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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Prometheus

'Prometheus': Should Ridley Scott return to sci-fi full time?

June 11, 2012 |  8:30 am

Director Ridley Scott's "Prometheus"Since making us cover our eyes and drop our jaws with 1979's "Alien," Ridley Scott has had a remarkably diverse career, even by the standards of established directors with broad appetites.

He's taken us into a world of political intrigue and bloody jousting ("Gladiator"). He's gone militaristic ("Black Hawk Down"), medieval ("Robin Hood" and "Kingdom of Heaven"), Japanese ("Black Rain") and undercover ("American Gangster"). He even tried the reborn wine guy in France ("A Good Year," even if it wasn't that for him).

Some of these adventuresome meanderings have been compelling ("Thelma & Louise"). Some have been less so ("G.I. Jane").

But the success of "Prometheus" this past weekend suggests something many Scott fans have suspected all along. Maybe all we really want from the director is to watch him do what he announced himself as good at from the start: explore a mysterious and troubled spacecraft far above the Earth, deep into the future.

"Prometheus" scored $50 million in its opening weekend, good enough for a strong second-place finish to "Madagascar 3" (and, it should be noted, garnering a better per-screen average). As my colleague Amy Kaufman pointed out, the Fox release was Scott's second-best opening ever (after 2001's "Hannibal"). The results hark back to "Alien," which is not only a similarly effects-driven movie with spiritual and scientific themes, but Scott's highest-grossing movie ever when adjusted for inflation.

More than just ticket sales, "Prometheus" earned Scott some of his best (if also polarized) reviews in a long time — and certainly some of his sharpest fan interest. Love or hate the movie, it's a conversation piece in a way a Scott film hasn't been in years.

The irony in the debate about whether the plot details the Michael Fassbender- and Noomi Rapace-starring "Prometheus" amounted to an "Alien" prequel — a battle waged with gusto by fans (and denied with gusto by Scott and the studio) — is that in the most important way, the movie did connect to the 1979 classic. Scott wasn't just revisiting science-fiction territory, he was using special-effects tools and the mysteries about the future to pose questions about the present.

From a box-office standpoint, the answer to the headline question is a resounding yes — few directors have done so many different things only to find success disproportionately in one realm.

From the perspective of Scott's — and our — interests, the answer is less evident, but, I'd argue, still clear. Yeah, we can hear all the comments already. Filmmakers should follow their heart and their story, challenging themselves with the new. Scott's done the sci-fi thing again now; he should move on.

Sure, some of the best directors — Danny Boyle, Ang Lee — never come close to repeating themselves. But even the most libertarian, let-directors-do-their-thing type might sing a different tune with Scott. The Brit has a particular gift for looking far off and seeing something that resides within ("Blade Runner," though set on this Earth, operates on this principle too.) Why doesn't he use it more often?

A filmmaker who keeps making the same movie or tries to reclaim past glories with endless spins on the same genre (see under: latter-day Tim Burton) is indeed boring.  But staying within a genre doesn't mean you can't also reinvent that genre or yourself (see under: Guillermo del Toro). The world's most successful auteur, in fact, sees the one-genre approach not as a prison but the culmination of a lifetime's search (see under: James Cameron evacuating all other projects to concentrate on "Avatar" sequels).

Scott may well listen to the voices that tell him to go period Rome or rural France. He's already preparing to direct "The Counselor," a legal drama with a drug-trafficking twist, and may make a sojourn to biblical Egypt afterward. But it's becoming harder to argue that he shouldn't just concentrate on booking return trips to outer space.


Hero Complex: Riddles and Ridley Scott

Madgascar 3 beats Prometheus at the box office

R rating for 'Prometheus': Will it hurt the film commercially?

Prometheus comes up short of 'Alien' expectations, critics say

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace in "Prometheus." Credit: 20th Century Fox

Box Office: 'Madagascar 3' lures families to multiplex [Video]

June 11, 2012 |  4:00 am

Both kids and adults showed up in healthy numbers to the box office this weekend, as both the animated "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" and Ridley Scott's R-rated "Prometheus" each opened to $50 million or more.

