Prometheus preview footage screening and Q&A: our reaction

Preview Ryan Lambie 10 Apr 2012 - 14:26
Prometheus

Yesterday morning, we were treated to a few minutes’ footage from Ridley Scott’s forthcoming Prometheus. Here’s what we thought of it...


NB: while we've kept the following as spoiler free as possible, those wanting to go and see Prometheus without any prior knowledge of its first act events may want to avoid the following.

In the build up to the release of Prometheus, the words ‘science’ and ‘faith’ have come up repeatedly in conversations with its stars and director Ridley Scott. A film envisioned as a pure Alien prequel, before spinning off into more philosophical territory as subsequent drafts were written, Prometheus deals with the kinds of grand themes not often explored in summer movies.

It’s fair to say, too, that there’s a fair bit of faith invested in Prometheus from the perspective of Ridley Scott’s legion fans. Can this seasoned director create a third sci-fi movie to match the outright brilliance of Alien and Blade Runner? This was one of the questions in the front of our minds when we filed into a London cinema to see a few precious minutes of Prometheus footage - the atmosphere in the room was, if not hushed, then certainly expectant.

This expectant air was also due to the presence of none other than Sir Ridley himself, along with lead actors Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender. But before they’d take their seats, we had that footage to watch...

Cave of forgotten screams

Before the preview had even begun, we couldn’t help worrying that whatever we were about to see would spoil the entire film. Exciting though such previews sometimes are, it’s often better to enjoy a film as a whole rather than divided up into chunks. Thankfully, 20th Century Fox had been as careful to avoid giving anything away in the preview as they have in the rest of Prometheus’ marketing.

What we saw, then, was effectively an extended glimpse of the film’s first act; a reel of images that expanded a little on what has already been revealed in the full trailer. By now, you’re probably aware that Noomi Rapace plays Elizabeth Shaw, an archaeologist who, having pieced together the clues found in earthly artefacts from antiquity, ventures off into the stars to search for ancient gods.

All of this is succinctly illustrated in an opening scene where Shaw and her partner Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover some 35,000 year-old paintings in a Scottish cave - presumably, this will be one of the earliest sequences in the finished movie. What’s immediately impressive here is the quality of not only Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography, but also the clarity and depth afforded by the film’s 3D. Its deployment is subtle, but gives an added sense of scale and texture - and appears to have been inspired, at least in part, by Werner Herzog’s remarkable 3D documentary, Cave Of Forgotten Dreams.

Shaw’s discovery in that cavern, we learn, is the final piece in her ancient jigsaw puzzle, and we’re soon swept from a Scottish hillside in 2089 to the depths of space in 2093. We’re now aboard the Prometheus, with its crew of 17 scientists and explorers, heading off to parts unknown.

Now we meet Michael Fassbender’s character David, a bottle blonde space butler who appears to maintain the ship while its human occupants are in hypersleep, and also does the bidding of the mission’s somewhat severe corporate representative, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). Vickers is the sort of person who gets up before everyone else to do a few hundred press-ups, and would probably win The Apprentice if it’s still going in almost a century’s time.

As the rest of the Prometheus’ crew are awakened from their slumber, we get a bit of a look around the ship itself. The production design is excellent - the movie’s version of hypersleep is a mixture of the familiar cocoons from Alien and Aliens, except with the addition of some sort of life-preserving, translucent goo. It’s notable that, although Scott’s chosen some quite glamorous leads for his film, their rise from stasis is anything but soft-focus; Rapace’s character is practically coughing her lungs up as she’s reintroduced.

There’s a pleasing lack of clutter, too, about Prometheus’ future aesthetic; where some production designers appear to be tempted to pack every frame with as much detail as they can, Prometheus' look is sleek, confident, and minimal. There's a rather quaint retro feel, too, which seems to hark back to the franchise's late-70s and 80s roots; there's an overhead-projector-like device that looks like a Rubik cube, a multi-wheeled exploration vehicle that looks like a Big Trak, and a glimpse of a decidedly ZX Spectrum-era joystick.

