Release Date(s)2012 (October 9, 2012)
Studio(s)Scott Free/Brandywine (20th Century Fox)
Note: This edition includes Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD/Digital Copy discs, plus an exclusive Blu-ray Bonus Disc
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A+
[Editor’s Note: This review contains significant spoilers. Read on – or not – accordingly.]
Few films in recent memory have stirred as much anticipation, controversy and debate in the geek community as Ridley Scott’s Prometheus – something that comes as no surprise given that the film represents Scott’s long-awaited return to cinematic science fiction following a thirty year absence after the release of his original Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982), both landmarks of the genre.
The story follows a pair of young archaeologists in the year 2089, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), who discover a mysterious star map common to the excavated ruins of otherwise unrelated ancient human civilizations. This they believe to be an invitation left by an advanced alien race – so-called Engineers who may have created the human race. Hired by the industrialist Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce in old age makeup), Shaw and Holloway lead a scientific expedition aboard the spacecraft Prometheus to the planet indicated in the map – the moon LV-223 in the Zeta 2 Reticuli system. Also aboard Prometheus along with its crew are the android David (a terrific performance by Michael Fassbender) and an icy Weyland company watchdog (played Charlize Theron). Upon landing on LV-223, the crew finds not only the ruins of an ancient Engineer base but the desiccated corpses of the Engineers themselves. As they grapple with these discoveries, David begins to reveal a hidden agenda as well as the cause of the Engineers’ demise – a devastating primordial lifeform that could wipe out the expedition… and all life on Earth.
Originally conceived as a straightforward prequel to Alien, Scott’s Prometheus continued to evolve throughout not just the writing phase but the entire filmmaking process into something very different – a film with clear ties to the Alien franchise but which obsessively strives to break new ground. Scott and his writers were pushing at every step to introduce Grand Ideas into this universe, and many of them are interesting indeed. But in their effort to think big, they unfortunately seem to have lost sight of many of the more mundane details of the story actually told on screen – the choices and actions of the film’s characters that all too often defy basic logic and common sense.
Here’s just one example: If this mission literally meant the difference between life and death for Weyland, why wouldn’t he staff it with the absolute best scientists, technicians and engineers his money could buy? Why does he instead crew the ship with knuckle-headed hired hands just working for a paycheck? To illustrate this another way, imagine the terminally-ill Steve Jobs had had access to faster-than-light space travel and near-miraculous technology, and had learned that an alien race (that quite possibly created Humanity and would certainly have the ability to cure his cancer) had left an invitation to come visit? Do you think he’d have settled for a bunch of space truckers or would he have wisely staffed his crew with the best of the best – the cream of the crop of Nobel laureates, NASA astronauts and the like? This is key, because the buffoonish crew that Weyland selects clumsily proceeds to poke everything in sight, contaminate themselves and their spacecraft, and pretty much make a mockery of their entire mission. There are a whole series of baffling questions that arise from this: Why does the geologist and map-maker (who has the controls/readout of the mapping devices right on the sleeve of his spacesuit) get lost? Why is the exobiologist so afraid of the Engineer corpse that he runs away but has no problem poking his fingers at the clearly very alive and dangerous looking cobra alien a short time later? What kind of scientist (I'm referring to Holloway) takes the risk of removing his helmet to contaminate both himself and the alien environment around him, then doesn’t care after subsequently making what are certainly the biggest discoveries in the history of science? Why would anyone certified for space travel burn pot in their spacesuit’s oxygen supply? Why are there flamethrowers on a space expedition? (Here’s a hint for those who many not be aware – fire and space travel really don’t mix.) Why doesn’t Vickers just run perpendicular to the direction that the crashing Derelict is rolling to avoid getting crushed? The list of dumb character choices in this film is huge. And that’s only the beginning of the problems here. Why does the Derelict ship crash in exactly the same position as the one from the original film, when they’re not meant to be on the same planet? (The answer turns out to be: They were meant to be the same planet... until they weren't. Ridley changed it in post-production at the 11th hour, as his crew members reveal in interview material on Disc Three.)
