Prometheus (2012)

prometheus _ laser

Some films demand a second viewing. Usually they need to be reexamined so one can evaluate their true power and artistic integrity. Sometimes a second viewing proves to be a stronger experience or revalidates a film’s uniqueness in space and time. Unfortunately much to my dismay this was not to be the case with Prometheus. My first viewing was hugely entertaining. Blown up on a huge VMax screen I had watched the 2D version as I ultimately hate the 3D for all the wrong reasons it pretends to exist. Scott’s film was a strong filmic experience. But then I hadn’t watched a really rich and epic sci fi movie for a long time. This very impressive film worked upon first viewing for me but perhaps for reasons that were cleverly hiding its anomalies.

Back to 1979 through Dan O’ Bannon’s script and Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking images we had experienced a landmark work of sci fi. One can not avoid comparisons. If Alien mythology hadn’t existed then we maybe would be discussing Prometheus under a different light. Let me point out the good parts first. The intro of the film is highly impressive upon second viewing as well. It manages to imbue a sense of loneness through the vast territories it explores in a way that touches upon Kubrick cinerama. As the camera stops on the one figure which drinks a mysterious liquid that dismantles its structure, the director manages to play upon the psyche of terror constructing an unsettling image of cosmogonic proportions. This very first scene resonates for a long time as the movie’s narrative progresses. We don’t know what we have seen. We question the image and are puzzled by its inexplicable nature.

Noomi Rapace combining elements of masculinity and femininity exudes more sexual appeal than her predecessor Sigourney Weaver. She has stage presence and an almost exotic aura which paves the way for the film’s harsh environments that are about to be explored. Fassbender is blandly perfect providing an impressive performance in the role of a robot that loves to watch Lawrence of Arabia. Those nuances are due to Scott’s credit who despite the fact of working inside the melt pot of Hollywood he occasionally has some good ideas. Marshall Logan Green transmits a sturdy persona opposite Rapace’s sexual stance. Sean Harris’s paranoia counterweights well with Rafe Spall’s controlled masochism. Guy Pearce’s old fashioned make-up and geriatric play have a strangely attractive quality that counterbalance the film’s overall super high tech mentality.

The visuals are good. Sometimes impressively good. Sometimes not. The music transmits certain elements of awe and magnitude mainly through a mix of symphonic and industrial sounds. The presence of the Engineer and the revelation of the so long awaited space room and deacon guide our eyes through the sci fi paths that Scott has paved for us. So what seems to be the problem ?

The real problem for me lies not so much in the screenplay and its ridiculous scenes like the “space cobra” which is a prime example of utter waste in the whole picture and shows how shallow writing can be. The real problem lies in the overall approach that Scott chooses as a filmmaker in general. The characters are sketchily presented and evolved in a way that seems forced. The overall function of the screenplay seems contrived from time to time and probably has its share of defects. But apart from these constructive minuses, Ridley Scott’s problem is that he never seems to pause. We need time to watch closely and listen to and feel more to the heroes’ thoughts but this time never really comes in the editing room. For a massive work of this kind that presumes to be asking philosophical and existential questions, the least that a serious filmmaker would do is devote a few minutes of genuine commas and periods. This of course is not the case as seconds and minutes count too much for the movie’s box office value. It’s not that the film is too fast. It is that it rather denounces certain virtues of filmic pace and time. In a theme as grand as this it seems to neglect an approach of a more internally paced attitude. Alien and even the action paced Aliens had these real moments. Prometheus suffers organically.

The other major problem for me is that the whole concept of the movie borrows a kind of New Age philosophy which is quite naive at least in the way it is presented inside the movie’s huge canvas. This pseudo-philosophical naiveté dictates the whole approach to the visual style of the film. As a result we experience an ultra sleek high tech glow from costumed uniforms to sets to lighting that frequently  border on the kitsch. This work very simply is not as dark and raw as it should be. Design wise the movie has little percentage of H.R.Giger’s glorious world but again this was a decision Scott consciously made even after meetings between the two iconoclasts during pre-production. As it is often the case with big-time directors like James Cameron, their later work becomes more and more less dramatic in scope and attitude. With big money revenues comes a loss of internal pathos and agony. In general the screenplay of Prometheus needed something more than the alleged existential epiphanies of writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof present to us here. I wonder why in a scene that refers to all the supposedly greatest civilizations there is never a reference on the Greek mythology. Also why do the alien agenda is demystified through the concept of experiments that the engineers did with their technology ? Perhaps the answer to all of these lies in the casting that director Ridley Scott did as he chose the writer of Lost and Cowboys and Aliens for this epic attempt. A huge misstep from the early foundation of the picture. Scott needed to listen more carefully to his first orchestral piece of symphonic sci fi and construct a more solid work of art. It’s a shame Prometheus is flawed and highly uneven because it presented itself early on as a great opportunity to truly revitalize a long standing myth of modern cinema and reaffirm Scott’s status as filmmaker who once was one of the genre’s pioneers. Instead we watch a Promethean figure immense in sight and presence but with a plethora of defected parts. A mythic construction of horrific beauty and underlying terror that is devoured midways from the vultures it has created.

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