With goo washed off and clothes applied, the crew then assembles for a briefing, which again was already featured (albeit in edited form) in the first full trailer. Shaw and Logan have put their clues together - “it’s not a star map. It’s an invitation”, Shaw says - and with the corporate backing of a decrepid Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, who appears on a video screen for a few moments in heavy granddad make-up) head off to find the secret of life in the universe.

And with that briefing over, the crew prepare to land on their destination - revealed here to be LV-223, quite clearly a different planet from Alien and Aliens’ LV-426. As the preview footage than merged almost seamlessly into what was effectively a slightly amended theatrical trailer (was that a glimpse of something tentacle-like new or had we merely missed it before? We still haven’t made our minds up), it became clear that whatever secrets Prometheus has in store will remain obscure until the finished film arrives in June.

Other than a brief scene which introduced Idris Elba’s space pilot Janek, whose character moment was based around the construction of a Christmas tree, the preview gave almost nothing away at all - its aim was clearly to provoke debate and curiosity rather than answer questions. It was intriguing to see Peter Weyland, now a far different man from the one we saw on the TED viral trailer released last month, but what is his role in the greater narrative? It seems clear that Vickers and her android manservant have their own agendas, but what are they?

So many questions, so very few answers

Unsurprisingly, Sir Ridley and his three performers were reluctant to give anything away in the subsequent question and answer session. Fassbender talked about the inspiration behind his character, a lithe and distant ancestor to Alien’s Ash - David, he said, has his roots in such disparate places as The Man Who Fell To Earth, Lawrence Of Arabia and, curiously, Olympic diver Greg Louganis. Of Vickers, Theron described her character as “detached and cold”, and added she‘s “there for a personal reason of which I cannot speak.”

Scott, meanwhile, spoke entertainingly about preparing to make the film. Before Prometheus had a greenlight from Fox, the director began getting production designs together with the assistance of longterm collaborator Arthur Max, meaning that a voluminous collection of plans and photo-quality CG visuals had been compiled by the time shooting began some 12 months or so ago.

He also spoke quite candidly about Prometheus’ classification, which is still currently undecided, but is expected to be PG-13, despite Scott’s previous assertion that its tone and subject matter places it closer to an R. Of the recent trend for more and more films to be classified as PG-13, he said, “It’s how they [the studios] get their money back”, but added that ratings were “inconsistent”, and said that one recent film granted a PG-13 (the title of which he didn’t divulge) was “fucking ludicrous.”

Does this mean that Prometheus will be cut to meet the requirements of a PG-13? Scott’s comment about studio economics suggests that it almost certainly will, but then again, an enigmatic statement about the film’s potentially gorier moments may point to the opposite. When asked whether Prometheus would contain anything as shocking as Alien’s chestburster sequence, Scott said, “There is a scene that’s an equivalent of that [chestburster scene].” Motioning to Rapace, Scott added, “It’s your scene.”

In response, Rapace spoke darkly of the sequence in question giving her nightmares. If this scene really is as graphic and nightmarish as the one in Alien - which would still make a PG-13 rating out of the question even today, we’d argue - surely it’ll have to be given an R classification?

Whether Prometheus is given an R or a PG-13 rating isn’t quite the issue it might have been had Scott produced a straight horror-in-space movie like Alien, though. From both the trailers and the footage we saw, there’s a tangible sense of menace in Prometheus, but it also appears to be more akin to the philosophical sci-fi of Blade Runner than Alien. Scott himself said that Prometheus only really shares its oft-quoted 'Alien DNA’ in its last seven minutes - if one were to look further afield for Prometheus' genetic roots, it would probably be found in the writings of Arthur C Clarke, Nigel Kneale or Erich "Chariots Of The Gods, man" von Däniken.

Late last year, we put together a list of our 25 most anticipated movies of 2012, and after much deliberation, we placed Prometheus right at the top spot. Having sat through yesterday’s tantalisingly brief preview, we can safely say it deserves to stay in prime position.

If anything, our anticipation for Prometheus’ June release is even more feverish than ever.

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