The weekend's big winner was "Madagascar 3," which debuted with $60.4 million, while "Prometheus" started off with $50 million in ticket sales. As a result of the weekend's strong business, receipts were up 29% compared with the same three-day period in 2011.

With strong sales both domestically and abroad, DreamWorks Animation's "Madagascar 3" will probably go on to replicate the success of its blockbuster predecessors. As for "Prometheus," the sci-fi epic could end up being one of the biggest hits for director Ridley Scott in over a decade.

For more on the weekend's results, check out the latest box office video report above.


"Madagascar 3" goes on a European road trip

'Safety Not Guaranteed' has decent debut, but 'Lola' struggles

Box Office: 'Madagascar 3' beats 'Prometheus' with $60.4 million

--Amy Kaufman


Photo: A scene from "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted." Credit: DreamWorks Animation

'Prometheus' comes up short of 'Alien' aspirations, critics say

June 8, 2012 |  3:56 pm

"Prometheus" director Ridley Scott has said, using an aptly biological metaphor, that his latest film shares DNA with his groundbreaking 1979 sci-fi horror show "Alien." The plot involves a group of scientists in space exploring the origins of life on Earth, and the big question surrounding the film is whether it can match "Alien" — or perhaps Scott's other sci-fi landmark, "Blade Runner" (1982). For critics, the answer seems to be: not quite.

The Times' Kenneth Turan writes that although "Prometheus" is "more involving than much of this year's summer blockbuster competition, by the standards set by its wizardly director it's something of a disappointment." While Scott succeeds as a technician — his first-ever use of 3-D is "expert," and he "remains a master creator of alternate worlds" — the director also "pushes too hard for significance" in a film with run-of-the-mill plotting. As far as acting, Charlize Theron is "strong" as an ice-cold corporate bigwig, Noomi Rapace is "hit and miss" as the lead scientist, and Michael Fassbender "excels" as the android David.

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Noomi Rapace vs. Sigourney Weaver: Ridley Scott's screen tests

June 8, 2012 |  6:30 am

Noomi Rapace, star of the new film "Prometheus," hates auditioning. The 32-year-old Swedish actress best known for her role as Lisbeth Salander in the original "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" series finds the whole process of trying to please others insulting.

"I hate the part in the business where you are trying to convince people you are good enough," she said in an interview. "I want people to work with me because I'm me and because of what I can do. I don't think actors and actresses are replaceable."

So it was with great hesitation that Rapace agreed to screen-test for Ridley Scott, the famed veteran director who wanted to cast her as the lead in his return to the sci-fi genre but still needed the studio's approval.The brass at 20th Century Fox needed convincing that this Swedish chameleon could act in English before they hired her for their potential summer blockbuster.

It was helpful, said Rapace, that Scott appeared embarrassed by the request, and kept telling Rapace that this was a studio request, not his own.

"He said to me, 'We're just doing this together so they can see that you can act in English. He really came and asked me if I was OK doing a couple of scenes. He called in his DP and said we are going to do it as a real scene with real sets."

Noomi spent a few weeks gearing up for the day of filming, connecting to the character of Elizabeth Shaw, a woman with strong religious beliefs that fuel her life's work as an anthropologist.

Rapace landed the part with a performance that showcased strength and vulnerability. She was the first actor to come aboard the "Prometheus" ensemble that also features Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender and Idris Elba. And though her character is far different then Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley in "Alien" -- Scott's 1979 film that is loosely related to "Prometheus"  -- Rapace does serve, in similar fashion, as the heart of Scott's mission.

The marketing executives at Fox liked her audition so much -- it involves her pitching her scientific mission to the private Weyland Corp. with hopes that it will fund her faraway exploration -- that  they've used it as one of their promotional tools for the film, which opens Friday.

Rapace's performance is the heart of the piece and the marketing gurus added what looks like a  face-mapping overlay to suggest that Weyland Corp. is doing an analysis of her sincerity and dedication to the project.

