2012-06-10

Movie Review: Prometheus

Last night, I had the pleasure of watching Ridley Scott's newest movie, Prometheus.

I had some trepidation going in. Most of what I had read in terms of movie reviews was predominantly negative. For example, the website where I check movie times (Cinemaclock.com) had a viewer rating of 6.0/10.0; Rotten Tomatoes has it assessed at 74%. Many of the various reviews I had read on the internet had shared a unanimous assessment of the movie: visually impressive, but ultimately disappointing.

I couldn't disagree more. I loved this movie. It was everything I hoped it would be.

Perhaps the disconnect here is rooted in the fact that different people are drawn to the various Alien movies for different reasons. The original film, Alien, is an unquestionable piece of classic cinema, one of the great movies hailed as iconic of both science fiction and horror film-making, and often touted as a feminist triumph, thanks to Sigourney Weaver's brilliant performances. But there is much to that movie. Not only did it give birth to the modern "science-fiction/horror" genre, it also created a visual template for what aliens might look like and how they might behave. (This impact can be seen in dozens of copycat movies and video games, perhaps most obviously in the "Contra" video game series, but also in games such as the "Metroid" series, and innumerable low-budget alien films.) Alien cut the mold. It had such wide appeal that it must surely mean millions of different things to the millions of people who love that movie.

Any sequel to a movie of such far-reaching significance is sure to disappoint anyone who doesn't share the same vision of the original movie as the film-makers themselves. Aliens, the first sequel, disappointed many. Alien 3 disappointed many more. Alien: Resurrection disappointed even more people. Nevertheless, the films have a strong following, a bit too sizable to be considered "cult." These movies never disappoint when it comes to the bread-and-butter of a great Alien movie: Plenty of gore, suspense, violence, doom, special effects, and brilliant performances by actors who haven't quite broken into blockbuster movies just yet.

The film franchise has always been a bit light on back-story and plot intricacies. The franchise has always left a great deal of loose ends hanging. Where many critics pan the Alien film franchise in this department, I consider it one of the major strengths. Great horror films remain mysterious, right to the end. Great franchises leave you with a desire to see more. Leave the mythos-building to the comic-con junkies; the rest of us don't want these kinds of movies to expand into an extensive Marvel Universe. We want gross and terrifying aliens, and lots of them. We want death and destruction.

Put another way, the reason I personally love the Alien franchise is not for its complex story-telling, but rather for its aesthetic. These are dark, gloomy movies in which the aliens always win, but for a strong and solitary character whose emotional desire to survive is too strong to be defeated by a greasy monster.

Prometheus delivers on all accounts.

True, as a prequel to the franchise, one goes into the movie expecting answers, back-story, and mythology. To provide these things would be satisfying indeed for the comic-con crowd. But it would also be a major violation of the Alien aesthetic. Instead, Scott stays true to his artistic creation, brilliantly crafting the same sort of cinematic landscape the other movies has. Like the others, it starts out hopeful and soon becomes dreadful. Like the others, there are no real winners.

But the movie also adds some great new elements, namely new aliens. Unlike some of the previous films in the franchise, there is also an additional level of conflict in the story: It's no longer (wo)man vs. beast, it is now also (wo)man vs. man, (wo)man vs. self, and (wo)man vs. beast.

The icing on the cake here are the great performances by Michael Fassbender and Guy Pearce. Fassbender is clearly a rising star, and he delivers a character that simply steals the show. Pearce has long been a favorite actor of mine, and his performance is simply jaw-dropping. Many people less familiar with his work may not even recognize him. He plays his character so differently than his characters have been in the past that he steals every scene in which he plays.

He also delivers what is perhaps the greatest moment in the movie: "There is nothing," to which Fassbender's "David" character delivers and equally show-stopping reply.

For fans of the Alien franchise, it is tough to see where this movie goes wrong. I give it full marks on all accounts. Highly recommended!