Tuesday, July 10, 2012


After waiting for what felt like forever for Prometheus to be released, I finally indulged in the 3D sci-fi fest yesterday. With the viral campaigns that sucked me in with fake David promos, and the increasing bombardment of teasers as the release date neared, I was primed and ready.  

As a young girl, I was a rabid fan of the original 1979 Alien film. Not only did I relish finally seeing a sci-fi film with a kickass female protagonist in Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, I also loved the psychological and emotional orchestration via both story and imagery that were achieved in that masterpiece. While I knew that this was a new story (kind of), with a new cast, I was hopeful that I would be treated to a whole new land of wonder. I didn’t know how Director Ridley Scott would out-do the fresh shock and awe of the original chestburster magic, but I was willing to pay to see him try.

With the very first scene of Prometheus, the mind-boggling cinematography and visual effects had me. The disintegration of an Engineer, with its pitch-perfect overtones of passing millennia and biological evolution, along with the emotion conveyed by this creature, was pure VFX magic. It set the tone for the over 1000 digital effects shots sprinkled throughout the film. Later, my eyes were wowed again by the digital orrery, the 3D hologram star map that is a centerpiece of the story and action, along with the ghosts of Engineers past who populated the downed vessel. My eyes also ate up the imagery fed to us via the pristine 3D shooting. It was crisp and precise in showing how the camera technology can be used to impart enormous depth, without ever going all superhero-flying-at-your-head mode. Even with the washed-out, bleach bypass drab blue/green palette, the RED Epic cameras, aided by the Element Technica Atom 3d rig, lent a visual there-ness that allowed the viewer to experience a feeling of having been dropped down into the world created by the film’s technical mastery. Locations, including Scotland and Iceland, were stunning enough to have become another character in the film. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski has talked up the fact that he is sold on the RED 3D Epic’s ability to shoot 5k at 120fps without compromising resolution. After viewing the final product myself, I’m gonna get on that bandwagon, too. (Full disclosure: My first film I directed was shot on the RED, 2008 version, and I have been a lover of the brand since then.) So, from first frame to last, the look of Prometheus was very much right on the mark.  

Then there's the story. And here’s where I jump off the bandwagon. While it might not be fair to compare Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw with Sigourney Weaver’s instantly iconic Ellen Ripley, how can you not? They both are the tough, resourceful protagonists on a space ship, who have to face some nasty peril in the form of alien body invaders, and fight like hell in order to live to tell about it. While Rapace seemed a little flat initially, I was won over a little when she is forced to use a mechanical operating chamber to give herself a C-section!! to abort the growing alien-fetus implanted in her, all while remaining awake!!, AND then she must maintain her wits enough to escape this most horrid and vile creature now outside of her body, but still within the chamber with her. She is one badass gringa! I only wish there’d been a few more scenes as intense as this one. As a whole, I’m left thinking that the much of the flatness comes from the script. There was a lot of ground to cover. We’ve seen battles and conundrums like this before, so none of it feels totally fresh. The story is a collection of down the rabbit hole cluster-fuckery that the crew of the ship is left to scramble to overcome. They don’t fair so well, and neither does originality. Michael Fassbender’s David is creepy and expertly played as the robot without emotion, but with more mental dexterity than robot’s we’ve previously seen in most films of this genre. This said, it’s hard not to think of David as the humanoid version of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the “character” of the ship computer HAL 9000. The over-arching feel, story-wise, is that the film is an homage to several other films that sci-fi-heads have loved. Ridley Scott is clearly one of those.

When Alien came out, much was made about the overtly sexual tone of the monster’s attacks upon the bodies of the crew. This is, to great effect, carried forth in this latest installment, as well. The oral invasion of each victim by the phallic creature, combined with the scary-teethed orifice, and the unwanted invasion of bodies as incubators, all goes right back to the rape imagery that left many a viewer of the original more than a bit unnerved. It’s an unthinkable death to asphyxiate via a huge snaky alien tentacle jammed down your throat. And even though we’ve seen this brand of death before, the horror of it still holds up. In fact, I think it will always hold up as pretty damn scary.

The surprising addition to this film that I don’t remember from Alien (or maybe I just need to go back for another gander), is the religion versus evolution debate. Much is made of character Shaw’s attachment to her cross necklace, and it’s functioning as the not-so-subtle connection to her spiritual beliefs, as instilled in her by her father. Robot David’s verbally challenging her belief system, and then also removing it from her (via his taking of the cross) at a crucial moment was the screenwriters' and filmmaker’s vehicle to posing the eternal question(s): Is faith primitive and naive in the face of science and logic? Is there a God or Almighty Creator? The film doesn’t answer these questions. Not really sure it was supposed to. And I don’t mind. What I do mind is that it seemed like an artificial add-on to the story, or maybe an unfortunate by-product of the edit. Seems with a little more subtly by screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, though, it could have entered the picture without it feeling like the action was stopped to bring the viewer this opportunity to ponder the faith question.

Clearly, this film was a huge undertaking. And while the $120M budget should have yielded a more finely-honed story to go along with the gargantuan visuals, I’m gonna forgive them. Mostly. Via the visuals provided by the effects shots and the cinematography, it was a ride, an event. And, in the final analysis, that’s what many moviegoers got on the Ridley Scott Express to experience. I just hope that with the inevitable sequel, the story and plotting are given as much attention as the visual effects.