Check out her test at the top of the page.

Some 30 years ago, Scott tested his first leading lady before casting her in 1979's "Alien." But rather than being the first to sign on, Weaver was practically the last. Scott was in the throes of pre-production when he finally found his Ripley. In this case, she was actually tested on a set being built for the film -- a process that never seems to happen in today's risk-averse movie landscape.

Scott's interest in casting women in strong leading roles dates back to his mother -- whom he calls "the first strong woman in his life." "I’ve always preferred strong women," he said. "To me when they said how do you feel about Ripley being a woman, I said sure, why not? It was like the superlative, ultimate sense of cool. I thought why not, because by saying oh, how extraordinary, it automatically makes me sound a bit mysogynistic, doesn't it? It’s like saying no woman could do this job."

Weaver's screen test (which contains a few bits of adult language) can be found here. Notice the copious amount of smoking in the brief scene.


'Dragon Tattoo' girl is at the heart of Ridley Scott's 'Prometheus'

'Prometheus' review: It's no 'Alien,' but 'Prometheus' still delivers thrills

--Nicole Sperling

'Dragon Tattoo' girl is at heart of Ridley Scott's ‘Prometheus’

June 7, 2012 |  5:00 am

Noomi rapace prometheus
In Noomi Rapace’s screen test for the lead role in “Prometheus,” the actress had to portray a young scientist trying to persuade a giant corporation to invest billions of dollars to take her on a journey to another planet in hopes of unraveling the origins and meaning of human life. The company has little more than her passion and intensity as its guide in determining whether to fund the venture.

The situation was strikingly similar to what director Ridley Scott was asking 20th Century Fox to do with Rapace: take a flier on an unknown.

The 32-year-old Swedish actress had achieved fame beyond her national borders thanks to her portrayal of the punk, damaged cyber-sleuth Lisbeth Salander in the three original “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” films. Still, her English was shaky and her first studio film, “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” was not set to hit theaters for another year, so she was still largely unfamiliar to mainstream American audiences. Casting her as the lead character Elizabeth Shaw alongside Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron in a big-budget potential summer blockbuster wasn’t a slam-dunk.

Except to Scott, who was smitten with the actress from the first time he met her and worked closely with her on mastering the test. “Ridley worked with me as if it was a real scene,” Rapace said. “He kept saying to me, ‘You don’t have to prove anything, this is not a test for me. You’re my girl. We’re just doing this together so they can see that you can act in English.’”

The duo’s collaboration quickly convinced the studio she was the right choice.

“The film itself is about a lot of big, compelling ideas, so you can be a little risky in terms of the casting and take some chances,” said Emma Watts, Fox’s president of production. “The character of Shaw is an interesting mix. She’s a powerful character and she has a real inner strength, but she also has a vulnerability. I think it’s a hard role to fill, but Ridley was confident in Noomi from the get-go and he has a pretty good track record with casting.”

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'Prometheus' offers oozing sci-fi spectacle, early reviews say

May 31, 2012 |  5:30 am

Noomi Rapace in Prometheus

Stateside sci-fi fans will have to wait till June 8 to see "Prometheus," Ridley's Scott's long-awaited oblique prequel to the "Alien" franchise, but some early and international reviews are already in. The story, which involves a space mission investigating the origins of human life going predictably awry, has met with mixed reviews, but critics agree that Scott's film is visually stunning and that Michael Fassbender delivers a scene-stealing performance.

In the Hollywood Reporter, Todd McCarthy writes that "Prometheus" "won't become a genre benchmark" like classics "Alien" and "Blade Runner" "despite its equivalent seriousness and ambition, but it does supply enough visual spectacle, tense action and sticky, slithery monster attacks to hit the spot with thrill-seeking audiences worldwide." Stars Noomi Rapace (of the Swedish version of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo") and Charlize Theron perform admirably, and Fassbender, playing a genteel android, "excels as he's allowed to begin injecting droll comedy into his performance."

