Adventures In Celluloid

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things film.

Dominic Corry: Prometheus and the power of macro storytelling

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Michael Fassbender in a scene from Prometheus.  Photo / Supplied
Michael Fassbender in a scene from Prometheus. Photo / Supplied

The opening scene of Prometheus is the coolest thing I've seen in a movie since Wikus Van De Merve (Sharlto Copley) climbed inside an alien war machine and started shooting in District 9.

In the interests of not ruining it for anyone that hasn't yet seen the film, I won't describe what comprises the Prometheus scene, but suffice to say that not only does it contain some of the most striking imagery Ridley Scott has ever committed to screen (which is saying something considering he directed Alien, Blade Runner and Someone to Watch Over Me), it presents mythic implications that render the grand events of Alien and Blade Runner (and indeed Someone To Watch Over Me) inconsequential by comparison.

It's no spoiler to say that the plot of Prometheus concerns nothing less than the search for the origins of life on Earth (they say it on the poster), but what struck me most about the film (which I saw over the weekend, and loved) was how far it was willing to go in terms of exploring and portraying these ideas.

It made me realise once again just how much I appreciate such grand notions in cinema - to say that Prometheus takes place on a broad canvas is like saying HR Giger's original Alien designs are a tad sexual.

Far too few films attempt such macro storytelling, but a couple of recent examples have shown how powerful such humanity-encompassing ideas can be on screen when delivered with artistic confidence and technical prowess.

It wasn't hugely surprising when Terrence Malick's polarising 2011 film The Tree of Life got a lot of stick for utilising a lyrical, wandering, dialogue-light narrative style - it stood in marked contrast to the manner in which audiences are used to seeing character-based stories unfold.

But what I didn't understand was why anyone would complain about the bravura sequence which attempted to portray the history of the physical universe. This sequence blew me away with its visual and aural power, and I remained wholly enraptured throughout.

The magnitude of what was being portrayed never felt understated (even when the dinosaurs turned up), but it's difficult to imagine anyone but Malick achieving - or even attempting - such a scene.

The legacy of Darren Aronofky's endearingly overreaching 2006 film The Fountain has had some of its thunder stolen by Malick's film, but it too deserves credit for the sheer unbridled ambition of the story Aronofsky was attempting to tell.

The project underwent considerable re-scaling when original star Brad Pitt decided to make Troy instead, and I'll always be curious about what form the film could've taken in it's original conception.

Brian De Palma's critically lambasted 2000 Mission To Mars rarely gets much appreciation, but I freaking love it. Fans of the film (all six of us!) will recognise certain macro storytelling elements in Prometheus. They unfold in a much more artful way in Ridley Scott's film, but Mission To Mars' classic sci-fi elements ensure it will remain close to my heart.

Which speaks to a grander point about macro sci-fi cinematic storytelling - whenever anything cool and new in cinema along these lines occurs, it has usually already existed in literary science-fiction for decades. Films like Prometheus and Mission To Mars (and The Matrix and The Avengers) incorporate ideas that have been well-explored in innumerable books over the years.

But I don't think that makes them necessarily derivative. If anything, I'm glad such ideas are finally seeping into cinema at a time when the technology and conviction exists to do them justice. Seeing these ideas in a movie is a different experience to reading about them in books, and neither one renders the other redundant.

I just can't wait for cinema to catch up to the likes of such bold contemporary authors like Iain M Banks and China Mieville.

I was blown away enough by Prometheus to happily view it as the nastier alternative to James Cameron's Avatar in the same way Scott's original Alien served as a grittier counterpoint to the relative optimism of the first Star Wars film.

I just felt so darn indulged by Prometheus. Scott's conviction as a technical director has rarely been better utilised - the colours, technology and landscapes in the film are utterly enthralling and are ably complimented by the human aspects. And I haven't even mentioned the creatures.

I'll be doing a spoiler-heavy post-analysis of the film here in a few weeks, so ignore the naysayers and get out and see the movie already!

Spoilers: Read Dominic Corry's full review of Prometheus here.

* Do you enjoy these kinds of macro ideas in sci-fi films? Can you name other examples? Do you think movies crib from classic science fiction too much? Seen Prometheus yet? Thoughts? Comment below!

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