Prometheus – Review

Prometheus (2012) – 

Director: Ridley Scott. Starring: Noomi RapaceMichael FassbenderCharlize TheronIdris ElbaGuy PearceLogan Marshall-GreenSean HarrisRafe SpallEmun Elliott.

After 33 years, Prometheus has finally landed!

For any fan out there (including me) the hype surrounding this film has been almost unbearable to cope with, as the viral marketing campaign was one of the most intriguing and well thought-out of the last decade, matching even the one for the Avengers in its intensity and capacity to tease, without giving away too much.

For months and months we’ve been spoon-fed little tiny bits of information about the mysteriously titled Prometheus. All we knew is that it was possibly a prequel (or at least it had some connections) to 1979’s masterpieces Alien and it would probably answer some of those open questions which have been left hanging ever since.

We had all reasons to be excited, especially when you think that Ridley Scott is the director who essentially single-handedly redefined this sci-fi genre (not just with Alien, but with Blade Runner as well): this is his first return sci-fi in 30 years and the first Alien film since the disappointing Alien Resurrection back in 1997 (no, I’m not even counting those AVP movies, and nor should you!).

Needless to say when the expectations are so high, the questions are so many and the fans are so eager, disappointment is inevitable. No film will ever be able to satisfy a 33 years old hunger. And it’s a shame, because Prometheus is actually not a bad film, it’s just not as ground-breaking as we all hoped and it’s a victim of its own hype. It is also best enjoyed if you know very little about it, so if you haven’t seen it, do stop reading now!

(SPOILERS AHEAD)

Its promising start, in a typically Ridley Scott ‘s fashion,is rather moody and slow it takes at least an hour for the first “shock”, but it’s also some of the best part. Scott plays with his audience creating a certain feeling of deja-vu while still trying to add new elements to the mix: it’s comfortable and intriguing at the same time. Simple and complex. Meaningful and trashy. And inevitably, we are constantly trying to figure out how does it all fit in the Alien mythology until the very last scene, which is rather gratuitous and yet incredibly satisfying for any fans of Alien (and also hinting at some possible sequels).

Unfortunately what starts out as a thoughtful take on Darwinians versus theologists will soon turn into a more conventional monster movie and that feeling of deja-vu will become its undoing.

In a way some of the beauty of the original Alien was its bare simplicity and its minimal approach. Tension was coming from those long silences and those sudden burst of violence and horror. Scott seems almost afraid of that simplicity here, and opts for a much larger canvas: everything on Prometheus is on a grander scale, from its themes and questions about the origin of mankind, to its great vistas (He even gets down to quote David Lean’ Lawrence Of Arabia in a non-very subtle way) and the epic music (which I found absolutely dreadful. Has Ridley Scott really sold out to conventional Hollywood smaltzy intrusive soundtrack during every single scene ?!). It’s all enhanced by being on 3D. This for once works very well when filming those great landscapes but it’s not as effective when trying to create tension in those crammed familiar corridors and instead of adding an extra dimension  to where danger could be coming from, it just becomes rather forgettable. It can’t even be a funny cheap gimmick (I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I would have loved a face-hugger coming towards camera, and the audience).

Everything else here is then crammed with details which instead of making the film more interesting, inevitably distance it from its original predecessor. For example where is all that technology coming from? In Alien they seemed to have very simple computers, and techno-gear in general. And yet that film was supposed to be later in the future, wasn’t it? Oh well, I’m picking needles here.

I know the constant comparison with Alien is unfair, but ultimately it is also unavoidable as it is also the film’s main hook on people.

Don’t take me wrong, there are some great things about Prometheus which I really liked, but unfortunately it just doesn’t deliver on all its promises and it ends up being rather derivative sci-fi.

I loved its ambitiousness, Noomi Rapace, David the Robot (Possibly the film’s best creation), the spotless special effects, the  cinematography and look of it and some of the idea it’s playing with, but I did missed that sense of fear and dread that Alien still gives me every time I watch it. There were very few surprises throughout  and most crucially very little tension (especially considering the film it’s trying to emulate, which is the KING of tension) and after a while it saddened me to see it switching on auto-pilot and becoming rather conventional and feeling very rushed in the last part.

There were too many undeveloped, two-dimensional, bland characters populating the film (even Charlize Theron, who I usually love, could have easily been written out and it would not have made any difference) and in the end it all contributed to make me emotionally detached from it all.

It’s almost as if Ridley Scott could not decide which film he wanted to tell: a sci-fi about the beginning to the universe, his own version of 2001, a monster movie, an Alien prequel… I guess in the end there is something for everyone (except pregnant women, who should stay WELL AWAY from this as the most gruesome and most memorable scene has an intensity which they will not be able to take). In fact there is a lot to digest in just one viewing (I wonder if there might even be an extended cut which will probably surface on Blu-ray in a year or so), but ultimately this is a handsomely film for any sci-fi lover (and an intriguing appetizer for any Alien fan) and it’s a film with ideas more than just loud bangs and explosions.

