By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist June 11, 2012 at 10:00AM
Well, "Prometheus" is in theaters. And if nothing else, it's been causing more furious debate -- in multiplex lobbies, in bars, online -- than most movies in recent memory. And The Playlist head office has been a war zone, with some loving the film, some loathing it, and some (like our review) falling somewhere in the middle. Name-calling and threats of physical violence have ensued.
For all its flaws, the film is a fascinating one, whether you love it or loathe it, with enough ideas and plot holes to ensure that it'll be talked about for some time to come. With the movie now screening around the world and drawing pretty substantial crowds, we wanted to dig in a little deeper, so we've drawn up a list of the good, bad and ugly aspects of Ridley Scott's sci-fi epic. Check it out below, and if you haven't seen it yet, stay away: major spoilers lie ahead.
It's becoming something of a given that Michael Fassbender is the highlight of anything he's in -- the actor's terrific performances in everything from "Inglourious Basterds" to "X-Men: First Class" have been some of the more indelible turns of the last few years. And while the actors are all doing their best with the material that they've been given and some make serious impressions -- Idris Elba brings a lovely blue-collar charm to Captain Janek and Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green are an appealing lead duo -- this is absolutely Fassbender's show. David is by about a million miles the most interesting passenger on that boat, giving a multi-faceted, pristine, physical performance that melds Peter O'Toole, David Bowie and Rutger Hauer into something entirely new. Whereas other actors flounder with the script holes (Sean Harris is a great actor, for instance, and isn't to blame for the fact that his character changes personality from scene to scene), Fassbender somehow uses them to his advantage, never quite letting on whether his David is faithful servant, malevolent mutineer, curious trickster, or something else entirely. And the answer is: all of the above. If nothing else, the examination of robo-life here bodes well for Scott's "Blade Runner" sequel.
2. The visuals
Even if “Prometheus” sent you into a blind nerd rage, causing you to angrily snap your 3D glasses in half Lane Pryce-style, you have to begrudgingly admit that “Prometheus” is a genuine thing of beauty and wonder, filling you with honest-to-space-god awe instead of the empty golly-gee-whiz that usually accompanies most Hollywood behemoths. (When you’re watching “Battleship” and thinking of how complex the particle simulators must have been for all that debris, you know things are amiss.) From the outset, the scale and scope of “Prometheus” is overwhelming – not just in the prologue with its glacial IMAX-y photography of Iceland, but the sets inside the titular spaceship and the grungy caverns inside the “pyramid,” including the now-infamous room with the giant head and detailed murals (which include some familiar, xenomorphic shapes). Even during the movie’s most problematic stretch – its somewhat chaotic and unfocused third act – there are things to goggle at that push beyond mere spectacle, stuff like the collision between the ship and the Engineers’ crescent-shaped craft to creature designer Neville Page’s beautiful, aggressively sexualized monster. Scott is in “world builder” mode when he’s doing sci-fi, and the production design, costumes, and creature effects all add to this world (we loved, in particular, David’s opaque “dream goggles”). And Scott’s great eye for detail and spatial geography is enhanced, greatly, by its 3D presentation, which emphasizes depth and nuance instead of things flying at your face, working particularly well in sequences where the pyramid is being mapped by flying “pups,” and in the abortion scene, when you feel like you’re really trapped in that pod. It’s undeniably Scott’s most visually lush film in a while, something you kind of have to acknowledge even if you hated the film.
For a giant summer sci-fi movie, “Prometheus” is packed with some pretty nifty ideas. Obviously there’s the huge, existential question at the heart of the film – where did we come from? It’s a question that seems to permeate the entire movie, whether it’s the pair of scientists searching for grand cosmic architects (one a believer, the other a skeptic), or the robot looking for his place in the world; powerful, thought-provoking stuff. And it’s sprinkled throughout the movie in varying layers – the Engineers’ initial attempt to destroy humanity happened 2,000 years ago, with some speculating that it could be linked to the crucifixion of Christ (something Scott has since confirmed was included in earlier script drafts, with JC turning out to be an Engineer). Even without Space Jockey Jesus, suggesting that our origins lie with something other than a Judaeo-Christian god is a pretty bold central theme for a summer blockbuster. The movie is progressive in other ways too, thanks mostly to its spiky gender politics, which culminate in an operatic manual abortion by our main character. That's right: it’s a $150 million summer movie where you root for your main character to get an abortion. We can picture Fox News anchors sharpening their knives for the attack on Monday. (It goes along with the film's overwhelmingly feminine tone/aesthetic, exemplified by its sleek, womanly spaceship and strong female characters -- in addition to Noomi, there’s Charlize Theron’s icy corporate shill). And the monsters are aggressively sexualized in the most button-pushing way possible – from the worm-like monster that, when it attacks, simulates forced oral rape, to the giant beast at the end with orifices not unlike vaginas – it’s the stuff of Freudian nightmares. Even if you don’t like the movie, you have to give it props for being so damn outré.
4. That surgery scene
"Prometheus" might be something of a mess as a whole, but there's no denying that many, if not most, of the scenes are pretty damn entertaining when taken on their own (it's just that they don't make much sense when strung together). And arguably the film's most unforgettable moment is the surgery scene, when Elizabeth Shaw realizes that she's pregnant with the fast-growing child of herself and her mutated dead boyfriend (despite having seemingly been sterile before now), and takes the opposite route to "Juno" by trying to dispose of it as quickly as possible. This entails her hacking into Meredith's medi-pod, getting it to slice open her belly, and remove what seems to be an angry squid from her womb. It's a neat nod to the chestburster scene of the original, which also plays into very basic, universal fears going back to "Rosemary's Baby" -- I have a living thing growing inside me, what if it turns out to be something horrific? And Scott's in top form when he shoots the scene -- there can be no doubt that this was the one that landed the film the R-rating. There are issues with how it fits into the film around it --- why does Kate Dickie's doctor not pursue her? Why does no one react to her afterwards? And why is it virtually never referred to for the rest of the film (we get that Shaw's a steely heroine, but at least show that you remember that shit happening)? But as a sequence, it's up there with anything else we'll see in the summer.
Maybe this is damning with faint praise, but Fox's marketing department definitely deserve a round of applause for this one. A dark, R-rated sci-fi horror film, without major A-list stars (Theron and Fassbender are names, but aren't reliable box office gold), opening against an animated blockbuster taking up 3D screens, and for all intents and purposes an original idea (they could only make the "Alien" link by association, but then again, no "Alien" movie has grossed over $100 million before). But the campaign for "Prometheus" wasn't just effective, it was mostly a pleasure to watch (with one major caveat, which we'll explain later). Some of the best trailers of the year, and viral spots that actually extended the universe of the film, with top-notch production values and all the big names getting involved (it was, in the end, the only chance to see Guy Pearce under all the old age make-up). For the most part, it's a textbook example of how to serve difficult material, and for all the film's flaws, it's hard to be too upset to see a film as ambitious and weird as this doing so well in the midst of summer, especially with films like "Dark Shadows" and "Battleship" tanking.