For all its ambitions, Prometheus feels far too bloated and over-produced to do justice to the original Alien. Unlike that film or Scott’s Blade Runner, where the limitations in visual effects technology at the time forced Scott to point his camera on an entirely real environment, here he makes here the same mistake George Lucas did in Episode I – he just shows you too much and enhances every corner of the frame with CG detail. Too many of the Grand Ideas presented in this film are heavy-handed – they’re given away, rather than letting the audience discover them organically. (Naming the film and the ship Prometheus?) At every stage, this film was just over-worked to the point that the purity, edginess and effectiveness of the original idea was lost. You can hear this in the writer’s commentary track, you can see it in the film’s conceptual design artwork. The creatures in the original film were nasty, deeply-unsettling, original and barely seen. Here (with the sole exception of the Engineers) they’re squishy, squidy derivations of the monsters from any bad Alien clone, from Galaxy of Terror to your typical Japanese Hentai film, and they're right out there in the light so you see every slimy tenticle.
Early in his career, Ridley Scott was so far ahead of the competition in terms of realizing believable science-fiction worlds that he set the gold standard. In the intervening years, a new generation of filmmakers have not only followed his lead, they’ve broken new ground. Could it be that Scott is now caught behind-the curve? Will we one day look back at Prometheus as Scott’s Full Metal Jacket moment? I certainly hope not, especially with his Blade Runner prequel already in development. Nevertheless, Prometheus is a high-concept, gorgeous looking mess – a film that somehow manages to be extraordinary smart and incredibly klutzy at the same time.
Thankfully, the video quality of Fox’s 2D Blu-ray version is spectacular. This is certainly home theatre reference material. Detail is refined and abundant – note the various holographic displays and the subtle textures of rock and sand on the planet’s surface. Color is quite vibrant and accurate to the theatrical presentation. Contrast is very pleasing as well, with deep, true blacks in the space scenes and nicely detailed shadows – for example in the interiors of the Engineer structure. The brightest areas of the picture are bright but never blown out. The film’s high-definition video representation is every bit the visual eye-candy it’s intended to be. The Blu-ray 3D presentation is excellent too, comparing in quality quite nicely with Fox’s Avatar in 3D – more on that soon in a separate review.
Sonically, the Blu-ray’s DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio presentation quality matches the visuals well. Clarity of dialogue is excellent at all times. Imaging is precise, and the surrounds are used to full effect in creating a sense of full immersion in the “story” space. This is a highly atmospheric mix and yet when the soundtrack needs to really pummel you with a wall of sound and thunderous sonic effects – such as when the Derelict crashes, for example – you’ll not want for bass, volume or clarity. The BD’s soundtrack supports the visuals perfectly. This is pure demo material.
Happily, the special features collected in this set are first-rate too. Produced by longtime Scott collaborator Charles de Lauzirika, they amount to arguably the largest batch of extras ever created for a single new release film. Let’s break down the set’s extras disc by disc…
Disc One – Prometheus on Blu-ray 3D
This disc includes the film in 3D.
Disc Two – Prometheus on Blu-ray
The 2D version includes a pair of feature-length audio commentaries, one with director Ridley Scott and another with the film’s two writers – original scribe Jon Spaihts and final script doctor Damon Lindelof. You also get some 37 minutes worth of deleted and alternate scenes with optional commentary by editor Pietro Scalia and VFX supervisor Richard Stammers. Without giving away too much, the director’s commentary is good but frustrating, because Ridley constantly reveals his intentions not to copy himself and to do things in new and different ways from the original film – somewhat irritating if what you were hoping for was a more direct prequel. The deleted scenes are great, but are also somewhat frustrating because little things were cut from the film that would have filled in some of the puzzling plot details – not so much the big idea stuff but rather moments that would have explained some of the dumb or puzzling decisions made by the characters. There’s also an alternate version of the mutated Fifield’s attack on the ship that is frankly much more creepy and unsettling that the version in the film itself. For my money however, the best extra on this disc by far is the writer’s commentary. Spaihts and Lindelof were recorded separately for the track, which makes it all the more revealing. Simply put, if you wish to understand just how this film went wrong and where, it’s made abundantly clear in the differences in tone and thoughtfulness of the comments they make. One writer was clearly going for a much more unsettling, darkly horrific vibe for the film in the vein of Lovecraft and the original Alien and had carefully thought through all the little details of the story, while the other was essentially trying to craft a Alien/Blade Runner mash-up and was making all too many choices because they were cool. I’ll let you decide which. Not all the "doctored" changes are bad – there are definitely some genuinely good additions to the story mix in the final shooting script from earlier drafts. Notably David's character is far more interesting in the final version. But much that made sense in terms of character decisions, actions and motivations in earlier drafts became utterly confused in the revision process, and the film suffers for it. [Editor's Note: Spaiths' final draft of the script before Lindelof was brought in to rework it has now leaked out and can be found online. Google 'Alien: Engineers' and you should be able to track down a copy of it yourself in PDF format. You can decide for yourself what impact the changes had on the story that ultimately appeared on screen.]
