Yeah, about a week ago I wouldn’t have figured that they would make a good tandem review either. To my surprise, after home viewing “Prometheus” and ETX 3D-experiencing “Life of Pi” in an actual state-of-the-art theater—the films are actually excellent companion pieces. Only one could be called an excellent film, however. But the other isn’t half as bad as I feared it would be. I’ll score that a win/win. God, and the origins of accepting the existence of a higher power. What is that “power”, and what should be expected from us in serving It. And should we expect anything in return? Heady stuff, tackled many times throughout film history. That both of these films prominently focus on a shipwreck and the ferocity of the survivors might bridge the gap with those who initially believed there is only a tenuous connection. Watching these movies within 36 hours of each other goes a long way towards justifying the comparison. Of course, the finale of each film is as vastly different as their chosen genre. Or are they deceptively similar? That’s something I’ve been asking myself for a few days. You may end up questioning too.
I’m not sure why Ridley Scott was being so coy when broaching the subject of whether “Prometheus” should be considered an “Alien” prequel, or not. Because it obviously is. But living up to that 1979 space adventure classic must have seemed so daunting, that Scott and the studio probably desired to keep those expectations as grounded as possible. But rest assured, if you are a fan of the original 4 features of the Alien Franchise(each starring Sigourney Weaver, and each given a distinctive, visual style from a quartet of highly renowned directors), you will find much to love here. Especially when shopping and comparing with the first two giants of the series(the original, along with James Cameron’s some-say-superior 1986 follow-up, “Aliens”). I mean the design is without question H.R. Giger inspired, and in some cases lifted right from his work on the first “Alien” film. And the ragtag group of explorers have many similarities to the 1979 and 1986 installments. And “Prometheus” star Noomi Rapace(the first Lisbeth Salander from the Swedish “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series), may not quite match up to Ms. Weaver, but she a pretty compelling presence all the same. Especially during a fantastically icky abortion scene performed by a self-contained operating machine. And android David(Michael Fassbender, who apparently never turns down a role), follows the fine tradition of robots Ash, Bishop, and Call(Ian Holm, Lance Henriksen and Winona Ryder, respectively. Plus, I just realized when writing them that the robot character names run chronologically alphabetical. Intentional? I don’t know, but pretty friggin’ cool). The look of “Prometheus” is incredible(regretting now, not having seen it in 3D at a real theater). But, alas, the script leaves a lot to be desired. Stanley Kubrick(of course)tackled all this God stuff much more majestically in 1968’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”(Ridley Scott seems to realize this by giving Fassbender’s David many similarities with “2001’s” HAL 9000). In fact, some touched-on themes are never returned to. And there is unnecessary sequel set-up before the credits roll. So, if you consider it an “Alien” prequel(and you should), then it is decidedly the weakest of the franchise(only compared to the original four, while ignoring that “Alien Vs. Predator” nonsense). But that doesn’t mean it’s all bad—and I will definitely revisit it in the future.
Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” is the first film that I’ve seen in 3D that makes me want to stop bashing the process. I feel it’s essential here. And I didn’t have that experience with either Scorsese’s “Hugo” or Cameron’s “Avatar”. Admittedly, it doesn’t hurt that “Life of Pi” is vastly superior to either of those overrated, overblown epics. Both were at times moribund to me. But “Life of Pi” lives and breathes. It’s GORGEOUS. And the 3D is an enhancement, instead of merely a gimmick. I’m not positive I would’ve liked the film as much without it. Pi Patel is an Indian boy moving with his zookeeper family to Canada via Japanese freighter. Much is made early on of Pi’s embracing of a trio of religious faiths(raised Hindu, he finds much to admire about Christianity and Islam during his youth). We are introduced to Pi as an adult(the authoritative Irrfan Khan)narrating what we are about to see. But we spend most of the movie with the teenaged Pi(debuting actor Suraj Sharma, who’s engaging and charismatic), the lone human survivor of the sinking of that freighter during a massive storm. Some animals escape too. And Pi initially shares a lifeboat with three different beasts. While desperately fighting to not be eaten himself, Pi helplessly witnesses a hyena kill and devour an injured zebra and an orangutan. Then a tiger emerges from beneath a tarp and quickly kills the hyena. Pi vacates the boat immediately and hangs onto ropes and life preservers to survive. Eventually, Pi decides he’ll have to battle the tiger for dominance over the lifeboat territory, or they will both starve to death. I found myself enthralled by these confrontations—Lee constructs them expertly. It’s no secret that Pi survives these harrowing weeks. But he’s left with some pretty hefty queries as to how he survives. And just how much the “hand of God” was in play. I’m practically an atheist, but these questions still had me pondering. Not so much on the existence of a Supreme being as much as the power of faith and spirituality. It’s an amazing story, and the last question asked in it is hardly as complicated as it seems.
Hey, neither one of these films is going to make me start going to church(or temple or mosque)and embrace God. But I always appreciate when these topics are investigated. “Life of Pi” seems to have a much stronger grasp on where it’s going with its search for the divine. “Prometheus” handles the issue a bit less sure-handedly, but it contains a few salient points of its own. I’ve no doubt as to what is the stronger picture of the duo, but I overall recommend both works—along with a suggestion that they are watched as close together as possible. This unlikely duo both succeed in providing some rich rewards. Grades: Prometheus: B- Life of Pi: A