I saw Prometheus tonight (in 2D). My impressions:
Well...I wasn't bored! My eyes and brain were kept riveted every minute of the movie. So I actually ended up enjoying it quite a bit, despite it's many flaws. It's strengths were part of it's flaws and visa versa. One flaw was it was a rather chaotic script in terms of cramming together ideas, moods and action sequences. But for perhaps the same reason, and due to how wonderful it is to view new worlds the way Ridley presents them, there was the constant element of "ok, what is he going to show me in the next minute?' So, not a moment of boredom for me.
It's interesting that there are one portion of reviewers that state that not a lot happens in the movie, at least for quite a while, as if it's a more stately, cerebral, slow burn movie that may not be suited for this generation. Other reviews paint it as a constantly moving, slam-bang mess. Both are sort of right IMO. If you are looking at it from the point of view of contemporary movie-making and it's cut-to-the-chase aesthetic, then the build up to the action DOES seem paced and slower. But if you are coming from the mindset of having immersed yourself many times in the TRULY slow burn sci-fi movies of the past, 2001 and, yes, Alien, then Prometheus rolls along at a more contemporary pace. The opening scene, and the follow up travel of the ship show that dichotomy. These are often pointed out as some of the strongest moments of the movie by reviewers and movie patrons, and they were my favorite moments. When you have the camera just prowl the space ship, and you are simply an observer - watching David bid his time with various activities. It's great that Ridley gave us some of that...but it still wasn't done steady nerve of the first Alien (or Bladerunner). I just wanted shots - inside the ship and exterior travel shots - to last longer, to linger on. When shots cut too fast it cuts short the "immersion" factor into the film were you have time to observe details and think. I think too much of this makes movie-makers too nervous these days - God help if they even RISK boring anyone in the audience!
Ridley showed more nerve than most contemporary directors in this movie - but not quite the resolve of his old self. Maybe with the expense and risk of movies these days we just can't go back there again, which is too bad. But I think this is wrong - it seemed clear from the audience I was with, and the reviews, that it was these atmospheric, contemplative, observational moments in which the movie bloomed and made it's impression.
Beautiful cinematography of course. I came out of the movie still feeling in a "Ridley Scott" world as I drove through the city home - where everything, city streets, signs, seemed new and heightened simply because my senses had been taught to observe and appreciate mood, mis en scene and light play over the past two hours, due to Scott's cinematic style. The same way I did with Alien and Bladerunner, and that in itself says a lot of positive things about the experience. I found the interior and exterior of the shipe the most satisfying production design of the movie. The Engineer area, though neat, did strike me as a bit set-like and a bit too-clean version of done-before Alien landscape. Also, having just watched Alien a few days ago, this was one of those cases of seeing how much necessity brings to the table of classic, older movies. Budget-wise in Alien, Scott had little choice but to constantly put much of the set and landscapes and ship into deep shadows - much easier to sell the sets and suggest much more. So there was a much grittier, more solid, real and threatening aspect to the look of Alien. Whereas in general Prometheus was more evenly lit. Some of this no doubt had to do with the fact they had to over-light for 3D (requires more on-set light level - you have to get all the details exposed). So Scott said they had to actually add more atmospheric darkness and shadow in post production. Still, it had more of that perfection - of things rarely dropping truly off into darkness, always seeing details even in shadows - that you get with full CGI movies (I mean CGI animation), rather than being on set and just letting details blow out in high lights or fall into dead shadow. That, combined with the pace and editing meant for me the movie wasn't remotely tense or scary. You could always see everything pretty well, and what could have been creepy moments came hurtling at you pace-wise, without any of the slow moody build up of Alien (or other effective chiller movies). Alien scared us and Scott promised to do it again, but he just didn't have the same technique. Simply coming up with a weird creature or gross idea isn't enough - they are a dime a dozen. It's the old-style technique of paying attention to set up and mood, of slowly turning the screws tighter, that goes missing in so many movies today.
The score, though never creepy, occasionally actually soared somewhat (I went along with it for David and the holograms of the universe moments). And for most of the movie I just didn't notice it much so at least it didn't ruin it for me.
