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CLASSIC Ridley Scott: Visionary, Disturbing, Exhilarating with a lot of BIG Questions,
This review is from: Prometheus (Bilingual) (DVD)
Everything about "Prometheus" is pure Ridley Scott. It's tone, it's originality, it's technical achievements, it's questions as well as it's controversy and it's perception in the public eye. Either you loved it or you were disappointed by it. The crux of the argument surrounding it's reception was whether it was a good "prequel" or a bad one. If there's one thing you learn as an appreciator of the controversial English director's work is to let go of your expectations and come to his work with a very open mind. Having a readiness and a willingness to have your horizons expanded a bit and yourself challenged to THINK ... while you're being entertained ... is the best way to come to a Ridley Scott film. Whether it be "Thelma and Louise", "Blade Runner", "Black Rain", "Kingdom of Heaven", "Gladiator" , "Alien" etc, or, "Prometheus", you can expect to have your expectations confounded a bit, your thinking challenged and provoked, your eyes richly feasted and your sense of wonder, even, bedazzled. "Prometheus" carries this tradition on in grand fashion.
In this powerful, controversial film, Scott goes beyond creating a mere "prequel" to the "Alien" franchise. He pretty much re-boots it, providing a much more profound philosophical base for it, and in the process, beginning a premise that could lead to SEVERAL intervening films that would take place before the time of the original 1979 classic. There's a lot more that can be told before the events on the ill-starred Nostromo.
The film begins with a visual homage to Stanley Kubrick. A crescent Earth viewed from space, stars twinkling all around, references the opening of "2001: A Space Odyssey" and sets up the thematic and philosophical basis for the film. Kubrick's ( and you could also say Arthur C. Clarke's ) film took a new THIRD position concerning the origins of life on this planet, particularly of the human race. Peoples' views of how life began on this world have traditionally fallen into either one of two camps - "Creationists" believe that God personally invented and made this world and all the life that's on it. It is also implied and accepted that that Creation is also unique in a universe of unlimited eternity. The other camp are the "Darwinists", who rally round the work of the explorer/scientist who basically saw life, all life, as a more random but purposeful selection and elimination of continually adapting species. Nature creates them and nature eliminates them solely on the basis of their strength, adaptability and methods of survival. The strongest wins. There is, however, a THIRD view, a much more controversial view, one that is growing and simmering under the surface of the general public's consciousness. While there is no name for it yet, that I know of, I would call it "Interventionism". It goes like this: life was here on the planet in a simple and primitive form. It had great POTENTIAL but was a long way from having anything remarkable about it. Highly evolved beings from another world, or worlds, saw this potential and intervened with their enormously advanced science and 'tweaked' us genetically, giving us, particularly we humans, a genetic advantage that could lead us ourselves to become highly advanced beings in the universe. They did this ... and then they left, carrying on throughout the cosmos, "planting seeds".
There is literature out there that lays out that theory and rigorously backs it up. One example would be Robert Temple's "The Sirius Mystery". The field is thought-provoking and extremely challenging. It would be an anathema to both "Darwinists" and "Creationists" because it directly explodes the notion of our uniqueness. Many believe ( because we "chose to" ) that seeing ourselves as some freak phenomena or special pet invention by the Deity is ultimately irrational and limited. So the possibility of this "Interventionism' is the philosophical and narrative basis of "Prometheus". Scott said that he preferred to make this a more 'thinking' picture and sought to pose some very big and quite challenging ideas. That he did in his particulary grand style.
As the introductory credits roll we gradully descend through the clouds of an unnamed planet and cruise over mountain ranges, valleys and rivers mostly bare or hosting grasses and basic plant life. Where is this, we ask? Then at the edge of a gigantic waterfall we see an enormous disc hovering low in the sky. We see a porcelain white alien, humanoid for sure, but definitely non-human, appear along the edge of the falls. He is alone and walks to the water's edge in a robe, removes his garment and opens up a mysterious metal canister which holds a seething, bubbling fluid that seems to crawl with something ominous. He ponders it for second and drinks it down. The fluid has an immediate impact. As he writhes about, his face and body seeming to collapse and lose it's integrity, the gigantic disk leaves, abandoning the figure and heading off into the clouds. The alien is in agony and collapses to the ground, breaks and falls into the torrent. A shot of his dissolving body and fluids leads to a macro view of his very DNA breaking up and mixing with the natural compounds and other DNA in the water that are native to the world he is in. The Earth has just been 'seeded'. Prometheus, in the Greek myth, sacrificed himself to bring humanity into the fold of the gods. Here an alien, sacrifices himself to the fledgling Earth, using his own body's dissolved DNA to combine with the new world's life. The "Dawn of Man", 21st century style.
Fast forward to the late 21st century. A team of archeologists and scientists discovers 3 millennia old cave paintings, strikingly similar to those in other locations around the globe, all showing smaller humanoid figures surrounding a much taller, humanoid who is pointing to a particular constellation of stars. Scientist/Idealist Dr. Elizabeth Shaw ( Noomi Rapace ), stands with her personal and professional partner Dr. Charlie Holloway ( Logan Marshall-Green ) looking up and the glyphs and says, " I think they want us to find them". It is both Shaw's wide-eyed idealism and corporate rapacity that drives the mission that becomes "Prometheus".
