Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review - Prometheus

Off to probe the farthest corner of the galaxy for the origins of humanity flies the spacecraft Prometheus in Ridley Scott's ambitious prequel to the Alien franchise he himself spawned 33 years ago. That original classic is revered for being both a grade-A creature feature and a legit science fiction with strong thematic undertones, but while Prometheus reaches for the same proverbial stars (much like the ancient pictograms that lead our inquisitive scientists on their voyage), its philosophical quandaries and narrative ambiguities are as vexing as they are thought-provoking.

Noomi Rapace (sans dragon tattoo) headlines as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, who theorizes that the aforementioned pictograms – discovered in the art of different civilizations the world over – are evidence that humans were created by something beyond our world. “Engineers” is the term she and her husband (Logan Marshall-Green) coin for our hypothetical creators, and their thesis is enough to convince optimistically superstitious trillionaire Peter Weyland to finance an interplanetary mission to literally meet our maker. Anyone who's seen even one of the previous Alien films knows that going into space in search of answers is seldom a good idea, and indeed, this entry proceeds to follow many of the same beats as its predecessors. We are introduced to a mostly expendable crew of characters, including one synthetic personality, the robotic David, played with calibrated nuance by Michael Fassbender, the clear standout of the cast. Naturally, there's enough mistrust and hidden agendas to pique our suspicion until the bad stuff starts happening to these curious cats.

It must not be disregarded that, like good science fiction should, Prometheus poses questions and speaks to themes of non-fictional relevance. Motifs about creation and self-sacrifice abound, gleaned from allegory to Greek mythology and Christian dogma. But should mere consideration of such lofty topics merit acclaim? There's something to be said for how effectively a film's director and writers (in this case, Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, the latter of TV's Lost) can evoke thematic currents, and that's where it becomes all too easy to peck holes in Prometheus. Individual scenes feel like they were very much conceived with the intended subtext in mind, but there is very little logic to connect those scenes in a coherent way. For the audience, it becomes a confusing game of connect the dots, riddled with plot holes, baffling character motivations, and LOTS of loose ends. We cannot see the constellation for the stars, as it were. Worse still is the odour of contrivance that accompanies many plot developments, born out of convenience for the sole purpose of setting up some later “payoff”.

But if all you came for was a reliably icky piece of summer eye candy, there's enough here to satisfy, even if the face-palm writing still proves a distraction. One cannot argue Scott's aptitude as a craftsman, and Prometheus looks and sounds great. Arthur Max's darkly beautiful production design borrows key strokes, as on would expect, from H.R. Giger's legendary concept art, melding the organic and the technological with just enough variation so as to distinguish this planet from LV-426 of the first two Alien installments. Richard Stammers' visual effects are top notch, and the aural elements are densely mixed to serve Scott's atmospheric mood-building.

If Prometheus is merely part of a larger celestial mystery (which we are set up to believe that it is), it may reveal itself in time to be the audacious sci-fi it wants to be. But until such time when we have the luxury of context and retrospect, it remains a bewildering and unenlightening monster mash which would rather give the illusion depth by posing heady questions than actually demonstrate depth by probing them for answers.

** out of ****

No comments:

Post a Comment