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Posts tagged “ridley scott

Someone to Watch Over Me (1987)

Someone to Watch Over MeMost of the films in Ridley Scott’s filmography are fairly well known, but there are a few that are glossed over for whatever reason.  For this film, the fact that it didn’t even make its money back at the box office is the likely reason, but it still garnered very positive reviews from critics.  This is indeed a film of special, exceptional quality.  Someone to Watch Over Me is not your typical Ridley Scott film, in most part.  It’s story is definitely a cop thriller with a great urban atmosphere, but primarily, this is a romantic film done with great, beautiful artistic flare.

A stunning New York socialite and a down-to-earth city cop are caught in a deadly web of illicit passion and heart-stopping suspense.  Newly-appointed detective Mike Keegan (Tom Berenger) finds his life turned upside down when he’s assigned to protect Claire Gregory (Mimi Rogers), the beautiful eyewitness to a brutal murder.  Lured into danger and the dizzying heights of Gregory’s glamorous lifestyle, Keegan struggles to walk the line between protection and obsession – while trying to stay one step ahead of the psychotic killer Joey Venza (Andreas Katsulas), and not allow his happy marriage to fall apart over his affair with Claire.

I really like the vibe of this movie.  It does have a very romanticized artistry to it, but with the moody subtlety that Scott is a master at.  Oddly, while watching this, I got a very similar feeling as I got watching the John Badham romanticized version of Dracula, starring Frank Langella.  It’s that foggy, subtle romantic visual quality with its greens and ambers which really struck me that same way.  Someone to Watch Over Me is a finely crafted and gradually paced work of art that smartly blends the seductive beauty with the dangerous crime elements.  By the trailer, you’d likely expect something a little more thrilling and exciting, but even then, this film easily roped me in.  This is surely due to the great casting and excellent acting.

Michael Keegan is not the usual kind of movie cop.  He’s surely streetwise, but he feels a little green and out of his element.  Having just been promoted to Detective, he doesn’t have the consummate manner of those around him, and coming from Queens, he’s not accustomed to the high life sophistication of Claire’s world.  So, he’s a bit of a blue collar style easy going guy, and Tom Berenger does a stellar job in this role.  He’s extremely likable and fun loving early on, and progresses into a more serious, emotionally complex character as events unfold.  You can see that Mike is very happy with his family, but as he gets deeper involved with Claire, everything begins to be torn apart within him.  Berenger has great and distinctly different chemistries with Mimi Rogers and Lorraine Bracco, who portrays Michael’s wife Ellie Keegan.  Both relationships have their own touching qualities, and work equally as beautifully.  Ellie perfectly reflects the man he is, but Claire gives him something fresh and seductive.  It’s an odd dynamic that you can feel so much for Mike and Claire, knowing they have something unique together, but also, view Mike as the bad guy opposite Ellie.  That’s really a testament to Berenger’s talent.  He makes Mike a very down to Earth guy with flaws, but never comes off as a reprehensible adulterer, just a man of sympathetic conflicts of the heart.

I was very pleased with what Mimi Rogers accomplishes in this role.  The few moments where Claire is confronted by Venza are intensely fearful, and Rogers is greatly convincing.  However, the majority of the film is focused on Mike and Claire becoming closer and more intimate.  She proves to be a gorgeously romantic woman who is not a seductress.  There’s nothing lurid about these two becoming involved.  There is a genuine endearing attraction there that is quite touching, and the building of a chemistry and attraction with Claire is done quite subtly.  She is charming, elegant, and vulnerable, but still exerts confidence.  There’s a fine line between where she feels safe and self-assured and feeling very frightened that Rogers handles with delicate balance.

Through all this, you honestly feel for Ellie a great deal because she’s done nothing wrong to deserve this betrayal of her love.  Lorraine Bracco is wonderful showing the agonizing pain of Ellie.  She loves Mike so dearly, and that pours out so richly once she is scorned.  This is really an exceptional performance as we see a full spectrum of emotion from Bracco from the loving and down to Earth woman to the deeply hurt wife and even beyond that in the film’s climax to utterly frightened to death.  While the film is heavy on the Mike-Claire relationship, Bracco does such a strong job to keep Ellie’s end of the film relevant and emotionally impactful.  By the end, that is the crux of the film’s resolution.

