I remember hearing some quote a decade or so ago where Robert Plant said that Led Zeppelin should never reunite, because after all that time they’d basically be a glorified Led Zeppelin cover band. Now Ridley Scott, with the creation of this not-so-thinly-veiled homage to his gut exploding classic Alien, has become a Ridley Scott cover band. Can you be accused of ripping off another movie if the original movie was your own?
The huge success of Scott’s terrifying 1979 hit Alien created a new genre of space-horror (“In space no one can hear you scream”). So claustrophobic, so dark, so remote, and so… sticky, Alien took the exciting unknowns of sci-fi and created not only a nightmare-inducing scenario, but one of the most fantastic movie-monster creations ever (designed by H.R. Giger). Scott also gets huge credit for giving us, hands down, one of the most iconic badass movie heroes ever (male OR female), with Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley. The original movie spawned one great sequel (Aliens, directed by James Cameron), which was followed by two more throwaway sequels and the popcorny Alien vs Predator offshoots. So who better that Ridley Scott to revisit the mythology and make it good again? MAN, I was looking forward to Prometheus…
The film starts out in a breathtaking if head-scratching manner. In a majestic landscape (Hi, Iceland my friend!), a very large humanoid ingests something which causes him to topple off a waterfall and die—his strands of DNA dissipating into the water, to be spread to… who knows? The image of the DNA is the sort of bang-you-on-the-head-with-a-hammer moment, because on Earth, in the later part of the 21st century, scientist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) is on a quest to find the origin of the human race. Maybe she is trying to find God. Regardless, she is sure that with the discovery of some cave paintings, that she has found a map to the stars… a map to perhaps our human ancestors, whom she dubs The Engineers. Before you can remind her that not all alien races are friendly, a few years pass and Shaw wakes up from a deep sleep on the spaceship Prometheus as it arrives to the destination on the map: a moon in a solar system far far away.
Shaw initially thinks that the fancy ship and crew are there purely for science (or “Science!” as I like to say), but the commander Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) makes it stiffly clear that the expedition was paid for by an uber-rich corporate tycoon named Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, who only appears in old man makeup… huh?), who died just before getting all the answers to life, the universe, and everything. Shaw submits, but is still as excited as a schoolgirl to jump off the ship as soon as they land, to go and explore the straight road-like lines in the valley that lead to ruins of mysterious pyramid-like structures.
This is the type of movie that introduces a passel of quirky, rough-and-tumble blue-collar-type space grunts, only to quickly treat them as alien fodder. Shoot, you may as well have just dressed 90% of the cast in red shirts, then spent a little more time developing the remaining characters (and there are a lot of them). There are also plot holes filled by convenient explanations (2,000 year-old alien holograms? Alien buttons that immediately open doors?). Though Scott tries to fill in a back story for the mythology of Alien as a whole, some of it just doesn’t really make sense. Then you have people just acting stupid. Even though these people are versed enough in “real” pop culture (like name-dropping Stephen Stills), they have apparently never watched a sci-fi movie because they don’t even hesitate to reach out and touch sticky alien substances with their gloves without wondering at all (being scientists) if they should, you know, collect a sample and see if it is alive or something first.
Other than those red shirts, there are actually even more characters in this movie. Strong and stoic Idris Elba is completely wasted as the easy-going captain. There is Shaw’s boyfriend-scientist Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), who thankfully gets his comeuppance rather early (I couldn’t figure out if it was the character or the actor that was insufferable, or both). Theron’s ice-queen commander is bizarre and robot-like (which is actually pointed out), and is apparently only there to contrast Shaw. Finally, there is Michael Fassbender, playing the human-like android David. As my friend pointed out, Ridley may as well have just called David “Ash”, because he is basically almost the same shifty character as Ian Holm’s android from the first Alien. Again: Can you rip off your own movie?
Despite all my gripes, I didn’t hate the film. The look of Prometheus, with Scott’s famous attention to detail, hints of Giger’s original designs, and eye-popping 3D cinematography, looks as fantastic as you could only wish for. Though the first half of the movie kind of clunks along, there is a specific turning point in the film where it becomes relentlessly tense and thrilling (all I will say is: Noomi Rapace and surgical machine! YIKES!). By the time peripheral characters disappear, you quickly realize that Rapace and Fassbender’s performances are really the only ones that matter, and both of them totally bring it. But after all the anticipation (and yes, I had a LOT as this is the one film I was most looking forward to in 2012), I really really really wanted to love Prometheus. Alas, I only ended up liking it (as soon as the credits rolled)… and as hours passed, my “like” morphed into “kinda of liked”, then quickly into, “yeah, kind of already forgetting about it.” And that makes me kind of sad.