Prometheus has received very mixed reviews since its opening, and I can understand that Alien fanboys are very protective of the original cult films; however, Scott’s latest is a complete triumph. The opening sequence, featuring panoramic views over a beautiful landscape is entirely breathtaking, and the huge orchestral score from Marc Streitenfeld is perfectly fitting to such a grand opening.
Prometheus is the story of doctors Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) whose discovery of alien contact depicted in ancient cave paintings inspires Weyland Industries to fund a crew of 17 aboard the ship Prometheus, to investigate ‘our creators’. Shaw and Holloway refer to these alien lifeforms as ‘engineers’, believing that they engineered the human race, and the crew’s mission is to locate and prove the existence of such beings.
The crew is made up of a rather well-worn ensemble of characters, including the cowardly Fifield (Sean Harris) and Millburn (Rafe Spall) as comic relief, a rather disappointing role for Spall who is a good actor, yet seems typecast as the geeky sidekick. Although familiar science-fiction types, the cast are a product of superb casting, and their interpretations of the roles are completely original. Rapace shines as Shaw, a strong heroine who is entirely believable in the role and brings raw emotion to her portrayal of a woman torn apart by the loss of her lover as well as the destruction of her hopes and theories on life. The scene in which she performs a caesarian operation on her own stomach is grotesque and uncomfortable, yet gives us insight into the strength and determination of her character – without providing unnecessary sexual stimulation, as is such a regular feature of contemporary science fiction.
Michael Fassbender’s performance as David is the stand out achievement of the film in terms of acting talent, and he has been named by some as the greatest android in cinematic history. His subtle facial expressions, and doe-like passivity portray multiple emotions, despite androids being supposedly incapable of feeling. What is remarkable about Fassbender’s performance is his ability to portray naivety, innocence and scheming malevolence with one expression. He fastidiously encompasses the type of technology that humans in science fiction fear: the uncanny ability of a machine to outgrow its creator and learn things humans thought they had made impossible, such as emotion. There are references to David’s inability to feel or portray ‘sarcasm’ throughout the film, yet the audience is left believing he is far superior to his creators and impervious to their control. An oddly memorable moment occurs when we first meet David, and he is shown bleaching his hair – something entirely illogical for something programmed to deal with only the practical, yet adds depth to his character, and an uncanny feeling for the viewer.
The cinematography throughout the entire film is stunning, and the costumes, set design and make up are all completely original and unique, as well as being entirely contemporary and up to date for the genre. Swiss surrealist artist H R Giger also had some input into the film’s design, influencing the epic techno-gothic sets, after receiving an Oscar for his work on Alien (Best Achievement in Visual Effects). Scott’s direction is unparalleled here, and ahead of story, cast or anything else, is the star of the film, as his camera work and overall design and vision are clear and coherent, as well as expertly tailored, throughout.
The costume design is stylish and modern, yet not distracting as it is so simple. The design also throws in some red herrings, such as the inscrutably similar appearance of Fassbender’s David and Charlize Theron’s Miss Vickers, which misleads us to believe she is also an android (although her character seems less capable of feeling than his). The CGI aliens can only be described as beautiful, despite their fearsome size and demeanour, as their translucent skin appears ethereal, and there is something almost fragile about them.
What worked brilliantly for this film too, was its release in 3D. Personally, I have been disappointed with many 3D ventures, as they have promised much and delivered little, but here, Scott delivers in abundance: the planet upon which Prometheus lands is rendered in fully tangible 3D, with the third dimension creating a wondrous depth of field, rather than gimmicky objects flying out at the viewer. The planet’s caves come to life through an amalgamation of 3D technology and artistic camera-work, and this is particularly visible during the mapping process, when small drones are sent to document the geography of the caves.
These drones are just one of the many example of futuristic gadgets and tools used by the crew in the film, which also include shockingly realistic hologram messages and the infamous Automatic Surgery machine, all exquisitely designed and created for the film, and correspond to create an overall artistic template which serves as a consistent motif throughout.
Prometheus is one of those films that doesn’t come along often: elegantly designed, gorgeously filmed and accompanied by a fantastic score, its merits do not end there. Scott has assembled a superb cast to tell a diverting and entrancing story which captures the imagination as well as the emotion (a rare achievement in the genre) for the entirety of the piece, resulting in the triumphant return of a truly great director to the genre he does best.