Friday 1 June 2012

Prometheus (2012) - Ridley Scott

Beginning his career in advertisement (most notably the 1973 Hovis advert and 1984 Apple advert), director Ridley Scott has always had an eye for aesthetics.  And with Prometheus, he applies this to what he does best - science-fiction - in a prequel to his Alien film of 1979.

Yet this is a prequel in the loosest of senses.  This is not an intense horror film.  It's not even an action film.  In fact, it's only in the film's closing moments that any link is made to the Alien series at all.  Instead, Scott is painting with much broader strokes to create a piece of thought-provoking, philosophical cinema.

As expected, Prometheus is visually stunning.  The first few minutes alone, in which we see an Earth-like alien landscape, are breathtakingly shot in high-definition 3D.  It presents an expansive wonderment more akin to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, rather than the dark corridors of Alien.  The attention to detail in this futuristic universe is outstanding, with even more presented in the various shorts released prior to the main film.  Scott has taken the traditional sci-fi tropes and twisted them with his own vision - from the insect-like Prometheus ship, to the mix of futuristic and ancient technologies, cyborgs and creatures.  No film released this year will be as visually arresting.

Like all of Scott's films, Prometheus operates on a number of narrative levels.  The plot sees scientist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) leading an expedition to a distant planet.  There she hopes to find what she's dubbed the "engineers" - the makers of humanity.  It's a daring mission that sees the crew delving into the unknown history of mankind to make startling discoveries.

As with the visuals, Scott has taken tropes typical of sci-fi literature and spun his own web.  The film addresses issues of creation theory and the God complex, filled with imagery of life and death.  Creation breeds fear of what it is we will create, a fear that, due to the natural order to overthrow our superiors in the pursuit of answers and control, what we create could bring about our demise.  This materialises in a gruesome abortion scene that's particularly difficult to watch, clearly reflecting the most memorable scene from Alien.

The result is that Scott has perhaps taken a step too far and is acting too boldly.  The film never fully answers the questions it poses, leaving the audience hollow and dissatisfied after its lack of resolution.  Yet, on the other hand, perhaps this is Scott's point.  For all her scientific knowledge, Shaw retains her religious beliefs and faith in God - is the point of faith that we believe blindly?  If we meet our maker, will we find the answers we are looking for?  And who makes the maker?  The search is an endless one that cannot be fulfilled.  By centering on rhetorical questions, it is left for the audience to determine their own beliefs.  This personal investment is surely what distinguishes the film as a great piece of art.

Sadly, Scott has not been able to replicate the success of Ripley with Shaw.  That said, Sigourney Weaver's heroine was the first of her kind, attaining an iconic status that Rapace would not be able to repeat.  Instead, Michael Fassbender's David is the main point of interest.  An android, his characterisation parallels the wider narrative as a product of humanity's creation and Fassbender's clinical performance cleverly balances opposing moralities leaving us unsure as to his true motives.

Those expecting another, tightly-focused Alien are bound to be disappointed.  Prometheus has little of the tension of Scott's earlier work.  On a purely narrative level, the film is flawed with its lack of tension and underdeveloped characterisation.  But its subtext develops the film in a philosophical direction that delivers a more thought-provoking impact.  From Bladerunner to Kingdom of Heaven, Scott frequently lets the audience do the work, providing the questions we are left to answer ourselves.  In this respect, Prometheus is quintessentially a Ridley Scott film.