Prometheus

An ominously viral teaser extended over two hours

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Rating: R

Grade: B

The titan Prometheus defied the gods of Olympus, gave fire to mankind, and suffered for his sin, chained to a rock while an eagle devoured his liver, which would grow back only to be dined upon again the next day. He stole from the gods, our creators. He was not one of them, nor even remotely human, although it could be argued that he might have longed for the inevitability of death after sacrificing his liver countless times.

But we revere Prometheus as a figure dedicated to the dogged pursuit of knowledge often without any sense or concern for the consequences at the end of the journey. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which she dubbed The Modern Prometheus, serves as a remix on the theme. And so, it should come as no surprise that a ship of inquisitive humans in 2093, on course to meet “their makers” would claim the name Prometheus as a badge of honor.

Led by Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), a scientist in search of not only our beginning as a race and species, but also driven by a need to suss out answers about the nature of death as well, the crew assembled here – 17, although not all of them so strongly characterized – has a few too-obvious traits in common with the mythic titan of old.

Thanks to the coolly plasticized presence of David (Michael Fassbender), there exists the notion of being able to attain a degree of immortality, but David’s role is less connected to the classic myth and much more rooted in replaying filmed references. He is shown to be a fan of Lawrence of Arabia (and it is fascinating to watch Fassbender dig into his mimicry of Peter O’Toole), but we cannot ignore the reflections of Blade Runner and Artificial Intelligence caught in Ridley Scott’s grey frames. In fact, it could be argued that Prometheus in its focus on David (also the name of Haley Joel Osment’s mecha who longed to be human) is more of an intellectual companion to Spielberg’s AI than a prequel to Alien.

But we have spent months watching Scott’s teasing trailers and relishing with fan-boy glee the anticipation of a return to the world of stomach-rupturing aliens and hard-bodied women of action and it must be acknowledged that Scott doesn’t fail to deliver. We, as audience members, all-too familiar with the alien engineering to come, watch with an edge of your seat hunger for the blood-splattering payoffs and somehow Scott is still able to produce shock and horror during key sequences. It is likely because he maintains a clinical approach over these invasive procedures.

And yet, we are drawn to Rapace’s Shaw, not as intimately as we were with Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in the proper Alien narratives, but Scott does his best to remind us that Shaw is certainly a precursor in that line. No, what works about Rapace here is that we know her from the Swedish version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy. She is an irresistible force to be reckoned with, too much for the “creators” encountered and even the alien to come. The enemy she cannot defeat though is in the details, the ideas posed at the start.

Rapace and Fassbender and Scott all succumb to an inability to create a compelling intellectual exercise to match the stark visual reality and the cold physicality of the struggle to survive in the desperate moments. Those are givens in Ridley Scott productions as a whole and definitely within the Alien franchise, but what Prometheus promised was a cursed gift from the gods, not just another token offering.

Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com

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