The director of “Alien” and “Blade Runner” returns with his most anticipated movie in years.
While one part of the population complains that Ridley Scott's “Prometheus” is being sold on the basis of little more than its visuals and the hint of a heroine (Noomi Rapace) in the future, the rest of us sit back and wonder: What else do we need? Forget, for a minute, “Alien”, which was propelled by Scott's most vivid visuals, his most memorable heroine in the future. Remember, if you will, his groundbreaking commercial for the Mac, an as-yet-unknown product in 1984, when IBM ruled the electronic universe, with Microsoft nipping at its heels. How to introduce David to a world that only knew Goliath?
Scott's solution was to draw on the Orwellian nature of the year, and insinuate that Goliath was really Big Brother. Rows of identical-looking men march down a passage and seat themselves in front of a large screen, where a phosphorescent Big Brother representative delivers an address about celebrating “the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives,” adding that their “Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth.” This impassioned rhetoric is delivered in the coldest of tones — the colours are appropriately dank.
And in the middle, a flash of red — from the running shorts of a woman athlete, hammer in hand. (Her singlet is Mac-white.) This heroine, in this dystopian near-future, races towards the screen and hurls the hammer. The target explodes in an eruption of smoke and makes way for this scrolling text: On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like “1984.” The idea to borrow from Orwell may have been the writer's, but the staging is all Scott.
He'd tackled a more sprawling dystopia, a couple of years earlier, in “Blade Runner”, derived dreamily from Philip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and he invested in the visuals of this historic commercial — first aired on television during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII, and only once afterwards — a similar sense of unease. Where are we? Who are these mysterious others? These questions are never really resolved in the commercial, which, like Scott's films, is more a meditation on mood. But imagine the alternative: the product is actually shown, its highlights demonstrated. Where's the mystery then?
In a scant 60 seconds (and with an intrepid heroine), Scott sold the Mac to a nation, and in his two-hour films, he strives to do the same: suggest rather than show, evoke rather than elucidate. Mood is to Scott what landscape was to David Lean, at once muse and canvas. And his most wondrous evocations of mood have been set in times not our own. Even his least successful period films — “1492: Conquest of Paradise”, “American Gangster” (set in the years following the late-1960s), “Legend” (a mythical tale set “long ago”) — are suffused with the power of suggestion; that that wasn't enough is due to the deficiencies in the scripts.
Scott's contemporaneous films, on the other hand, feel the creations of a journeyman from the Hollywood factory system. There are glorious exceptions like “Thelma and Louise”, surely one of the most empathetic eviscerations of the feminine psyche by a male director. But then, Scott has always done well with his action heroines. We will know, June 8, whether Noomi Rapace will join the ranks of Sigourney Weaver, or vanish from the mind like the heroine of “Robin Hood” (who was that again?) but the film, at least from the vantage of this weekend, remains an event.