Tuesday 5 February 2013

Prometheus: Or Ridley Scott remakes 2001 Space Odyssey in his own image

4 out of 5 stars

Prometheus is less a prequel to Alien - although it is - than it is a remake of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Albeit one that may ultimately deny 2001's Nietzschean origins and philosophy . It is certainly a film in Scott's image rather than that of  2001's original creator. I was going to call to this review, "Prometheus: or 2001 for the ADHD Generation" but thought it might suggest I did not like the movie,  although I do. Or even that it was a lesser movie , which it is not. Its just a very different type of movie. But why then this comparison? Not only has Scott himself compared his film to Kubrick's undenied masterpiece, but he has filled Prometheus with references to it: in the script, visually and even in the dialogue (Scot steals dialogue directly from 2001). It is even possible that Scott references Kubrick's movie more times then he does his own "Alien" - and he does that often enough as one would expect from a film set in the same universe. However, Scott's film is a very different beast, both to 2001 and Alien,  and people going to see it for its similarities to either maybe very disappointed.

Firstly, while Kubrick takes his usual leisurely approach to his narrative, Scott packs as much into a few minutes as any summer blockbuster. Much more so even than in Alien. Here the "action" is relentless. Special affects abound, as do explosions, "chase scenes" and out and out "gore". Add to this, that much of the movie takes place in a vast alien exterior (or should that be interior?)  means not only faster pacing then Kubrick but faster pacing even than Alien. Given this and that in Prometheus we lose the claustrophobia of the Nostrama together with H.G Giger's wonderfully, claustrophobic,  Lovecraftian set designs  and it would be easy to conclude that in the hands of even a good director we might have a poorer film. But this is not so.  Whatever Scott's faults in this movie - and there are certainly some - this is not one of them. And somehow, during all of the explosions, chase scenes and gore,  the film manages to throw enough ideas around to have lead to an entire industry of websites dedicated  to investigate and argue them.

Also, whereas Kubrick's film seems to be an exploration and endorsement of Nietzsche's philosophy of the √úbermensch, Scott's film may very well - especially I would suspect in the next parts of the expected trilogy - turn out to be an out and out rejection of it. The film starts with self sacrifice,  in this case the first "Engineer" who, by giving up his own life, generates  life on a new planet.  And this is a theme that runs throughout the movie. Self sacrifice is central to Prometheus' narrative structure and forward momentum. There are also persistent references to Christianity - the Prometheus lands on the alien moon LV-223  on Christmas day, The "Engineers" seem to have started their final plan (which for those have not seen the film I better not reveal) just after the Christian crucifixion (in an interview Scott has stated there maybe a connection) and this film's Ripley wears a Crucifix to which constant reference is made. And similar references abound

Nietzsche of course was famously critical of Christianity and its impact on civilisation - especially in the area of ethics and notions of sacrifice. Although people that insist Prometheus is ultimately a Christian work maybe sadly disappointed. In an interview about the movie Scott called religion "the greatest evil". If this trilogy is in anyway about religion or Christianity then it may turn out to be closely aligned to Gnosticism or the Christianity found in Richard Wagner's Parsifal (interestingly, the films central character, Elizabeth Shaw,  has a childhood memory that is to suspiciously like the Buddhas first encounter with death to be more than co-incidence. The Christianity in Wagner's Parsifal is very closely entwined with Buddhism - as influenced by Schopenhauer ).

But enough of the comparisons, and on to the movie itself.

Prometheus starts as a dark shadow moves across an unnamed planet very similar to an unpopulated earth. Slowly and majestically this shadow crosses an expansive landscape till it stops above a waterfall and related expanse of water ("In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters". Genesis). Standing above this waterfall is what the movie calls an "Engineer". One of the pilots of the craft from the first Alien film whose elephantine head we discover to be a helmet. He drinks from a vial and dies, falling into to the water from atop the waterfall his DNA begins to untangle and life is born.

We move forward in time and two archeologists,  Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway have discovered a cave painting in Scotland similar to many they have found in many other locations. This  consists of  an elongated figure pointing at a group of planets.

Again we move forward in time and space to find ourselves on the space craft Prometheus at the end of an nearly 3 year journey to reach the moon LV-223, believed to be the moon indicted in the cave paintings
During the journey the crew has remained in stasis, with only a strangely Laurence of Arabia obsessed  android, David (played splendidly by Michael Fassbender) to monitor the crew and man the ship. On arrival, the first to come out of stasis is the icy, unemotional, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron  in fine form).

The rest of the crew is then awakened and finally told why they are at their destination (echos of 2001 again). Following a survey of the planet an artificial structure is discovered. On investigation inside, they find humanoid statues, rooms filled with metallic cylinders, walls of alien writing, alien technology,  the bodies of dead "Engineers" and the beginning of what  they like to say in promotional material, "a race to save humanity from final destruction."

The script originally written by Jon Spaihts and then rewritten by Damon Lindelof in collaboration with Scott, keeps things moving adequately for even the most "blockbusting" of summer blockbusters, while throwing enough ideas around to stimulate some thought afterwards - even if it is nowhere as clever as one suspects Lindelof thinks it is. There is alas an over use of deus ex machina - especially in the final act although the criticism of most -  that the script leaves to many things unresolved and unanswered - is easily understood given, as I have noted, this is the first part of a trilogy.

Overall, the film has a solid cast although I have some reservations about Noomi Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw. Her transformation from "mild mannered" archaeologist (yeah, I know but I didn't write the script) to Prometheus' answer to  Ripley is simply to quick and unbelievable. Whether this is the fault of the script or Noomi Rapace will no-doubt become  apparent in the next instalment although I suspect the former. However, at this stage her character simply lacks the "toughness" or "presence" of Sigourney Weaver's Ribley to fully carry the expectations of the movie in its final act.  Another concern is Guy Pearce's Peter Weyland. Why on earth take a 45 year old actor and cover him in rather obvious prosthetics to make him look like an 86 year old? Is there a shortage of older actors in Hollywood at the moment? And a note to Mr Pearce, when an actor plays an elderly character shuffling while bending over slightly is not convincing anyone.

However, the "star" of this movie is Ridley Scott. Time and again Scott has shown himself to be a master creator of believable worlds. From Blade Runner's dystopian film noir inspired future earth, to Gladiator's Rome to Alien's "space Truckers" and the original Engineers space craft.While at the same time being able to generate ideas that leave academics in film to continue to write books about them. Hollywood has many fine directors in its service but few with the artistic vision and mindfulness to mise-en-scene that Scott has. Given that he has cited Milton's Paradise Lost as a major inspiration for this series I for one cannot wait to see where his imagination takes us next.