And I really adore Andreas Katsulas.  He was taken from us far too soon.  Many would know him as the one-armed man in The Fugitive, but my heart with him lies with the science fiction series Babylon 5.  Here, his role is full-on in intimidating heavy mode.  His screentime is fairly restrained, but his presence is almost always felt.  That presence is very effective right from his first few minutes of screentime all the way through to the taut, thrilling climax.  Katsulas takes that great talent of his and compounds it into a lethally threatening performance.  Like with everything else here, the key word is definitely “subtlety.”  Ridley Scott has such a great handle on tone with his visuals and actors that it is no surprise that everything is just pitch perfect throughout this cast.  Of course, I couldn’t forget to mention the late and charming Jerry Orbach as the solid Lieutenant Garber.  Orbach is always a bright pleasure to see in anything he ever appeared in.

It also put a smile on my face when Michael Kamen’s credit came on screen as the composer.  I really, dearly love his work.  There was always a real elegance and sophistication he brought to his scores, and Someone to Watch Over Me definitely gave him the opportunity to flesh out some lush, romantic cues.  There’s the obligatory saxophone parts, but it’s done so very beautifully.  It really is a lovely tapestry of romanticism that he weaves throughout this film while never remotely approaching over the top melodrama.  He’s aided a little by a smooth jazz style arrangement of the title song by Sting, and some fine music tracks from Steve Winwood and Fine Young Cannibals early on.  The work Kamen does with the tenser, more thrilling scenes is very effective and taut.  This is the perfect score for this movie accentuating every subtlety with careful craftsmanship.

Also, it seems that no matter what cinematographer Ridley Scott works with, his visual style always comes through brilliantly.  You could turn this movie on, not knowing anything about it, and know it is a Ridley Scott movie just by the rich atmospheric noir look of it.  Someone to Watch Over Me is absolutely gorgeous re-crafting the looks of Alien or Blade Runner into a romantically effective package.  The scenes early on in the night club and art gallery are brilliant, perfect examples of Scott’s signature style.  Later on, inside Claire’s upscale apartment, the overall look is very seductive with soft, dim amber lighting.  As usual, Scott uses very deep blacks and smoky, shadowy visuals to create a mysterious atmosphere, and even on the streets of New York, that works so stunningly well.  If for nothing else, Scott is one of my favorite directors based on his gorgeous visual neo noir style.

Beyond all of the stunning aesthetics, the story played out in both the seductive romanticism and the dangerous crime thriller are perfectly interwoven.  I found the balance just right for the film’s intended emotional direction.  I would definitely imagine a film like this today being forced to be packed with a lot more action and excitement instead of developing the romance and subtle suspense.  Thankfully, this was made in a time when someone like Ridley Scott, whose last couple of films had not done well at the box office, was able to make the movie he wanted to make.  He does a fantastic job with Howard Franklin’s screenplay just enveloping it entirely in his articulate, detail oriented sensibilities and wonderfully inspired visual style.  Yet, the visual awe is not used to mask any lack of substance, but to enhance the strengths of it all.

I really did enjoy Someone to Watch Over Me.  If you enjoy a classic thriller with a twist of romance, which the film’s tagline boasts, you will certainly find some satisfaction here.  Ridley Scott directs this film with class and a focus on the smooth moody atmosphere and gradual development of its characters.  The cast is absolutely top notch featuring substantive and respectable work from everyone involved.  This film is actually a very clear precursor to Scott’s next film, Black Rain, which was an excellent full-on thriller, but still with a lot of that romanticized atmosphere of danger.  If you’re looking for the exciting flipside to this seductive film, Black Rain is absolutely that film.  Just forego watching the trailer.  It’s a little on the spoilery side.  Anyway, Someone to Watch Over Me is a very beautifully crafted and executed film that I really do highly endorse.

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Alien (1979)

AlienRidley Scott’s Alien is a remarkable classic that was kind of hard for me to appreciate fully until now.  I did see the director’s cut screening in October of 2003, but it didn’t have the intended effect at the time.  However, thanks the Cinemark theatre chain, I was given the chance to see Alien in its original theatrical cut.  I went into the screening consciously putting myself into the proper mindset intending to experience it the right way.  I have always appreciated the filmmaking and artistic talents of the movie, but now, I can connect with it on a level of beautifully crafted horror and suspense.

When commercial towing vehicle Nostromo, heading back to Earth, intercepts a distress signal from a nearby planet, the crew are under obligation to investigate.  After landing on this hostile planet, three crew members – Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), first officer Kane (John Hurt), and navigator Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) – set out to discover the origin of the signal which Lieutenant Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the ship’s computer soon decipher it as not a distress call but a warning.  Onboard a derelict alien spacecraft, Kane discovers a chamber filled with thousands of alien eggs, and in investigating too closely, he is attacked by a parasite.  When he is brought back to the Nostromo, the crew has no idea the danger they have brought upon themselves as this parasite soon gives birth to a vicious organism that is bred for only one purpose – death.

