"Prometheus": Ridley Scott's Dazzling, Sci-fi Spectacle
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But let’s back up a minute: The portentousness and grandiosity of “Prometheus” is at once the film’s great strength and great weakness. Scott’s eponymous spacecraft — a triumph of late-modernist design that might almost be described as the movie’s main character — is on its way to a distant star system, with its crew packed in suspended-animation glop, in search of nothing less than the origins of the human species. If I followed the story correctly, some immensely rich and impossibly old dude (played by Guy Pearce, apparently wearing Leonardo DiCaprio’s leftover J. Edgar Hoover face) has agreed to fund this trillion-dollar mission because two archaeologists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), have decoded some kind of star map found in prehistoric glyphs and paintings all over the world.
OK! Clearly the only reasonable explanation of the mysterious pattern discovered by Shaw and Holloway is that giant geezers from space planted the seeds of humanity on Earth eons ago, and then came back bazillions of years later just to convince preliterate civilizations to leave behind invitations for us to come visit when we were all grown up. Then they left again, barely an eyelash ago in planetary time, maybe just to pick up some smokes or collect the many-tentacled kids from day care. Look, I realize that Lindelof and Spaihts got paid a lot of money to develop the “mythology” of this universe, and they’re probably convinced they’ve gotten all its clues and feints and subterfuges worked out. But there’s about 17 kinds of nonsense just in the setup for “Prometheus,” before we even get to the main action. (Who brings archaeologists, of all useless professions, on a space mission?) You’re way better off just letting the mood and mystery and menace of the movie surround you, and not trying to puzzle it out.
Rapace’s rather mousy Shaw fills the Sigourney Weaver female-protagonist role to some extent, and gets to perform an act of especially disgusting auto-surgery that rivals anything else in the “Alien” films for pure ick factor. But she never really holds our attention as do the film’s villains, a complementary pair of corporate robots played by Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron. Fassbender’s David, who actually is a robot — and the crew’s lone sentient member during its long voyage from Earth — is another performance of hambone precision, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, from the terrific Irish actor. Mind you, it’s a bit weird that even 40 years after HAL in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the best way to make an artificial intelligence seem evil is to make him prissy and queeny and presumptively gay. Still, it’s a hilarious performance, as if some great manipulative genius out of classic literature — Gilbert Osmond, say, from “Portrait of a Lady” — had been juiced up with electronic circuits and shot into space.
Theron, who’s simultaneously killin’ it in the multiplexes as the evil feminist queen in “Snow White and the Huntsman,” plays a rather similar role here, as the ice-blond private-sector overlord whose true mission obviously has nothing to do with asking philosophical questions of the “Engineers,” as Shaw and Holloway have dubbed the so-called master race who created us. Honestly, now — I really enjoyed watching “Prometheus” almost the whole way through, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again. It’s an enjoyable thrill ride, slicked up with a thin veneer of Asking the Big Questions. But do its so-called heroes really have to be such blithering New Age idiots? Let’s allow for the narrative possibility that someone or something created human life, and/or all life on Earth. Is traveling to the edge of the universe to ask that entity why they did it likely to yield an interesting answer? If Dolly the cloned sheep had been able to talk, would she have chased those Scottish scientists into their lab and baaed for explanations? “Because we could, sweetie. Now stop eating my trousers.”