Of course the lack of logic and seemingly unmotivated character moves in the movie could fill a whole review in of itself. But things kept moving along at a pace that swept me along for the ride anyway. Michael Fassbender just hits it out of the park as
the robot Michael. Wow it's amazing watching a great actor do magic with the simplest lines. Every time he was on screen the movie was elevated to the movie you hoped it was going to be. Fassbender's intelligence as an actor raised the IQ of the movie during his scenes. And when others spoke...it tended to descend from the heights again on the path to mediocrity. That's the experience for me, and it seems so many, of watching this movie: it's constant reminder of what could have been, mixed with the sobering reality of what we got. Another thing is I wasn't thrilled with the reveal (SPOILER AHEAD?) of who the Space Jockey was (were). One of the pleasures of Alien was Giger's eccentric, puzzling, surprising design and the truly odd-looking elephantine Space Jockey was a perfect example. God that thing was just so...so...alien-looking, so weird. Geiger (btw, isn't cool that spell checkers actually have his name in the data base?) could surprise you with things in the way one may actually be surprised by, and unsettled by, the forms of Aliens. You simply could not help but wonder what that being actually looked like and moved like when it was alive. But in this film you find out...oh...that bizarre and original looking visage was just a helmet, and underneath was a boring, standard-issue human looking face. For Alien fans this could be their "midichlorians" reveal - something either best left unexplained...or at least..better explained!
As for whether the film is intelligent or not. Well...it tries to be thematically. But it sort of feels like the work of someone asking Big Questions without ever having cracked a philosophy book. It may feel profound, but it's a pretty shallow treatment of those profound questions. Sort of like someone asking the questions, but without the intellectual depth or firepower to really get into them, or offer any answers. In which case the questions can end up feeling no more "intelligent" than the stoner smoking a spliff looking up at the stars and intoning "Hey man, ever wonder why, like, there's something insteada nothing, or even why we're here....? " And then losing focus and he's off looking for munchies.
I love the concept of "What if it turns out our creator actually hates us!" But it wasn't explored with much depth. Further, one perfect example of where this movie makes the choice either to continue along the profound idea it sets up, or descend into cheap thrills, is when (SPOILER ALERT!) David and Weyland etc wake up the Engineer. The engineer has the look of what could be an advanced, thoughtful being. And for a moment, as he wakes, as the characters look expectantly at him for answers, and as the music swells, it feels like it is just about to move into the sort of profound, contemplative, intelligent moment, some high-minded exchange, that makes for great science fiction. But then the Engineer instead just turns into HULK SMASH!...grunting away, going bonkers, and the movie shows it's cards - better give 'em action, at any cost, or they'll get bored. Sigh.
And what a shame that what went missing in a Science Fiction movie was...the science! None of the scientists actually acted like scientists, or practiced any science whatsoever - bizarre for a movie that purportedly had so many scientific (and engineer) advisers.
Charlize Theron turned out to be as brutally one-note (not her fault, no doubt) as I expected. With ONE exception, her scene with the Captain (Idris Elba), where for that moment she got to let her hair down and both people becomes human...rather than standard issue script-spewing ciphers like much of the cast. In fact I did a turn around with Idris Elba. I didn't like what I saw of him in the trailers but he turned out to be the most relaxed, most humanizing and natural presence on the ship, and I welcomed his scenes.
Admittedly this probably ends up sounding pretty negative, but as I started out saying, I was actually surprised and happy how much fun I had watching the movie. My friend who loves sci-fi but who is pretty squeamish, did a lot of sinking in his seat and averting his eyes during the gross-out moments, looking at me with wide eyes like "Man, this is hard to watch." The audience applauded lightly at the end. My friend, who knew nothing about the movie going in, was confused about his feelings for the movie "It didn't seem sure of what it wanted to be." But I came out happy at just how entertained I was, and happy to live for a while longer in the mental residue it created, and for that much I was happy to have seen another Ridley Scott film.
I might go see it in 3D, and it was a forgone conclusion that I'd look forward to owning it on Blu-Ray.