The strongest quality of this film that struck me was indeed the structure and pacing.  While for a modern audience it might be too methodical, Scott makes every slow burning moment count for something.  It’s all building towards something while establishing mood, atmosphere, character, or story.  The best result from this structure is that there are segments where Scott gives the audience a sense of false security.  This is best reflected in both after the facehugger dies and relinquishes its hold on Kane, and when Ripley has safely escaped aboard the shuttle at the end.  You feel as if the danger has past, but especially with the former, you feel like another shoe is waiting to drop creating this lurking uncertainty.  There’s still a long way to go in this film, and you know something much more threatening is waiting to emerge.  When the ship ascends from the planet, it’s signaling the elevation in threat for these characters and the audience.  And this film repeatedly elevates things to a new, unexpected level.

Scott also does an amazing job immersing an audience into the subtle sense of isolation and unsettling calm of the Nostromo.  This has as much to do with the cinematography as it does the amazing sound design.  The ship always has this ambient sound of probably the power running through it, which further unnerves an audience.  And when things get loud, it gets very loud to evoke the terror and visceral rawness of the moment.  This all creates a contrast of audio where Scott makes things extremely low and quiet when he wants to engage your attention and put you on the edge of your seat.  Then, he blasts something onto the soundtrack to jar you out of your seat.  I don’t find this to be jump scares.  This is an excellent manipulation of suspense and tension to effectively and skillfully scare an audience.  It’s putting you right in there with the unnerving feeling these characters are experiencing.

How Alien is shot is perfect in its use of wide compositions to reflect scope and solitude early on, especially during the excursion to the derelict spacecraft, and later on, how the cinematography moves in closer to highlight the claustrophobic nature of the Nostromo.  Even more intense is when Scott has the shot get right into the actor’s faces during the peak of fear and terror to where you can see every bead of sweat on their skin.  There’s some great and beautiful camera work from the large movements revealing the Space Jockey and using steadicams for sweeping movements.  Yet, I also love the subtle handheld work that creates a sense of unease and rawness at times.  The lighting schemes also create the signature Ridley Scott noir mood and atmosphere.  Light and shadow are used to stellar effect enhancing all the unnerving, heart pounding sequences, and Scott is known for immersing his films in thick darkness.  As the immediacy of everything reaches its apex as the self-destruct is counting down, the blasting exhaust vents and flashing lights intensely reflect the chaotic nature of the third act.  It’s shocking to me that director of photography Derek Vanlint has an extremely short filmography shooting only six films over a thirty-four year span.  Apparently, the bulk of his career was spent on television commercials.  What he did here would make you believe he had a largely notable film career because it was indeed the work of a master cinematographer.

Ridley Scott was very much inspired by the sort of “used future” production design of Star Wars.  Instead of the clean and polished aesthetics of a 2001: A Space Odyssey, he wanted something that felt gritty, textured, and lived in.  The Nostromo is a very utilitarian craft with very few sleek designs.  It was created to be functional and practical to maintain a sense of relatable realism for the audience.  It has the feel of a factory, oil rig, or submarine with all of its enclosed tight spaces and metal gratings.  And the design of the alien spacecraft and all things related to the Xenomorph by H.R. Giger are truly alien in all aspects.  It has a dark, gothic elegance to it.  Giger always meshes together this sexualized aesthetic with his fascinating and twisted designs, and it creates this unsettling undercurrent of sexuality to all of these creatures that victimize our characters.  Many have read a lot into these elements, but for me, it simply makes for a frightening and completely unique biology.  The Alien feels threatening in every way with all of its fanged teeth, exoskeleton design, and ultimately, it’s black as night sheen.  This is a creature meant to inhabit the darkness as an animalistic hunter.  How Ash describes it as the “perfect organism” has always struck me powerfully selling every single-minded quality about it.  It will use you to breed, and then, the others it will kill.  It has no other purpose to exist but to destroy.  I also love how the film constantly takes you by surprise as we witness the Alien’s life cycle.  First, it’s this tiny little creature, but next time we see it, it’s seven feet tall!  There’s an added shot in the director’s cut that I always liked when Brett goes looking for Jones the cat, and while he’s cooling himself off with the dripping condensation, there’s a shot of it hanging from the chains above.  This is before we know what the Alien now looks like, and so, you wouldn’t pick up on it unless you already knew.  Now, it did take a little bit of effort to put Prometheus out of my mind just to experience the originally intended mystique and fascination with the Space Jockey, but I was able to get there.  I still enjoy Prometheus, but I wanted to experience Alien in its purest form.

