Prometheus : Ridley Scott Experiments with Fire (!)

24/06/2012 15:03 BST | Updated 22/08/2012 10:12 BST

After months of intense speculation and exceedingly high expectations, fuelled in no small measure by a very sophisticated viral campaign on the internet, veteran film director Ridley Scott's epic sci-fi movie Prometheus finally arrived in the theatres. After a hiatus of nearly 30 years, the director is making a comeback to the genre he helped define with the critically acclaimed masterpiece 'Blade Runner' (1982), which ranks high on the lists of the greatest sci -fi movies ever made. That, combined with the fact that 'Prometheus' marks his return to the series that he initiated with the chillingly atmospheric sci-fi horror masterpiece 'Alien' (1979), has ensured the high degree of visibility and interest in the movie.

Fed up as they were with endless iterations of the trashy Alien vs Predator franchise, fans of the genre and series can't be blamed if they awaited the arrival of Scott's Prometheus with bated breath.

While often touted as a prequel to the original Alien franchise, the movie is more of a spin-off of the first Alien movie, sharing, in the director's own words, "the same DNA" with that film. It expands on one of the deliciously intriguing loose ends in the original 'Alien', that of the iconic 'space jockey', the skeletal remains of a giant humanoid alien that that astronauts find on an abandoned spaceship in the beginning of the film. Scott attempts to answer the nagging questions that the presence of the 'space jockey' left in our minds, while attempting to link it with the more grandiose notions about the creation of life, science, and even... God.

The initial reception to the movie was largely positive. But Prometheus, or rather, the audience and critics, seems to be burdened with the baggage of the original Alien franchise. And this has created the space for a level of criticism that is unwarranted and unfortunate. Fans expecting something closely connected to the original Alien will surely be disappointed. Ridley Scott and his team has clearly tried to do something different, while going back to the roots of an established fictional world, and trying to take the story and our imagination into newer horizons. But one must admit that these are well charted waters, where stalwarts like Stanley Kubric have already taken us, with films like '2001 - A Space Odyssey'. Whether Scott redeems himself in this endeavour is a pertinent question.

It is established beyond doubt that Ridley Scott is one of the greatest storytellers of this generation, holding his own in an arena populated by stalwarts like Spielberg, George Lucas, James Cameron and others. While he may not quite be in the league of a Cameron or a Spielberg when it comes to box-office success, critically, his movies have passed the muster time and again. He might have had his fair share of duds, but when he does get it right, he has the capacity to make people sit up and take notice.

Scott redefined depiction of femininity on screen, with the unforgettable Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) blasting away aliens and established gender notions alike, throughout the original Alien franchise (though he directed only the first film). In Prometheus again, he has the capable Noomi Rapace essaying the role of a scientist torn between her faith and her work, namely, science. Other than strong female leads, Scott also seems to have a penchant for showing android characters with a depth that seems to captivate and disturb us in equal measure. Following in the line of the memorable Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer at his best in Blade Runner) here we have the hugely talented Michael Fassbender who arguably steals the show as the android David. Scott has managed to cover his bases when it comes to stocking an ensemble cast with at least a couple of memorable characters in his trademark style.

What usually makes a Ridley Scott film stand out is the director's level of control over the vast fictional universes that he creates. The atmosphere that he creates in his movies, be it the neon-lit ambience of a futuristic LA, or the claustrophobic confines of a deep space transport ship, or the bloody arenas of gladiatorial combat, they all have the capacity to transport us to those fictional worlds. In Prometheus, this is one of the strong points of the film. While wielding the wizardry of CGI, Scott has managed to avoid the common pitfall of going overboard with visual effects at the cost of other aspects of the film. Prometheus is a veritable treat to the eyes.

While it grapples with the larger issues of origins of life, creation and extra terrestrial intelligence Prometheus at its heart remains a 'space exploration/monster flick'. This slight muddled nature of the film is what prevents it from attaining its true potential. Make no mistake, it is a good film in its own right. But one feels that the director has played it slightly safe, keeping in mind the commercial aspects. In his defence, outstanding sci-fi films rarely make much of an impact at the box office. His very own Blade Runner is a case in point. It seems that Scott, in order to avoid the fate of the eponymous Greek deity who invited the wrath of gods for stealing fire and giving it to the humans, has handled this 'fire' in such a way that his Prometheus appeases everyone, including the Gods of the Box-Office.