A pause, and then we see a large interstellar space ship racing deep into the unfathomable unknown of the cosmos. The ship is called "Prometheus", of course. What follows sets up the rest of the film's narrative and it lays out the familiar themes of the original "Alien". The ship is owned by a corporation, that corporation ( the modern day evil of the highest nature ) has a self-seeking agenda. The scientists have provided the 'purpose' while business provides the means. This time however, "The Company" ( Weyland Corporation, of course ) has a director on board. Her name is Vickers ( Charlize Theron ). She is the ultimate stone-cold corporate monster. Shaw and Holloway are the super genius scientists whose discovery lead Weyland Corp's founder, Peter ( Guy Pearce ) to fund the trip because of his own eccentric, dying wishes. Like Shaw, he wants to "know" and he also wants to be saved from his immenent death. An air of tension between Vickers and the entire crew develops and sets up the drama of what happens once they land on the life-sustaining moon they've discerned as being the home world of, what they call, "The Engineers". They do NOT find what they expected and what they do ... they wish they hadn't.
Like the original "Alien " mistakes are made, accidents happen, even life threatening sabotage occurs. People are endangered and disaster strikes in the form of 'infection', another major theme in film in the age of AIDS. Lots of dark, claustrophobic horror ensues. Bodies and minds are violated in the most horrific and perverse ways. Inexplicable mysteries are set up and NOT resolved. In the middle of all this and around whom all the drama revolves is another android figure, a staple of The Weyland Corporation - David 8 ( Michael Fassbender ). He is the first character in the film that we see and the sequence readies us for the complex contradictions in his character that make us wonder why he later does what he does. He appears as an innocent, a child, a dangerous experimenter, a ruthless opportunist, a heartless scientist, a wonder struck fan of David Lean's classic film "Lawrence of Arabia" and a corporate lackey. His motivations are never clear. Two contrasting incidents relay this ambiguity perfectly. When Peter Weyland's hologram says that David is the closest thing he's had to a son, David smiles quietly with visible pride and warmth. But then, in another scene, David asks Charlie to what lengths he would go in order to achieve his goals and Charlie answers that he would "do anything and everything". David smiles and cryptically agrees and then gives Charlie the fateful "drink". Later as the crisis escalates David coldly asks Shaw if everyone doesn't want to see their parents dead. Fassbender does a magnificent job of the character giving David a depth and complexity that is both subtle and thought provoking. Even though Rapace's Shaw is the prime mover and heroine of the story, it is really David who is the most complex and fascinating of all the "Prometheus'" characters.
When I fist saw the film in theatres I was confused by what appeared to be some gaping plot holes but on subsequent viewings the film makes a lot more sense. And it really is a film that warrants repeated viewings, like most Ridley Scott outings. Once again, you get a sense that one or two of the action sequences were imposed into the film at the studio's command. One of them in particular, the return of the 'infected' geologist to the ship seems a bit of unnecessary 'adrenalizing', if you will. It makes me wonder what the eventual Director's Cut will look like in the future. Scott has the misfortune of having his films dallied with or interfered with by studio executives and we may yet see a finer, less "Hollywood" version of this film in the coming years. "Blade Runner" is an excellent example of how different Scott's original vision was messed with until he was able to release the film the way he first intended it to be. And even then, the questions that his films provoke ( is Decker a replicant? ) are not explicitly answered. Neither were Kubrick's for that matter. "Prometheus" poses several intriguing ones ...
Is it possible that we are genetically engineered?
Could there be a 'blend' of Creationism, Darwinism and Interventionism in the future?
Why did "The Engineers" seed us, create us even?
Why did they reverse their decision and seek to destroy us?
Why does Vickers not run sideways out of danger when running from certain death?
Is Vickers herself an android and does the Captain actually find out?
What investment possibilities does Weyland Corp. see in this venture?
Why did David deliberately infect a crew member?
Why did the awakened "Engineer" react the way he did?
Why does David "creep" peoples' dreams?
What is David's motivation, in everything he does?
These questions are either there for you to figure out, or, debate, or they have answers that will slowly reveal themselves in subsequent viewings. There's no Hollywood spoon feeding here and that may part of the reason for some peoples' disappointment in the film. "Prometheus" is that wonderful species of film that offers up a good dose of adrenalin after a slow build up of tensions and foibles, drives one crazy with unanswered questions and gives you more than enough to ponder and think about. While it gives the goods that one expects - action, drama, stunning special effects, lots of good science fiction gobbaldy gook, it is also a somewhat disturbing pondering of a question that will nag humanity for a few more centuries, I suspect. It is a fascinatingly "dystopian" view of the "Interventionist" notion and in that - a thematic opposite of Kubrick's more 'ideal' philosophy of "Interventionism in "2001".
"Prometheus" is a great film. Time, I think, like it did with "Blade Runner", will show that Ridley Scott is WAY ahead of the game and that this film is one of his finest. It's not perfect, at least not in this version, but it's still a magnificent piece of work.