Prometheus, Ridley Scott & the Art of Thinking Big

I just came back from screening Prometheus in IMAX 3-D and I want to say right out of the chute that seeing a big film on a big screen in a big format is something truly special.  If you have never taken the plunge on the $15 ticket, please do yourself a favor. Think 3-D is a waste of time? I would agree with you except when it comes to Imax 3-D.  It’s spectacular. As my friend Mick pointed out to me a few weeks back, with the advent of the dvd, pc and other visual distractions/entertainments, the social act of going to the movies has become less and less special in the last 20 years. I agree. Seeing a film in IMAX is a treat and it is a reminder how visceral and satisfying the act of going to the movies can be.

Prometheus feels positively huge. It belongs on a 50ft screen. How many times have you seen a spaceship take off and land? A thousand times, right? But Ridley Scott makes it thunderously cool again. How many alien landscapes have you seen? Plenty, right? And yet, Ridley Scott shows us his and you would think that you had never seen one before. Scott knows a thing or two about large visuals.  He came out of the 70’s generation of filmmakers who were wired differently when it came to constructing their films. In the wake of the explosion of television, the movies got bigger and bigger (70mm, Cinemascope, Cinerama, etc) in an effort to differentiate themselves from those little boxes people had in their homes. For the next 2 decades, filmmakers thought BIG and made visual decisions based on what they assumed was their film’s final resting place: a huge screen (not a tv screen…little did they know).  Creative directors would place information all over the large, wide canvas; maximizing their ability to overwhelm you. I think it would be reasonable to speculate that in the post home-video era of the mid 80’s till about 10 years ago that filmmakers have consciously or unconsciously been influenced to think smaller. Their films final destination was a vhs / dvd on a small to moderately big tv.  I think we have now hit another era of the “big tv” and once again filmmakers have had to change how they approach their films.  Now their final resting place is a huge tv.  They have to think big again.  Ridley Scott has never lost his big-screen instinct (side note: In Prometheus, Scott overtly references Sir David Lean, the greatest of all “big-screen” directors).

Overall, Prometheus is a mixed bag. The actors are all solid. In fact I would say that at times they rise above the script which feels like more refining should have been applied. The characters never get far beyond their function to the story.  The film is less interested in action than what most viewers would assume but when the film kicks into high gear you may find that you have white knuckled the arm rests.  I am not entirely sure how I feel about the trend of prequels/sequels mirroring or referencing scenes from the other installments. Prometheus has several such moments. Prometheus has big cosmic questions on it’s mind. So many questions with intentionally few answers will either work for you or it won’t.  I liked the film’s (often awkward) attempts to speculate on where we come from. I haven’t had enough time to properly digest it. Here’s what I do know: Scott and crew have created a truly amazing world that completely arrests you.  It’s spectacle of the highest order. You could sit and stare at it for hours.

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