Now, despite this being a serious film of horror and atmosphere, the interactions of these characters portrayed by this excellent cast create some much needed moments of levity.  I constantly found what Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton were doing to be immensely pleasing and funny.  Parker and Brett are these two jokers who maintain the ship’s functions, and feel quite underappreciated for their hard work who try to leverage that out with some delightful exchanges.  Kotto and Stanton have a great chemistry that brings some rich personality into the fold.

Tom Skerritt is very solid as Captain Dallas.  He has that sense of authority and responsibility which clearly has him stand out as a leader.  Yet, he’s fallible making decisions out of passion instead of adhering to regulations, but also, owning up to those decisions and errors.  At the end of it all, he’s just a guy who wants to do his job and get home, but is forced to deal with something beyond his experience that ultimately does terrify him.

Then, we’ve got Sigourney Weaver who was an unknown talent at the time, and that played to an audience’s surprise.  This one person that they are unfamiliar with in the cast is actually the heroin of the piece, and Weaver shows her stellar talent every moment she’s on screen.  She holds her own opposite everyone very well projecting authority, strength, conviction, and decisiveness as Ellen Ripley.  Yet, of course, the absolutely soul shattering terror that Ripley experiences is powerful through Weaver.  She is vulnerable, but she can fight through it for her own survival.

This is unlike the constantly panicked Lambert who paralyzes with fear in the face of the alien, but her fear is entirely genuine and real with Veronica Cartwright’s fantastic talents making it something other than a potentially annoying character.  Many would find themselves reacting like Lambert does, and it’s a testament to the characters that are able to keep their fear and emotions in check to carry onward.

Ian Holm’s performance is brilliant.  It’s one of those things where you pick up on more in repeat viewings after you know the twist of Ash.  You see the sinister probing eyes that observe a situation like it’s some lab experiment.  Once you know who Ash is and what his purpose happens to be you can see his secret intent, especially during the chestburster scene.  This twist is carefully setup throughout the movie in how he repeatedly enables the safe passage of the alien aboard the ship.

The great thing about these characters is that, despite the futuristic setting on a spacecraft, these are relatable people.  They seem plucked straight out of our time and lives as rugged, blue collar space truckers.  They’re regular people just doing a regular job, but it’s only that they’re towing ore across interstellar space instead of a highway or the like.  They have realistic relationships such as Parker and Brett having some friction against the bridge officers because they get paid less even though the ship wouldn’t work without them.  These people all have conflicts, friendships, and complicated dynamics between them, and this is further aided by very realistic and honest dialogue.  The film surely doesn’t take time to explore the depth of these characters, but it is their behaviors and interactions that inform us of all we need to know about each one of them.  That’s really how you write an ensemble movie, much like John Carpenter’s The Thing.  You don’t need to get their life stories, you just need fully realized characters portrayed by great, suitable actors.  And I would be remised if I didn’t mention John Hurt here.  While he has the shortest screentime of anyone here, he puts in a solid performance that has a few moments of levity, but overall, is as authentic and strong as anyone else here.

The late Jerry Goldsmith seemed to regularly have conflicts with the filmmakers he worked with on how his scores should be crafted.  Oddly, I find that in these cases, what it is that he’s pushed towards creating is ultimately the better choice for the film overall.  Here, we get some great cues with the main theme being the best which exudes an aura of mystery, intrigue, and spookiness.  It’s a subtle melody that does a lot to make things feel lightly ominous and dangerous without ever being overt.  Simplicity can sometimes do so much in conjunction with how a film is shot and plotted.  The music that Goldsmith composed here is exceptionally effective even if how most of it was used went against how he thought it should be.

Usually, when you know a horror film well enough, knowing where the scares are coming and everything, it tends to become less effective.  However, upon this theatrical screening, many moments were still startling and scary.  I really feel that experiencing Alien in the immersive environment of a movie theatre is the best way to do it.  Maybe if you have a large HDTV and a stellar surround sound system, you could achieve that effect, but seeing all of the visual mastery on that large cinema screen was more than I could have imagined.  It just gave me the amplified experience I was looking for with this movie, and why I was compelled and excited for this experience.  Now that I’ve had that experience, my home viewing experience will be richer and more engaging.

