normally do – but since I can’t remember when last I saw a film on it’s opening night, I thought I’d join the conversation.
From my quick scan of the reactions on twitter, it’s clear that many people are disappointed and confused by the film. The disappointment is perhaps easier to understand than the confusion, because although it contained one or two (terribly annoying) narrative implausibilities, the overall plot was not at all hard to follow. In fact, it is stock-in-trade genre fair:
There are also the familiar themes from the Alien trilogy: the blurred boundary between the grotesque and the beautiful; the human, humanoid and monster; the inability of science and enterprise fully to control and master the brute forces of nature. All of these are well-handled in the script and direction. So at a thematic level at least the charge that it doesn’t make sense doesn’t quite stack up.
While I can see that some people may have questions about the motivations in the overarching backstory, I felt all of that exposition was adequately dealt with and set up the sequels quite nicely. While I wouldn’t necessarily engage in this type of commercialism myself, I didn’t feel that it compromised the story as a standalone piece; nor did I feel in any way cheated.
And I think the main reason for this is the technical brilliance of the film. It’s hard not to admire the splendour of the production design, visual effects and CGI in the film. They’re so good they make the case against 3D even stronger for me. Scott uses 3D mostly to create depth. The subtler uses of this – for instance, to fill out the spaces in and around the expedition’s helmets – are well done. Strangely I also admired the audacity Scott showed in seemingly dimensionalising the clip from Lawrence of Arabia. However, the more obvious uses of 3D – especially when stereoscopy is used to create the illusion of shallow depth of field – brutally exposes it’s shortcomings and only comes off as bad rear projection. Perhaps this is what rear projection felt like when it was first used: clunky, inauthentic and gimmicky. Certainly this is the way I feel about 3D at the moment. Even in the hands of someone with the visual flair of Ridley Scott.
Finally, as far as the cast are concerned, no-one could really touch Michael Fassbender’s performance. Consistently interesting, his vocal characterisation is given depth by his precise movement and physical presence on screen. Idris Elba and Charlize Theron make the most out of what are fairly one dimensional characters on paper. And I was really pleased to see Benedict Wong have a few minutes on screen. He deserves bigger roles. At the moment, I’m not sure what to make of Noomi Rapace in the lead. There was something of an obvious mismatch between her character and her accent, which was itself inconsistent throughout the film. (Why does Dr. Elizabeth Ward, whose father spoke with such a fine American accent, have a non-descript non- English accent.) And although her big scene is very memorable, it was fairly easy to see coming and didn’t entirely convince that the threat was a near certain eventuality. I felt it was also immediately downplayed by the implausible way in which they handled the end of the scene. (I won’t say anymore about it.)
Much of the disappointment I think stems from the prolonged and extensive online marketing campaign run by the distributors. As the Little White Lies review notes, when you’re watching the trailer of the trailer of the trailer, you know anticipation’s running high. Perhaps there’s a lesson there for them. Too much hype can be a bad thing.
Overall, I would give Prometheus a 3.5 star rating. It doesn’t bring anything new or original to the Alien trilogy, but it is a good film: entertaining and visually impressive.