Variety's Justin Chang says the film "remains earthbound in narrative terms, forever hinting at the existence of a higher intelligence without evincing much of its own." Chang also takes exception to the "stock wise-guy types who spout tired one-liners" and the "orchestral surge of a score," which undermines the film's tension. On the other hand, "Scott and his production crew compensate to some degree with an intricate, immersive visual design that doesn't skimp on futuristic eye-candy or prosthetic splatter."

Like McCarthy, the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw also invokes "Alien" and calls "Prometheus" "something more grandiose, more elaborate — but less interesting." It's also, he suggests, less frightening. On the bright side, it does have Fassbender, who turns in a "terrifically creepy performance" and "steals the film." Ultimately, Bradshaw says, "Prometheus" is "a muddled, intricate, spectacular film, but more or less in control of all its craziness and is very watchable."

The Telegraph's Tim Robey writes that "thanks to richly-designed planetary environments with plenty of H.R. Giger's original art in their DNA, the build-up to inevitable horrors is the most smoothly compelling part of Scott's movie." The movie isn't free of cliches, but Fassbender is "amusingly creepy and constantly interesting," and Rapace "gets better as she goes along."

Total Film's Jonathan Crocker also praises Fassbender's character as "brilliantly constructed" (pun presumably intended). Scott once again proves to have an impeccable eye for sci-fi surfaces ("the movie is "flawlessly designed"), although he's more adept "with Big Spectacle than Big Ideas." All told, "Prometheus" is "exciting, tense and fully impregnated for sequels."

As a touchstone for the "Alien" mythos and a potential new film franchise all its own, it looks as though "Prometheus" could be just the beginning.


'Prometheus': Damon Lindelof promises an epic

R rating for 'Prometheus': Will it hurt the film commercially?

Meet David the android from Ridley Scott's upcoming 'Prometheus'

— Oliver Gettell

Photo: Noomi Rapace in "Prometheus." Credit: Kerry Brown / 20th Century Fox

R rating for 'Prometheus': Will it hurt the film commercially?

May 7, 2012 |  4:47 pm

Fox confirmed Monday that “Prometheus,” the much-anticipated sci-fi thriller from Ridley Scott, would be released as an R-rated film when it hits U.S. theaters June 8. (The official Motion Picture Assn. of America explanation for its rating: “sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language,” though it’s not exactly clear how sci-fi violence differs from the non-sci-fi kind).

The news has been welcomed by fan sites, which don’t want a diluted version of the Scott epic. The director has the clout to push through with an R even for a movie of significant budget, something not all filmmakers have been able to pull off (See under: Guillermo del Toro and his stalled “At the Mountains of Madness").

But will “Prometheus’ ” rating -- which of course means that no one under age 17 can (officially) buy a ticket without an adult -- hurt the Noomi Rapace-Michael Fassbender film at the box office?

Most big summer movies studiously avoid an R rating; in fact, it’s rare these days for a summer release that isn't a comedy to end up with one. The more prominent examples, such as Harrison Ford’s “Air Force One” or the Wachowskis' sequel “The Matrix Reloaded," came out nearly a decade ago or longer, before summer action movies were the gargantuan business they are today.

Most other tent poles take an “Avengers” tack -- tossing in enough violence to satisfy the action-hungry but stopping short of scenes that would land an R rating and keep teens out -- as I and my colleagues John Horn and Nicole Sperling explore in this front-page Times piece about the emergence of the PG-13 rating.

The closest analogy to “Prometheus” may be “300,” which is the highest-grossing R-rated action movie of the last five years. The swords-and-sandals epic grossed more than $200 million domestically -- but  that was a March release that blossomed into something bigger.

The trailers and buzz for Scott's film have been extremely strong--which means it could be the best test yet for Hollywood's avoid-the-R summer rule.


PG-13: Some material may be appropriate for box-office success

Hero Complex: Riddles and Ridley Scott

Hero Complex: Michael Fassbender on ‘Prometheus’

Hero Complex: Ridley Scott paints corners of 'Alien' canvas

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Noomi Rapace in Ridley Scott's "Prometheus." Credit: 20th Century Fox.


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