“I didn’t think you had it in you.”
Thirty-three-years ago, audiences were first introduced to a world populated with ‘Space Jockeys‘, face-huggers, and chest-bursting aliens. Ridley Scott took us on a psychological test, battling claustrophobia, the dark, and yes, snarling, dripping extraterrestrials. After dabbling in a variety of styles of film over the last three decades, Scott is back to the genre that gave him credence. And for fans of Alien from 1979, perhaps a long-awaited opportunity to answer some gestating questions.
In 2089 archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway discover some cave drawings in the countryside of Ireland. We’re told that these illustrations are connected to others that have been found around the globe, over the course of many millenia. A star pattern is included, which Shaw deciphers as an invitation of sorts. An invite to what is answered later. Sort of.
Four-years later, Shaw, Holloway are off to the moon, LV-223, led by Janek (Idris Elba), the captain of the ship Prometheus. In tow are Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) a corporate liason from Weyland Industries, the android David (Michael Fassbender), and a slew of scientists and pilots. The crew waste little time investigating their surroundings. Seemingly within minutes they are on the moon’s surface and into a manufactured structure. Corpses are found, strewn around the terrain. Shaw, Holloway and David enter a chamber with a dozens of capsules and a gigantic artificial head (always a good idea), while Millburn and Fifield scatter, their nerves getting the best of them*. Soon though, it’s back to their vessel, as to avoid a conveniently placed, violent sand storm.
*Massive point of frustration here. Fifield, we’re told is a geologist. He also carries these robotic probes that map out the local topography. Being that he’s in charge of such creations, it’s pretty laughable when he and Millburn get lost, trying to find their way back to the ship. Especially when they’re able to be in constant contact with Prometheus and Janek. Millburn for his part is a biologist. Once more, he’s frightened by thousand-years alien carcasses, but is perfectly fine brushing up to the local wildlife, when he and Fifield come across 15-foot mouth snakes that manifest out of black, primordial ooze. You read that correctly, mouth snakes.
Some noise has been made about the screenplay. It was originally penned by Jon Spaihts (The Darkest Hour), before changes by Damon Lindelof. Lindelof was one of the head writers behind television’s Lost, a show that polarized many, especially during the final seasons. I’m a complete Lost apologist, so it pains me to say that Prometheus does have problems in this regard. It’s completely irresponsible and frankly wrong to condemn the entire film on the writing, however. As it is, Prometheus has a lot of blame to go around.
Most notably is how the film morphs into a run-of-the-mill thriller, losing all momentum from a very promising first hour or so. All intrigue melts away, turning Shaw from an interesting woman of faith and science, to a panicky, sobbing wreck, similar to a victim of the Halloween and Scream variety. Theron and Elba are decent, but on top of atmospheric conditions and foreign creatures, they’re also up against screen time — a battle they can’t win.
What’s inescapable is the talent of Fassbender. David is by far the most fascinating person on the craft. The fact that he’s made from recyclables makes it all the more tremendous. As the Prometheus is travelling across the galaxy, its passengers in stasis, David passes the time biking through the halls, playing basketball, and watching Lawrence of Arabia. He also hacks into the dreams of Shaw. There’s a backstory buried somewhere between her and father, though it’s never unearthed, let alone mentioned again.
Alien succeeded because it had a miniscule budget. It was old and grainy; any inefficiencies were hidden by darkness and a great script. Prometheus is shiny and spectacular. The visuals are something to marvel it, no doubt, but behind the effects and the grandeur is a poorly constructed, often times silly mess (magical space flute, anyone?).
This was most definitely a Ridley Scott production in all of its strengths and weaknesses. As is the norm for his creations, Prometheus provides stunning visuals, yet as our eyes remain transfixed to what they’re being fed, our brains are equally as staggered when characters take off their helmets every chance they get (a no-no in any space expedition), or when a bloodied, half-naked woman bursts into a room (granted, the reason behind this is pretty wonderful), and no one even budges. The larger question Scott proposes is ‘where did humans come from?’ — a query that is essentially answered within the first few frames of the film. What’s disappointing is that this feature never closes; the ending remains wholly ambiguous. A sequel is inevitable, but each chapter should also have a feeling of finality to it, something Prometheus lacks.
I think what ultimately dooms the film is the correlation to the Alien franchise. If Scott had only gone ahead and directed a stand-alone feature; one littered with strong-willed heroines, and space ships, and synthetic humans, and the origins of mankind, well, it wouldn’t have been half bad. But for a film that reaches as high as Prometheus does, half bad isn’t nearly good enough.
Production Notes: Directed by Ridley Scott; Produced by Ridley Scott, David Giler, Walter Hill; Written by Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof; Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, Guy Pearce