It is undeniable that Alien is an eternal classic, but now, I am able to hold it up to that level of awe and recognition myself.  Scott took what was a B-movie horror idea and turned it into an A-grade picture full of masterfully crafted artistry in all aspects with the cast being a glowing example.  Ridley Scott is known for taking great care in creating immersive worlds not just on film, but for the actors and crew to live inside of.  He locks you into this enclosed maze of a dark spaceship where the Alien could be hiding anywhere, and you feel the claustrophobic tension eating away at you.  It can be a haunting, disturbing film for many, and while it has violence and blood, it is strategically used to intense effect.  The same can be said about the Alien itself – only seen it shadows, in pieces.  Scott only once or twice gives you a full fledged look at it.  He keeps it like a startling nightmare – brief glimpses that horrify, much like Jaws.  Unlike Jaws though, it wasn’t out of a necessity of the creature not working or being well designed, it was an artistic decision that worked brilliantly.  There’s a lot of crap that was spawned from this film with bad sequels, poorly conceived crossovers, and a prequel that has proved divisive for many.  Still, I can watch this film as a self-contained entity, and when done so, you can immensely appreciate that Ridley Scott and his vast team of highly talented artists and filmmakers made a stunning and iconic piece of science fiction horror.


Prometheus (2012)

For those not in the know, Prometheus was developed as a prequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 science ficition / horror classic Alien.  While it still is that, Scott admitted a long time ago that it evolved into something more than that.  After seeing the film, I certainly see the broader canvas that this story is told upon, and how it can branch out beyond that far more narrow storyline of Alien.  I can’t say I was expecting anything specific with this film, just that I anticipated something amazing.  It’s hard to say if I exactly got that, overall, but let’s break it down a little at a time.

In the late twenty-first century, a team of scientists lead by Drs. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) discover clues to the origins of mankind on Earth.  With the aid of the Weyland Corporation, headed by the elderly Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), they launch a journey into deep space aboard the spaceship Prometheus.  Cave paintings from various ancient civilizations that had no contact with one another point to a distant star system where these scientists believe the answer to our origins lie.  Among the ship’s crew and other specialists in various scientific fields, the voyage is aided by the advanced Weyland Corporation android David (Michael Fassbender) who is caretaker of the craft who has been learning countless languages in order to potentially communicate with these alien “engineers,” if and when they find them.  Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) is a liaison for the Weyland Corporation itself, and is overseeing the mission to make sure its interests are maintained.  As they explore this alien planet, dubbed LV-223, they face discoveries both amazing and frightening.  Eventually, what they seek becomes not what they hoped for, and they must battle a horrifying reality in order to save the future of the human race.

Before the review starts, which is in the next paragraph, two things about my theatre experience to note are that, one, there were no trailers screened ahead of this.  It went right into the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, and that was it.  No time was given to let the audience settle in and get ready for the movie once the lights went down.  It was exceptionally strange, and it took several minutes beyond the opening credits to sink myself into the movie. Why the theatre did this, I have no idea.  I’m very interested to know if this was an isolated incident or more wide spread.  Someone even had to run out of the theatre to grab a theatre employee because the curtains were drawn for a 1.85:1 aspect ratio when this was the wider 2.40:1 format.  So, for part of the opening credits, the partially drawn curtains were distracting.  The second thing is that I like sitting all the way in the back of the theatre.  Last row, top of the stadium seating.  When I saw The Avengers, the sound was a little low even sitting further down into the theatre.  This time, the surround sound speaker right next to me was very loud, and at times, the film’s score was louder than the dialogue.  And with all the reverb rich environments in the film, it made for a strange audio experience at times.  This certainly got better as the film went on, but early on, it was difficult to understand all of the dialogue sitting where I was.  Because of this, it took a long time to actually catch all of the main character’s names.  Thankfully, for this review, I have website resources to inform me better.  So, now, on with the review of Prometheus.

This is a film with a deliberate, methodical pace.  It certainly takes a while for the film to really get into the meat of the story.  It will certainly require your patience.  I surely do not mind a slow build, but the first act of a story is designed for you to get to know the characters and connect with them.  However, learning their names or not, I really didn’t start feeling much of a connection or distinction with anyone until the final act.  I think this is partly because there are so many characters populating the early half of the film that no one really stands out, aside from David, and so, it’s hard for the film to spend a lot of time with any particular character for long.  For at least the first hour of the film, no one is an obvious protagonist.  In Alien, it felt more like an ensemble piece, and you generally latched onto and cared about all of these characters.  Here, it’s not at all handled that way.  The film feels like it’s waiting for the heard to thin out before giving anyone a moment of prominence, and that contributes to a lack of character driven focus.

