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Prometheus - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B+
Acting: A-
Writing: B
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B+
Special Effects: A-

There's a moment in Prometheus that is very reminiscent of the final scenes in Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. It really only works for longtime fans of the Alien films, and represents a sense of coming full circle. It doesn't quite deliver to the same degree -- the connections are not quite as overt and direct -- but it's still genuinely exciting. Remember the "Space Jockey" from Alien (1979), the long-dead creature with the elephantine face? This tells us a lot more about him.

It's been said that Prometheus stands on its own as a film, even if you've been so unuckly as never to have seen Alien. This is true. I would argue, however, that having a working knowledge -- and, especially, love -- of the Alien franchise will deepen both your understanding and enjoyment of Prometheus. It'll also make it easier to overlook its somewhat disappointing shortcomings.

I, for one, was thoroughly entertained. Prometheus does not quite live up to the galactic hopes it elicited from fans of this futuristic interstellar universe, but it serves its purpose, and actually excels in some surprising ways. Suffice it to say that the acting is top-notch across the board, which is very rare in either science fiction or horror. The special effects alone make it worth seeing in the movie theatre; I was wowed by their rendering and their framing multiple times in ways that could never have the same effect on a television screen of any size.

Now, if there's any place where this movie falls short, it's in the story department, which of course is really the most important. When Ridley Scott made Alien, he really set out just to make a high-quality monster movie set in space, and he was so successful at it he made one of the most influential movies of the past thirty years. No such thing could be said of this movie, which touches on horror but tilts much more toward science fiction and delves perhaps a bit too much into theology. Here, we find out that "Space Jockey" was part of a race of humanoid creatures with connections to the very origin of human life on Earth.

It honestly gets a little unnecessarily convoluted. Worse, the script occasionally dips into Hollywood-movie tropes, thus preventing Prometheus from infusing this universe with the freshness it really needed. Do we need more expendable crew members who apparently exist only to trade throw-away one-liners?

At least these moments are relatively few and far between. And even though we have yet another key character who happens to be an android, Michael Fassbender as David may be the best one yet. His performance is uncanny; we never know exactly what kind of emotion he, as a machine, is really capable of, or what his motivations are, or to the extent some of his mysterious behaviors may just be programmed. His movements are hypnotically precise.

Really, the success of Prometheus -- and, in the end, it does succeed -- is due to the actors. Noomi Rapace, previously seen in the Swedish versions of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movies, is a scientist of faith (a contradiction? not according to this movie) who is leading an expedition to a solar system identified in a cave painting discovery in Scotland. Guy Pearce is Peter Weyland, himself (always in old-age makeup), namesake of the Weyland Industries always only referred to in the Alien films. Charlize Theron is all steely resolve as the Weyland Industries representative tagging along on this expedition, although I could have lived without the "big reveal" regarding her relationship to Weyland. Still, these guys and even the supporting actors commit to their characters so succinctly that they transcend any blips in story believability.

Speaking of which, my biggest complaint about this movie is probably a rare one: I don't like the specificity of its time setting, roughly 80 years from now. I just have a hard time believing in technology advancing to such a degree in that time that a company is actually terraforming other planets. It's much like movies from forty years ago predicting that we'd all be driving flying cars by now: it just isn't happening. This was why the lack of specificity in the early Alien films worked so well: you didn't have to think about exactly how far into the future it was in relation today -- only that it's supposed to be a long, long time from now.

But, okay, whatever. It's just a movie. That said, whether Prometheus on the whole really enhances the Alien universe is up for debate. It doesn't answer all the questions Alien raised, but it clearly links to them and does answer a few. And when it comes to those answers, there's something to be said for the mysteries that this movie cuts into. Prometheus has some genuinely gripping -- and requisitely disgusting -- sequences, but by filling in some of the backstory, the whole thing just can't be quite as scary, much as it tries to be. Most of what made the original Alien so frightening -- and it's the only really horrifying film in the series -- was what the characters, and by extension the audience, didn't know or understand.

None of the answers are clear-cut, mind you; they're just more oblique and raise more questions in a broader sense of the Alien universe rather than in the sense of the specific story at hand. Things like, where did we come from? Where did they come from? There's actually plenty here for die-hard fans to debate for years to come. But here, once again, we come full circle: it's the difference this movie will make to the die-hards versus newcomers and casual viewers of this kind of movie. Prometheus stands on its own without the other films as context, but for those with intimate knowledge of the Alien franchise and especially Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece, it's a different movie.

As a member of the latter group of people, that's what made Prometheus work for me, even with its faults. It built tension effectively, was shocking in just the ways I wanted, and kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. It doesn't live up to Ridley Scott's earlier work, and it had some potential that it didn't quite realize, but it's still the first truly worthy addition to this franchise -- even as a sort of sideways addition to it (as a sort-of prequel) -- in twenty years.

The Elephant Space Man isn't who we thought he was.

Overall: B+
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