Review of Prometheus: Where earthlings fear to tread
By Gautaman Bhaskaran
British director Ridley Scott is renowned for his science fiction films that offer a heady cocktail of awe-inspiring supernatural elements and sheer horror. His landscapes are awesome studies in expansive desolation and his characters eerily strange.
Ridley's 1979 Alien both fascinated and frightened the viewer, while his 1982 Blade Runner, which blended science and noir detective fiction, became a cult work, despite the poor reviews it received at the time. Scott returns to the genre after three decades with Prometheus, this time in 3D, and with his trademark visually arresting splendour.
Elaborately conceived and mounted, Prometheus reminds us of the grandeur of the Chariots of the Gods and the supernatural dread of Alien, while exploring man’s almost compulsive obsession with possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. The movie also draws from man's relentless pursuit of his own origins. Who are his makers or “engineers,” as the characters in Prometheus put it
A 20th Century Fox presentation, running to 123 minutes, Prometheus opens in 2089 AD with an archaeologist couple, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace from The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo in the 2009 Swedish/Danish version ) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), who stumble upon a star map during their explorations. It appears to be an invitation from the “engineers," who predate the human race. Holloway is a sceptic, while Shaw is a believer, willing to brush aside centuries of Darwin’s theory. The cross she wears, and refuses to take off, is a telling indicator of her beliefs.
Following the discovery of the map, Weyland Corporation builds a huge spaceship, Prometheus, to take a team, including Shaw, Holloway and an android, David (Michael Fassbender, best known for his excellent work in Shame and A Dangerous Method), on a journey to a distant planet in hope of finding answers to the origins of life on earth.
The ship reaches its destination after a four year journey. The explorers are tasked with finding the engineers, but are warned not to get into a conflict with them. When they find the corpse of a giant alien, and its DNA matches that of humans, the Prometheus crew is exhilarated, unaware of the fate that awaits them. One such horror is a self-inflicted surgery by Shaw to get rid of a demonic foetus growing within her after a love-making session with Holloway.
Terror also comes in the form of giant reptile-like creatures which the team encounters, creatures who kill in gruesome fashion; two geologists meet this gory end. There is a fierce power struggle within the craft, every bit as terrifying as the uncanny storm raging outside. The fight is among three people: the ship’s captain, Janek (Idris Elba), his tough, no-nonsense boss, Meredith (Charlize Theron), and Shaw. The battles bear a resemblance to the face-off in Alien between Tom Skerritt and Sigourney Weaver.
If Prometheus (the Titan in Greek mythology who tried to make humans equal to the gods) manages to strike a trace of originality and stand apart from Alien, the credit goes to Fassbender (as the creepy, but likeable android who wants to be human, even copying the look of Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia!) and Theron (who gives her second great performance in a row after her turn as the wicked stepmother in Snow White and the Huntsman).
The great disappointment here is the absence of depth in the characters. A certain triviality permeates the narrative. Some weaknesses – which cannot be revealed — dampen the flow. Prometheus is also unusually verbose, unlike Alien, whose essence and beauty lay in its menacing and unsettling silences. Scott’s latest space odyssey is crammed with clichéd one-liners that sometimes tend to diffuse tension. The continuous debate on creation and creator fails to offer a convincing answer as to why one is bent on destroying the other.
An array of awe-inspiring special effects, however, makes up for these negatives. The visual design is intricate, and the shots of a planet in its early stages of evolution are mind boggling. So is the sight of a humanoid ingesting poison to see life at the very beginning of the movie. Marc Streitenfeld’s score also rises to a cosmic high, intensifying the sense of spookiness.
A sequel is guaranteed.