Prometheus

(2012) ** 1/2 R
124 min. 20th Century Fox. Director: Ridley Scott. Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Patrick Wilson, Benedict Wong.

/content/films/4348/1.jpgWhat to do with Prometheus? If you're not a science-fiction or horror enthusiast, the answer is simple: ignore it. Genre fans will see this movie whatever anyone says about it, but I offer this humble advice: lower your expectations. Ridley Scott's Alien was a masterpiece of claustrophobic horror, but this prequel (forget all the coy "is it or isn't it?" marketing: it is) isn't a masterpiece of anything, and your enjoyment of the film, if any, will come easier with that knowledge.

Part of the problem is the pointlessness of prequelizing Aliens. It's not an artistic decision, believe me. Returning to the proverbial well is simply what you do these days if you're lucky enough to have had something like career longevity in Hollywood. If you're Sylvester Stallone, you revisit Rambo and Rocky. If you're Harrison Ford, you revisit Indiana Jones. If you're Tom Cruise, you revisit Top Gun (coming to a theater near you, you betcha). And if you're Ridley Scott, you revisit Alien and Blade Runner (also coming soon). Oddly enough, Prometheus is not unlike what you would get by grafting Blade Runner onto Alien, a Frankensteinian genetic hybrid of science fiction, action, horror, and existential themes (and yes, this "new" film shares all of its themes with Mary Shelley's patently superior novel Frankenstein or A Modern Prometheus). All Prometheus satisfies, though, is curiosity, about what a Ridley Scott Alien film would look like in 2012. It looks like this, still H.R. Giger-esque, but sleeker and with lots of fancy digital effects. Also: full to (ahem) bursting with stultifying plot holes. Can holes make something burst? Just one of many deep questions Ponderous—err, Prometheus asks of its audience.

In broad strokes, the plot involves a ship of fools, called Prometheus, that sends an android and a team of sixteen humans in cryosleep to a far-flung galaxy, circa 2093. They go because a pair of romantically involved researchers—Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) have, Chariots of the Gods-style, identified a trend in ancient paintings around the globe: a figure pointing to a star cluster as if in invitation (dum dum dum!). The scientific exploration mission, sponsored by the Weyland Corporation, reaches the alien world in question, where the humans find mortally dangerous organisms and, in heedless haste, rush in where angels fear to tread and in flagrant disregard for scientific and archeological standards (at one point, these researchers grave-rob with not even a moment's hesitation about consequences of biohazard or cultural insensitivity to the alien race they've traveled light years to meet). The characters are consistently lunkheaded in their decision-making in ways it wouldn't be so hard to write around if anyone cared to spend the time, but apparently screenwriters Jon Spaihts (The Darkest Hour—ohh) and Damon Lindelof (Lost—uh huh) didn't or couldn't.

Scott's picture shows signs of wit. For one thing, in 2093, they're still watching Lawrence of Arabia, or at least androids are, specifically Michael Fassbender's David (a nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey, which didn't monkey around with fearful concessions to its audience); amusingly, David takes style cues (and conquest assuagement?) from Peter O'Toole. Passing exchanges of dialogue threaten to go somewhere interesting: banter between Rapace and Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron and Idris Elba, Theron and Guy Pearce—all aboard. There are a couple of breath-holding bits, including a harrowing surgery sequence. And there are some hauntingly beautiful special-effects shots, including those in a graphically interesting and pointedly mysterious prologue built around a Promethean figure before sending us into the story-proper's dark and sallow murk (making this, by the way, a counter-intuitive choice for 3D, which pops mostly in holographic overlays).

Structurally, Prometheus largely replays Alien, but as if by wandering through it like a museum and asking, "What if we raised this question—oh and this one—and the other?", then wandered out into the daylight much like the audience will, dazed and directionless, no closer to answers. Are we to applaud the filmmakers for going headier with the material, proposing questions about the purpose of life and death and faith and the relationship of creator and creation (like one character's child-like lament "What did we do wrong? Why do you hate us?")? I suppose, and one can easily read the picture as simply saying: the meaningless universe doesn't care about your questions, so you're an idiot to ask them (David quotes Lawrence, “There is nothing in the desert and no man needs nothing”). That read of the film makes Shaw the biggest chump since Psycho's Marion Crane, who at least had the good manners to die for her unfortunate ignorance.

One could just as easily read the movie as being an unfocused dilettante, a mash-up of genre thrills and serious pretentions, of an intriguing science-fiction premise and an old-news franchise, resulting in just that: a mash, a slurry made from red herrings. I guess if you take out what Scott has called "stands of Alien's DNA," there's no getting there from here, fiscally speaking. Maybe Prometheus is deep, after all, with Weyland Corporation standing in for 20th Century Fox in an allegory for Scott's artistic aspirations: funding and undermining his ambitions at the same time.

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Bluray

Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1

Street date: 10/9/2012

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Prometheus comes to home video in a few flavors, one of which is a 2-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack. A/V quality is stunning, with rock-solid black level, perfectly calibrated contrast, pinpoint-sharp detail, and rich, dark hues contributing to a well-resolved, dimensional image—even in the frequent dark scenes (extremely low light sometimes results in temporary graininess amidst the shadows). Further marking Prometheus as a state-of-the-art release is the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround mix, which likewise offers pinpoint clarity; the mix excels in delivering a potent sound design ranging from subtle ambience to thunderous effects, while keeping dialogue ever above the fray.

Bonus features pale in comparison to the four-disc edition, but all the same Fox here includes enough substantial extras for a special edition in its own right. First up are an audio commentary with director/producer Ridley Scott and an audio commentary with writer John Spaihts and writer/executive producer Damon Lindelof. Coming off of a ton of promotional interviews, Scott is raring to explain the project's development, his intentions, his approach (including 3D), and something of the film's deeper meaning; Spaihts and Lindelof, in separately recorded comments, go into similar topics from their unique vantage points, with a greater emphasis on (and a certain amount of caginess about) thematic intentions and character development.

Fourteen "Deleted and Alternate Scenes" (HD) come with optional commentary by editor Pietro Scalia and visual effects supervisor Richard Stammers: "Arrival of the Engineers" (2:45), "T'is the Season" (1:07), "Our First Alien" (:51, HD), "Skin" (:51), "We're Not Alone Anymore" (1:32), "Strange Bedfellows" (3:11), "Holloway Hungover" (1:35), "David's Objective" (:31), "Janek Fills Vickers In" (3:43), "A King Has His Reign" (3:56), "Fifield Attacks" (2:14), "The Engineer Speaks" (4:23), "Final Battle" (5:51), and "Paradise" (5:20).

The Peter Weyland Files (18:57, HD) comprise four promotional shorts that tease the film by taking place within the universe of the film: "Quiet Eye: Elizabeth Shaw," "Happy Birthday, David," "Prometheus Transmission" and "TED Conference, 2023."

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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