Something that contributes to this issue is that no one is explored in any real depth until the panic starts driving the story.  For instance, Dr. Shaw states what she believes this mission is all about, but at no time does she tells us why she believes this.  We’re just supposed to take it for granted that she does, and not ask those questions, yet the entire purpose of the movie is to ask questions.  It’s a scientific exploration, and science is all about being inquisitive.  She wears a holy cross necklace, and I’m not sure if that’s meant to imply that her scientific beliefs should have no more definite explanation than religious faith.  Scientists should be able to explain what they believe, especially when you’re dragging a good dozen or more people on a two year voyage into deep space.  It would add so much more depth and purpose to the character if she actually explained why she believes that the human race was birthed from an alien species to justify this large expedition.

On the stronger side, Michael Fassbender’s android character of David is remarkable.  His performance is the real highlight here.  In him, you see wonder, awe, foreboding, sinister intent, and child-like innocence.  He maintains a nice through line with the performances of Ian Holm and Lance Henriksen as the other droids of the Alien series, but makes David all his own.  He is clearly not human with a unique off-center performance.  No authentic emotion comes from him, but he can still appear personable, thoughtful, and courteous.  He is designed to be indistinguishable from humans, but over time, he clearly becomes well aware of his superior brilliance, making him truly feel superior to them in every way.  He has fascination with everything he observes and consumes.  He is, partially, a character we can see things through, experience them through his sense of amazement.  However, as the film goes on, you see ulterior motives surface in him, and that kept me highly intrigued as I did not know where they were coming from.  Were they his own personal twisted perversions, or part of someone else’s agenda?  The answer was quite satisfying to me, and cohesively tied in with the overall storyline.  Fassbender is truly the standout talent in this film, and David is an impressive creative achievement.

Now, I was rather put off by the fact that Guy Pearce appears here as only an elderly Peter Weyland.  He is only ever seen under heavy make-up and prosthetics to make him appear to be of advanced age.  It seems like an odd choice, but putting that aside, Pearce is excellent.  He has remained a captivating talent through the years, and really brings some poignant gravitas to the role.  Weyland’s motives behind supporting this expedition are entirely relatable, and Pearce’s grounded strength keeps it from being anything obsessive or off-kilter.  When he enters the story, he gives it an injection of weight and dread as his agenda motives everything forward from then on.

Again, later in the film, I really came to enjoy and connect with Idris Elba’s Captain Janek.  The actor himself described the characters as, “a longshoreman and a sailor, with a military background,” and that sums it up nicely.  He has that laid back style of confidence while also only minding the business of the ship and its crew, but clearly has the experience to make decisions like a military man.  As he forms a friendship with Dr. Shaw, you get to see some of his heart and soul, and that’s what clicked for me with him.

Noomi Rapace is the lead of the film as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw.  I don’t want to say she’s a Ripley allegory.  She’s definitely her own character with her own strengths and vulnerabilities, but I’m sure there will be those that try to make that comparison.  Again, it would have drawn me into the character earlier on if I had gained an understanding of her scientific beliefs, and why she is so committed to this expedition.  Just get more into her heart and mind a little.  However, when things start to become unhinged and chaotic, that is when Shaw becomes truly sympathetic and a powerful standout.  She comes to understand the truth of what they have discovered, but few others care about that except Janek.  She’s put through some hell when she has to cut an alien organism out of her own body in an intensely frightening and unsettling scene.  I love what that organism evolves into later on, and you certainly cannot put the pieces together until that later point.  Rapace brings a very compassionate, likeable quality to Elizabeth Shaw.  She’s fascinated by this discovery, at first, and continues to show enthusiasm and curiosity until things go awry.  Rapace is solid in this role showing heartfelt moments with Charlie, and carrying the more intense sections of the film with great skill and composure.  She fights through the maddening fear and physical strain, not giving up at any point.  She’s going to see everything through to the end, and that is the real gravitas Rapace brings to the film.  A very solid lead that does take a while to move into the forefront of the film, but when she does, she easily becomes someone to invest yourself into.

