Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Are You Not Entertained?

Ridley Scott fans rejoice! Prometheus represents Scott’s graceful return to science fiction. In this off-world epic, Scott reprises the familiar themes and motifs that made Blade Runner (1982) and Alien (1989) more than just shallow visual spectacles. Prometheus evokes questions in the audience’s mind that are as grand in scale as the movie itself. Of course, this is the movie’s pitfall, too; from the outset, Prometheus promises big answers to big questions, but ultimately (and intentionally) doesn’t follow through.

While the CGI calisthenics attract the masses to the theater, it’s the premise that lures in cinematic intellectuals. Archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Charlie Halloway (Logan Marshall-Green, Devil) lead a team of explorers to a planet inhabited by the creators of human life, whom they ominously dub “the engineers.” As the teaser-trailer promises, what the crew finds is not only unexpected, but also mortally dangerous.

Rapace holds nothing back in her performance, genuinely winning the empathy of audience – a tough task due to the movie’s stomach-turning scenes. Her role celebrates everything Alien fans loved about Sigourney Weaver’s character, Ripley, but with a touch more naïveté.

But the scene-stealer of this movie is the android David, played by Michael Fassbender (Inglorious Bastards). Fassbender flawlessly captures the robotic detachment of Blade Runner’s replicants and delivers just a hint of restrained sinister to make the audience perpetually uncomfortable. In fact, David may be the movies most compelling character, as the audience senses his motives (if he has any) although they’re never revealed.

As for the rest of the supporting cast—well, it’s hard to really care about them. Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron Monster, Hancock) is the icy corporate liaison, whose character development could’ve been much more compelling (maybe more in the director’s cut? I hope so). As for the captain, crew, and fellow scientists of the ship Prometheus, their endearing qualities are shallow and their comic relief falls flat.

But audience members will feel cheated by the ending. Those expecting a prequel to the Alien franchise will be sorely disappointed, as the Prometheus storyline just happens to occur before Alien. Even Scott says, “It’s finely stretched. I thought it would be much closer, but it’s really now a long way from the original Alien.” For those of us expecting answers to the big metaphysical questions that Prometheus asks, we’re left unsatisfied.

Maybe Prometheus is an intellectual trap, baiting the audience into partaking in Shaw’s search for answers only to eventually condemn the dangers of overzealous pursuits of knowledge. But it doesn’t trick us; it teases us. Instead of answers, we’re left with more questions and a few hastily deduced conclusions from an undeveloped supporting cast.

But I have to say, if Scott were to burst out from behind the silver screen screaming, “Are you not entertained?” undoubtedly I would respond with a resounding “Yes.” The movie is enjoyable and you keep thinking about it long after you leave the theaters.

There’s the paradox of Prometheus: It felt like the movie may have ended but the story wasn’t over. Scott whetted the audience’s appetite for mind-blowing proclamations of human existence, but seems to have decided to keep the best parts of the story for himself—or a sequel.

By Derek Schnake