7.5/10

RECENT ADDITION from the 8th of June 2012

All the recent negative reactions to Ridley Scott’s Prometheus say more about the counter-productive effect of a marketing campaign which was just too big and eventually just imploded on itself, than it says about the actual film.

The expectations were just too high, and the hunger for it too big.

The film was supposed to answer questions which have been hanging for 33 years since the first Alien was first released. And of course Ridley Scott was the man who single-handedly redefined the sci-fi genre (not just with Alien, but with Blade Runner as well) and this was his first return to space in 3 decades.

Disappointment was inevitable and the film became a victim of its own hype.

On the first viewing very few people judged it for its own merits, while everyone else (including me) compared it to a film which had been made in a time when there was nothing like that.

Prometheus may not be the prequel fans wanted (not quite sure what that would have been anyway), it may not be as ground-breaking as some had hoped, but it’s not a bad film…

I do wonder… if Prometheus had been directed by some unknown newcomer or had it not been trumpeted by endless trailers and teasers, would we have been able to judge it differently? Interestingly, critical reaction to the first Alien was initially pretty negative too. Famously Time Out called it an “empty bag of tricks whose production values and expensive trickery cannot disguise imaginative poverty”

Should the marketing campaign have been handled differently? Probably not. The box office speaks pretty clearly and at the end of the day in Hollywood money talks louder than a few disappointed reviewers and bloggers. In fact, not one, but sequels are already in the pipeline.

Animal Kingdom – Review

Animal Kingdom (2010) 

Directed by David Michôd. Starring Ben MendelsohnJoel EdgertonGuy PearceJacki WeaverJames FrechevilleLuke Ford.

This is a really tough watch… And yet, it isn’t the violence itself, because actually there’s very little of it, but the constant sense of eerie dread and tension that permeates the whole film and makes it almost unbearable to sit through.

Some of the most violent acts happen all of a sudden (hence even more shocking), towards the beginning of the film and take you completely by surprise and then, in the words of writer-director Michôd, “you’re just left with the aftermath”. Supposedly that’s how violence is in real life.

It’s a clever device that throws the audience right off-balance from the start. From that moment onwards, we know we can expect anything at any moment. So the idea that something could happen at any point is more distressing than the violence itself.

That is the most successful aspect of”Animal Kingdom”, a film that otherwise threads through a well know pattern and feels like many other crime films.

But forget the jokey Tarantino of Pulp Fiction, or the epic almost-romantic Coppola of the Godfather, this is a serious crime film, and it feels real!

“Animal Kingdom” is a drama at every turn and twist and it depicts the lives of a family of criminals in Melbourne. Obviously it all benefits from having a series of (very convincing) performances from actors who don’t carry the burden of recognition.

Right from the start we are catapulted in the middle of it and it’s up to us to work out who’s who. I did confess I was a bit lost in the beginning and took me a while to actually be able to recognize all the characters. Also I didn’t think the main character (James Frecheville) was particularly interesting to watch: his face is pretty much black for most of the film, which I suppose is the point of the film (his mother dies right at the beginning and he doesn’t even flinch) and yet this detachment he didn’t make him particularly sympathetic and in the end I thought that was an error in judgement.

As the film unfolds, slowly we begin to see how terrifying these people (animals) really are, even the most innocent looking ones: the figure of the mother, Smurf, played by Jacki Weaver is one of the scariest creation I’ve seen in a long time. On the surface she’s a small, gentle, smiley mother who gives full-mouth kisses to his sons, but behind all that, hides the pure evil (witness a wonderful scene in which she asks for her own grandson to be killed).

Her Oscar Nomination for supporting actress is truly deserved.

Behind the (artificial) sense of reality, Michôd uses every trick in the book to make it feel cinematic at the same time : the slow-motion as people walk towards camera, the long elegant tracking shots (reminiscent of Scorsese’s early gangster’s films) and finally the music itself

As if the subject matter wasn’t tough enough, Sam Petty’s ominous score rumbles along through the subwoofer (that “.1” from the 5.1 surround sound) in a series of prolonged low monotones, which you almost feel in the stomach and make those tense sequences feel even more dangerous.

The only oddity, which I didn’t think was needed at all, and adds nothing to the film, is the use of voice over at the beginning and at the end (especially coming from a character as blank as J). In fact, generally speaking, the script is the most un-remarkable thing about the film.

When it all finally ended, I was gagging for some fresh air and I couldn’t wait to go outside in the freezing cold London of these days and breath with relief

This is by no means a criticism to the film, in fact quite the opposite: it’s the proof that the film worked for me. Having said that, I wouldn’t want to call it entertaining or  want to watch it again, but I’ll certainly look out for what Michôd will do next (hopefully with a more original story).

7.5/10

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