What didn’t grip me much was Logan Marshall-Green’s Dr. Charlie Holloway.  He seems either a little one dimensional or too concerned with himself to allow an audience to get into his character.  It’s partly how the character is written, but still, the actor doesn’t do much to show a real dimensional performance that could make him accessible.  We never come to know much about him, and all we know is what he hopes to find, not why he’s fascinated or compelled by the prospect of it.  We get the evidence that sparks the intrigue, but not why it means so much to him personally.  There’s no context given to Dr. Holloway to make him anything to think much of, and that’s definitely a big negative considering all that happens to him later on in the movie and how it affects Elizabeth.  Much of the supporting cast is the same.  Maybe a little quirk added to them here or there, but ultimately, they are nothing more than what the script needs them to be for the benefit of the story.  Again, there are so many characters in the first half of the film that it would be impossible to dig deeply into all of them, but sometimes, it doesn’t take too much.  Just the right hint of an endearing character trait, and the right actor to convey those elements of humanity.  However, I’m not going to mark this as a negative critical element.  Just a thought that could be used to enhance them further, but considering this is a horror film where much of the supporting cast is going to not survive, anyway, I can give it that concession.

Moving on, the production design maintains aesthetic touchstones with the Alien films, but upgrades them.  Considering we’ve never truly seen a state of the art vessel meant for scientific exploration, this makes sense.  The Nostromo was a freighter, requiring nothing more than the bare minimum technology to do its job.  The Sulaco was a military transport ship which didn’t need anything special to complete its missions.  However, the Prometheus is a science vessel needing the most sophisticated technology available to thoroughly accomplish its mission.  That is a welcomed way for the filmmakers to take advantage of modern day technological advances, and apply them to what a vessel of this sort would be like in eighty years without betraying what was established in the other films (which chronologically take place after this film).  The ship’s interiors as very reminiscent of the Nostromo, but with a little better living conditions and a generally more inviting appearance.  All of the alien technology and architecture is definitely in line with the franchise as H.R. Giger was brought back to expand upon some of his ideas and world.  That absolutely helped to create a wider and richer culture for this species, and yes, the Space Jockeys are extremely integral and vital to the story here.  That had always been one of the big things Ridley Scott had wanted to explore about this mythos, and I’m glad that is the major focus of Prometheus.

The visual effects are truly awe-inspiring.  Nothing low grade here.  They can be very enveloping, and key sequences are likely stunning in a 3D presentation.  As usual, I stick with the standard 2D theatrical experience.  Ridley Scott really allowed the visual effects to live up to his more than three decade long standards.  The more intense effects are immensely effective.  The various life forms they encounter are startling, frightening, and impressive.  They share some design elements with the franchise’s facehuggers and Xenomorphs themselves, but they keep it subtle.  This is clearly a different ship with a different engineering of these creatures.  So, that gave the filmmakers freedom to do more with their ideas, and present something more varied, yet still related to what is familiar.  The more environmental effects of space and the planet LV-223 greatly add to the film’s atmosphere setting the tone for the entire film.  Ridley’s not afraid to make the visuals dark and very shadowy lighted really only with flashlights, and that only enhances the creepy, unsettling nature of the alien structure’s interior.

The cinematography of Dariusz Wolski is very much in line with Ridley Scott’s visual sensibilities.  It’s even more surprising since he’s never worked with Ridley before, but has done some notable work.  He was cinematographer on The Crow, Dark City, Crimson Tide, and all of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  The lighting and camera is very solid, atmospheric, and effective.  Light and shadow mixed with some of Ridley’s signature smoky environments make for an incredible visual tone.  They create the sense of danger and mystery that these characters are engulfed, but it doesn’t stop with just the visual aspects.

The musical score by Marc Streitenfeld was amazing and enveloping, much like some of the visual effects.  The theme he composed for Prometheus is heard quite often, and it is haunting, enchanting, mysterious, and wondrous.  It sets a perfect tone for the film, and the remainder of the score is equally as rich and effective.  I would highly recommend purchasing the soundtrack which contains nearly an hour of the film’s amazing music.  This really feels like a musical masterpiece as it complements the complex tone of the film so well.

Now, the big question is if this really is a good prequel to Alien.  I believe it is an excellent pseudo-prequel, and I use that terminology because Prometheus is so much more than just a prequel to Alien.  As you’ve probably figured out by now, Prometheus does have more than its fair share of graphic horror and scares.  While Ridley Scott has made a film that has a far larger scope than Alien, he entirely keeps it within the same tone as that film while adding to and expanding upon it.  It’s even more frightening of a film at times because it’s not just alien organisms using human bodies for gestation, we’re dealing with genetic engineering.  Things that can infect your body and transform you into something inhuman.  The film does explore the origins of humanity as a species created by a far more advanced race of beings, and the desire for answers as to why.  This opens the film up to some philosophical discussions amongst its characters that are decently explored, but don’t weigh down the film.  Prometheus is a film that can stand on its own aside from the franchise.  It has its own strength, its own direction, and its own motivations to follow through on that are bigger than the franchise has ever explored.  This could easily branch out into a whole other franchise leaving the facehuggers, chestbursters, aliens, and so forth to their own machinations.

