Prometheus should have been released on July 4. Like a raft of Independence Day fireworks lighting up the dark sky, Alien and Blade Runner director Ridley Scott's return to sci-fi burns bright with beautiful details and spectacular promise—in its first 90 minutes, at least—then flames out fast at the end. It seems the veteran director and his writers couldn't decide what they wanted this picture to be. Is it a moody “origins of Man” think piece set in deep space, a la Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, or a blood-curdling creep show akin to this film's most obvious forefather, Scott's 1979 futuristic horror classic Alien?
That's not to say there isn't a lot to like about the film. Any science fiction fan or even devotees of Lawrence of Arabia (more on this later) will find a few things to love about the movie. This isn't a disaster, but a deeply flawed must-see movie. Often, as is the case here, there are too many ideas because there are too many characters. Some dozen scientists are aboard the ship, and for whatever reason lost on audiences, Scott and Lindelof chose to focus on two the two most boring of the bunch, Noomi Repace's blank-slate, cross-clutching scientist and her roguish geologist boyfriend played by an overacting Logan Marshall-Green. Though Repace's “surgery” scene is a remarkable achievement in blood-pressure escalation, her character ought to have been relegated to subplot status.
Far better, more proactive and closer to the crux of the film's themes are Charlize Theron as the all-business manager of the expedition to this unknown planet, and Guy Pearce (sporting horrible “aging” make-up) as the wrinkled tech mogul who funded the mission looking for death's antidote. So constantly distant and cold, crewmembers theorize that Theron is, in fact, a robot. I won't spoil the true nature of her character or her reason for being on the mission, but I can say that, when it comes to robots, Michael Fassbender's “David” is alone worth the price of admission. With his Bowie-esque Man Who Fell to Earth swoop and a flat, soft voice that belies a disturbingly untapped core of emotion, Fassbender's android creation grips every scene he is in with calculated tension. He's only following orders, right? Not knowing his agenda, or if he's even capable of having his own goals, is one of the geeky thrills Prometheus offers.
The other is that with two years alone aboard the ship while the human crew slept in hibernation, “David” spent that time learning dozens of languages, spinning a basketball on his finger and shooting hoops like Pete Maravich, and watching Lawrence of Arabia ad nauseum . He even dies his hair to resemble Peter O'Toole's and constantly quotes the movie in perfectly relevant situations.
Wedging Fassbender's robot into the middle of the warring moralism of the God-fearing Repace, the athiest scientists and the blatant money-lovers aboard as the film's central—if, ultimately, soulless figure—would have been a genius stroke for Scott.
Still, “David” leaves his mark. And the special effects, set and prop designs—from the guts of the spaceship to the all-terrain suits and the cavernous otherworldly tunnels of the alien planet—are always awe-inspiring but never unbelievable. They truly are sights to behold. As crew begin to explore the planet and encounter various forms of alien life, this planet's connection with Earth evolves into something more sinister than they could have imagined. But just as the film threatens to give viewers what the scientists have said they want for two hours, that would be answers, more B-movie monster chases and mind-numbing action creeps in as Scott races us to the finish of what now looks like little more than a curious appetizer for the meatier sequel. I’m okay with films that don't provide any answers. I like to think. But I like to think that the filmmakers know the answers themselves, even if they don’t reveal any. In the case of Prometheus, I’m just not sure.
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