Prometheus directed by Ridley Scott; written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof (Brandywine Productions, Dune Entertainment, Scott Free Productions, R, 124 minutes)
Starring Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender, and Guy Pearce
Ridley is Back
Ridley Scott’s Alien trilogy is now over three decades removed, but nearly everyone knows it in reference at least. I still am completely freaked out by the original trilogy, as I watched it in my teenage years. A lasting scar emerges in the franchise’s wake. Ridley Scott blended space travel and horror in a unique way, forever enshrining himself into the media hall of fame. Prometheus is the famed director’s attempt to continue the franchise by explaining its origins. But, the movie falls short.
In the prologue, set sometime in Earth’s past, an alien that looks somewhat human drinks some black ooze on the edge of a high precipice somewhere in Scotland in the planet’s distant past. The alien falls into said water, and his DNA is reassembled—presumably seeding the human race. Later, in the year 2089 at the same location on earth, we meet biologists Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) when they find a cave painting supposedly pointing to the origins of the human race. Enthralled that they may have finally answered the question, “where did we come from?”, they embark on a scientific voyage to a distant planet (drawn in the cave paintings of course) that may hold an answer to who engineered the human race.
Elizabeth and Charlie are joined by a somewhat lugubrious android (Michael Fassbender), a corporate crony (Charlize Theron), a badass captain (Idris Elba
), and some people that barely take up fifteen seconds in the movie. On the spaceship Prometheus
they journey in stasis, and once arrived begin the scientific expedition. Meanwhile, they are located in one of two places: either the ship or a dark-lit cavern where the alien race is supposedly found. Much like the Alien
movies of old, the team hopes to find answers but soon they find more than they bargained for. No real plot surprises within. It’s an entertaining film, and visually stunning. But, the music throughout the movie kept playing, and I found myself more and more distraught.
Seeing Versus Hearing
Prometheus looks claustrophobic and gloomy. But, the soundtrack inside is a hopeful, modal tune repeated over and over…and over. The music doesn’t align with the striking visual effects.
Marc Streitenfeld, composer for the movie, has worked in such films as Hannibal, Kingdom of Heaven (another Ridley Scott flick), and Mission: Impossible II. So, his resume is stocked. In talking to a film-scoring buddy of mine, what Mark Streitenfeld has done is write something a little outside of the film-scoring norm, and in order to talk about the norm, I need to go back in time.
Leitmotif and Film
Richard Wagner is specifically known for his work in Opera and Drama. His most famous opera is a cycle of four operas, Der Ring des Nibelungen (or The Ring). If one goes to see The Ring, it lasts for a grand total of four days with a playing time of fifteen hours (I’ve been. It’s even longer than it sounds).
But, it isn’t the length that is important, it’s the concept he developed in the cycle called leitmotif. In leitmotif, there is a Grunthema
(basic idea), as well as several other ideas that accompany various characters. It’s usually a short melody or chord progression that is altered every once and a while.
The best known example in film is by the great John Williams. Think back to the Star Wars films of old. What music comes to mind when you think of Darth Vader? Luke Skywalker? The songs that come to mind were specifically written for every time you saw the characters, and they’re memorable. The song for Darth Vader has become synonymous with evil.
Back to Disappointment
Now, to link the music back to Prometheus. In a dark, cavernous world with doom ever looming on the horizon, one would expect something like this to occur: Man goes into tunnel, creepy music plays; man meets alien, creepy, but different music plays; android tries to muck about in the scientific expedition and screw everything up, music designed for the android plays.
But instead, what the listener finds is a beautiful modal melody played with an oboe (many times during the movie), strings gently backing, and eventually horns loudly blaring. When both the plot line and visual effects point to something harrowing, the music is epic and hopeful. Take a listen.
So, in closing, my main problem with the movie wasn’t the plot (albeit farfetched) or even the acting. My problem was that my visual senses were seeing things with which my auditory senses weren’t agreeing. A film is good based on what it does to all the senses, not just the visual ones. The movie could have been much more memorable, and much more frightening had the film score gone along with the visual sense. Prometheus was a fantastic film, in all ways but one: the music frankly sucked to the point of distraction.
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