The other question is, well, does this answer the questions one would have walking into this film knowing it is an Alien prequel.  Partially.  It answers a few questions, but leaves many hanging in suspense, capturing, at least, my compelling interest.  Let it be known that this film does not have a definitive ending.  It is truly setup for another dangerous and fascinating adventure with the surviving characters which is far more likely to explore the ideas and questions raised in this film, and hopefully, bring us many of those answers.  I knew this walking in, and that took the edge off an ending which could’ve been a little sour and cheated in my mind.  It’s not an abrupt end as it does segue way nicely into a conclusion, but getting there does feel a little rushed.  In a film that took a gradual pace with establishing everything, the setup for the sequel segue ending is run through with a much faster pace than expected.  It works well mixed in with some frightening action, and maintains character motivation and determination.  The pace was just a little throwing.  This might’ve been because I kept expecting a hanging conclusion to the film, and feared for an abrupt cutaway to credits every so often.  Thankfully, that did not happen.  The ending does have me enraptured to know where this storyline can go, and how a further fleshed out exploration of these ideas and characters can be enhanced through another film.  I surely think a second viewing, more evenly positioned in the theatre, will feel smoother for me.  I have no doubt that a sequel would answer these questions, and not leave the Alien prequel connection unsatisfied.

The only truly spoiler section of this review will be this paragraph, and so, skip over it if you wish to remain free of them.  The film reveals that the human race was created and descended from the Space Jockeys, who have a very pale and human appearance beneath the “exoskeleton” style space suits we saw in Alien.  It is eventually learned that they decided to eradicate humanity with ships full of organisms designed for that very purpose.  It is not answered why they decided on this course of action, which was halted two millennia ago when these organisms broke loose and killed the crew.  However, the thought that ran through my head was echoing Ash’s statement in Scott’s original film – “perfect organism.”  Perhaps, the Space Jockeys finally achieved perfection in genetic engineering, and decided that all inferior life forms they engineered should be wiped out to make way for their ultimate creation.  Still, there does seem to be more rage, more visceral determination with this motive from just how the one still living Jockey acts.  He’s violent, murderous at the sight of human beings, and immediately begins to kill them all.  He appears dead-set determined to complete this mission at all costs, and leave no human living anywhere.  So, while my speculation might have some validity, there certainly appears to be a more personal, primal motivation to their agenda.  And while we don’t get to see the classic title character of the Alien franchise, the Space Jockey does give birth to a similar being.  I would likely call it a prototype Alien.  There are similarities in the design, but it’s much less developed and more angular.  This is the image that closes out the movie, and gives a little fan service that is nicely placed.  Like much of the film, it leaves you hungering for more.  It would have been amazing to see the original creature appear on screen, but if Ridley Scott wants to save that for a sequel to give that film the big pay-off, I can subscribe to that idea.

I think the best compliment I can give Prometheus is that, even sixteen hours after seeing it, my mind is still alive thinking about it.  Synapses are still sparking, and I think I need to see this again.  There is so much to absorb and process that additional viewings are certainly needed to let it all settle into my mind.  Even as long as this review is, I don’t think it thoroughly covers every thought I should have about it.  However, for allowing a reader to determine whether it’s worth their while, I’m sure I’ve said plenty.  While there are aspects that could have been done better in terms of making the characters stand out more and allow the audience to get to know them better sooner, overall, I think this is an exceptionally successful film.  It is a very intelligent work of science fiction and horror that screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof and producer / director Ridley Scott should be commended for.  It’s been too long since we’ve gotten a science fiction film of this caliber with some sophistication, artistry, imagination, and intellect.  I’m sure there will be many mixed reactions out there, and again, I’m still uncertain of my final perception on it, but I am definitely hooked into what Prometheus has to offer.  It’s only unfortunate that it appears to be only one half of a whole, and with Ridley Scott already having two other film productions upcoming, including the sequel to Blade Runner,  it’s going to be a good couple of years before we get a continuation for Prometheus.  Thankfully, Ridley seems to churn out films pretty quickly.  There’s rarely more than a two year gap between his films, sometimes all of a single year, but by no means, do I desire for him to rush anything along.  Prometheus was a film a long time coming, and I think it was a generally worthwhile wait.  We’ll just have to see if that second half of the whole makes good on the potential shown here.