The imperfection of Ridley Scott’s PROMETHEUS is matched only by its absurdity. The ALIEN director is unclouded by conscience, remorse, and delusions of originality when it comes to revisiting the legacy he helped create.
Rather than create something truly unique, Scott uses his new sci-fi thriller to pay homage. PROMETHEUS finds the filmmaker purloining more material from his latter-day imitators (and FORBIDDEN PLANET) than from his own masterful 1979 JAWS-in-Space body horror classic. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…and Scott, architect behind the brilliant BLADE RUNNER, flatters himself here.
Indeed, PROMETHEUS hits more beats from ALIEN RESURRECTION and (gasp) ALIEN VS. PREDATOR than fans of this xenomorphic franchise can stomach (pun intended). There’s a mysterious pyramid concealing lethal secrets, the caesarean removal of an alien pregnancy by high-tech salad tongs, supervisors monitoring video feeds from companions’ helmet cams, and an artificial crewman with an ambiguous agenda. Said synthetic even swishes a basketball like Ellen Ripley’s misbegotten clone. Oh, and this time there’s not one but two reanimated severed heads: Hello, Bishop!
And don’t forget the flamethrowers. Gotta have flamethrowers in an ALIEN movie, though one wonders why these well-equipped anthropologists don’t have more sophisticated weapons.
Most of the action centers on H.R. Giger’s memorable “space jockey” set, like the one that had Tom Skerritt’s Dallas wondering what-the-cuss. Unfortunately, what transpires there might annoy ALIEN enthusiasts instead of awing them.
The year is 2093. The imperial Weyland Corporation sponsors a trillion-dollar voyage across the stars to explore a planet depicted in the recently-unearthed cave paintings and murals of several ancient—and heretofore unconnected—early human civilizations. Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and boyfriend Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) think they’ve discovered Man’s origins on the distant world, but other Prometheus scientists and security staff aren’t so sure. Especially Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), a sexy-but-serious executive sent along to safeguard Weyland’s investment. And whose daddy issues run even deeper than Shaw’s.
There’s at least as many crewmembers aboard Prometheus as there were Colonial Marines on Sulaco (ALIENS), most of them indistinguishable fodder destined for whatever meat grinder lay ahead. They rise from cryogenic sleep capsules (just like the victims in the other movies) and ride RV’s and four-wheelers to a domed site they believe holds the key to humanity’s true lineage.
The immense, hollow dome is littered with the corpses of space jockeys. Shaw discerns the jockey DNA matches ours; humanity likely derived from the dead moon-hoppers. What killed them? A damp, gloomy antechamber feature a damp, houses thousands of knee-high vases that bear a passing resemblance to the face-hugger eggs from ALIEN. All it takes is an accidental touch from an unwitting visitor (or several deliberate touches from a Machiavellian crewman) to set in motion a horrific sequence of events that will eventually—and quite literally—birth the ALIEN we know and love.
Bad decision-making leads to an unpleasant confrontation with a cosmic cobra and a tryst with a tentacled terror. Both prove parasitic menaces with more in mind for their prey than consumption. In one of few real surprises, it’s by-the-book Vickers who insists on quarantine when obvious “last girl” Shaw wants to bring a peculiarly-injured person back on the ship. But the role-reversal doesn’t last. Inquisitive resident synthetic David (Michael Fassbender) grapples his duty to protect his mortal mates while wrestling with the meaning (if any) of own soulless existence. Wouldn’t it piss you off to think you’re nothing more than another serial-numbered appliance on a rocket full of expensive toys?
The film kicks into high gear with a gruesome emergency operation, after which the surviving Prometheus personnel scurry to stop the malevolent contagion from spreading, possibly to Earth.
For all the big questions it raises, PROMETHEUS doesn’t swipe that magical spark—that potent mix of marvel and shock—that captivated audiences thirty-three years ago. The jockeys may have created us, but who created them? Why did they engineer us in their image, and why would they want to extinguish the human race? A crucifix necklace and ring become symbols of faith in a nightmarish network of catacombs where Divine Creation is brushed aside along with Darwinism. If those don’t charms don’t steel your nerves, there’s a Christmas tree on the ship, a Rubik’s Cube that doubles as a video projector, and an accordion once owned by Stephen Stills.
Rapace is a modern-day Ripley who sticks to her guns and leaves no man behind. Her body and spirit are tested by her blasphemous close encounters with the jockey-engineers and the results of their unholy experiments. But it’s Theron and Fassbender who chew up (and spit out) the scenery. Theron’s character is wolf in sheep’s clothing, a suit who gradually drops her guard and entertains level-headed Captain Janek’s (Idris Elba) propositions. Fassbender’s android is a fastidious Felix who dusts the ship and babysits its human cargo during a two-year hyper-sleep. David’s identity crisis is paralleled nicely with clips from LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, which he watches in a rec room—and whose handsome protagonist inspires the robot’s internal conflict (and new haircut).
Guy Pearce stars as an elderly Peter Weyland, a twenty-second century Donald Trump whose god complex endures even in his twilight years. Why they didn’t simply get someone older to portray the wrinkled CEO is anyone’s guess; it’s a small enough part-and the makeup and prosthetics must’ve taken eons to apply.
The special effects are superlative, even if the ship displays look like they were stolen from THE AVENGERS’ Helicarrier. LED displays on translucent (or nonexistent) screens cast the same familiar blue glow we see on hardware in most contemporary sci-fi pictures. Haunting holographic videos of long-dead humanoids—cleverly projected in Pointillism—amp the suspense and offset the buckets of traditional blood and guts. The 3-D is put to further use by a couple floating spheres that survey the gooey tunnels with scarlet lasers. Their brusque, Mohawk-haired geologist owner Milburn (Rafe Spell) calls them “pups,” but they’re more like mechanical canaries in a coal mine. A brutal sandstorm sweeps the landing site, and a climactic explosion casts debris toward the lens and into viewers’ laps.
The titles reveal the word PROMETHEUS one notch at a time until each letter is apparent, recalling ALIEN’s unique hieroglyph. The cinematography by PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN’s Dariusz Wolksi is top-notch, but Marc Streitenfeld’s score doesn’t hold a candle (or flamethrower) to Jerry Goldsmith’s beautifully eerie themes.
Despite all the aural and visual pizzazz, PROMETHEUS is an overly complicated affair that won’t give audiences the same bump-in-the-night chills ALIEN stirred a generation ago. And to be fair, most of this isn’t Scott’s fault; the script was written by John Spaihts and Damon Lindelof (LOST), who trade slasher-film simplicity for highbrow horror only to muddle their way through, sending folks home with a disappointing sense of déjà vu rather than the kind of post-traumatic cinema stress that gets people talking.
PROMETHEUS is likewise burdened with Boba Fett syndrome. Seems the more one learns about enigmatic peripheral characters (like the STAR WARS bounty hunter or ALIEN’s space jockey), the less cool they are. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and nostalgia—always well-intended—often results in moviemaking messes (ALIEN VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM). The film works quite well as a stand-alone late night thriller, but it’s difficult (if not impossible) to accept it while pretending ALIEN doesn’t exist, or that Nostromo’s fate had little to do with PROMETHEUS’ pandemonium.
Some stones just aren’t meant for turning.
3 Fists out of 5.
“Don’t fancy my film, mate? Good…then FUCK YOU.”