Disc Two also includes a Prometheus Weyland Corp mobile app sync function (the app is available for both Android and Apple devices via Google Play and iTunes) that gives you “enhanced viewing” functionality on your device as you watch the film. It includes video clips, images, artwork, etc – all of which are also found on Disc Three. You can either sync the experience with the film manually or via Wi-Fi if your BD player and mobile device are connected to the same wireless network. The synched experience doesn’t provide a great deal of value, but the ability to browse all the content via tablet with quick finger taps is quite pleasant and in many ways more natural than using your remote.
Finally the disc offers The Peter Weyland Files, composed of 4 short video promotional featurettes for the film. They include Quiet Eye: Elizabeth Shaw – a Yutani Corp. biometric analysis of Shaw’s pitch to Weyland; Happy Birthday, David – essentially a promotional spot for Weyland’s David 8 series of androids; Prometheus Transmission – the broadcast message sent by the Prometheus to the Engineers on LV-223 ahead of their arrival; and Ted Conference, 2023 – the infamous video of young Weyland expounding with much hubris about the future he’s creating for humanity at TED. Each of these is accompanied by text essays written by Weyland himself, as if from his own personal journal. They’re interesting in that, among other things, they hint at the transmission on LV-426 (from the original Alien), that the Blade Runner and Alien universes may be one and the same and other fascinating (and clearly retconned after the film was finished) details.
Disc Three – Special Features (Blu-ray)
Disc Three contains the lion’s share of this set’s bonus features… which is both good and bad. It’s good because the disc’s actual content is fantastic. It’s bad because you can only get this disc by purchasing the 4-Disc Collector’s Edition of the film – if all you care about is 2D you’re forced to buy the larger package to get everything.
The disc itself is broken into two parts: The feature-length documentary The Furious Gods: Making Prometheus and a Weyland Corp Archive of additional content. The Furious Gods runs a whopping 220 minutes and is broken into 9 segments. Simply put, it covers the production of the film from its early inception right up until its ultimate release and it does so in absolutely exhaustive detail, granting you unparalleled access to virtually every moment of the process you might wish to see, all presented in full HD. Interested in the film’s larger ideas, its conceptual design, the stunt work, the 3D filmmaking process, the sound and editing, the creature design evolution? It’s all here. You see everything and hear from virtually everyone of any importance that worked on the project. All of it is wonderful material and thoroughly enjoyable if you loved the film. The only criticism one could really level here is that, if you didn’t love the film, this is probably way more detail than some of you need.
The documentary is itself supported by more than 20 of its own Enhancement Pod video featurettes (over an hour of additional footage), which cover more obscure aspects of the production that didn’t quite it in the main program. Ironically, this is among the most interesting material on the disc, as it addresses such questions as: Why call the film Prometheus? Why isn’t the planet in the film the same one from Alien even though it would seem to be? Just how connected are the Alien and Blade Runner universes? When you view the documentary in “enhanced” mode, you not only get to see these additional Pods but also lots of additional production artwork and other gallery material.
Naturally, that gallery material comes straight from the disc’s Weyland Corp Archive, which is broken into a trio of sections. Pre-Production features an exhaustive library of conceptual artwork and imagery, as well as 6 Pre-Vis videos. Production adds screen test footage, a time-lapse video of the set construction and further galleries of extensive unit photography. Finally, Release offers galleries of poster explorations and related artwork, all of the film’s theatrical trailers and TV spots, and 9 additional EPK-style featurettes created specifically to promote the film.
All told, the combined special features content in this set represents well over 7 hours of viewing/listening and/or browsing – enough to satisfy even the most obsessive fan.
Disc Four – Prometheus on DVD (and Digital Copy)
The set’s final disc includes the film on a DVD disc in 480p anamorphic widescreen video with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, plus a Digital Copy version for mobile devices. There’s also a paper insert in the case with a redemption code for an UltraViolet copy.
Like the Star Wars prequels before it, Ridley Scott’s big return to science fiction filmmaking clearly engenders very strong feelings among fans and at such moments it can be hard to remain entirely objective. Love it or hate it, Prometheus certainly left people talking. That’s something I suppose. But whatever of your feelings about the film, Fox’s Blu-ray release is terrific on virtually every count. To that extent at least, this set is recommended.