For all the talk about Prometheus not being a prequel to Alien, there sure are a lot of comparisons being thrown around. But since we’re on the topic, let’s get it out of the way: Prometheus is not a prequel to Alien. Not in the traditional sense anyway. It takes place in the same universe – “shares the same DNA” as Alien, so to speak, but this is a vastly different film, thematically and plot-wise. Also, don’t let that amazing trailer fool you into thinking this is a horror or action movie. They are action scenes, and there are horrific scenes, but for the most part this is more 2001: A Space Odyssey than Alien.
Dubbed as Ridley Scott’s long-awaited return to science fiction, Prometheus gets high marks for being ambitious, especially in a season rife with brain-dead explosion-fests and stale sequels. Not content with simply re-visiting the universe he helped create with Alien in 1979, Scott and screenwriter Damon Lindelof (co-creator of Lost) get down to the very bone of science fiction by exploring some very interesting concepts – things like the nature of discovering the origins of life, or the place of religion in the grand scheme of things.
If ambition were a barometer for quality, Prometheus would rank up with 2001, The Matrix, and Scott’s own Blade Runner as one of the all-time sci-fi greats. Alas, ambition alone doesn’t get you anywhere. You have to deliver on that ambition. And, taken as a whole, Prometheus, sorry to say, just doesn’t. In fact it’s a mess – a colossal mess!
It isn’t a complete wash though because for at least its first 45 minutes, Prometheus is utterly engaging and fascinating. Bolstered by astounding visual effects, Scott, a master of mood and setting, immerses you into his world from the film’s deliberately ambiguous opening scene itself, taking his time to set things up – building the mood and meticulously putting the pieces of the puzzle into play. This includes introducing us to the 17-member crew of expedition ship Prometheus, led by archeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), who after making discoveries on Earth, believe their journey to a distant solar system will lead them to the creators of life. They’re joined by icy corporate officer Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), head-strong captain Janek (Idris Elba), and the ship’s enigmatic resident science officer, an android named David (Michael Fassbender), among others.
Fassbender, who’s been on a golden streak of acclaimed performances of late (Shame, X-Men: First Class, Fish Tank) delivers another terrific performance as the gentle, child-like Lawrence of Arabia-obsessed David. It’s a creepy yet charismatic piece of work that I wish amounted to more.
It’s only after Scott and Lindelof are ready to move the plot forward after this initial setup that the movie falls apart. Instead of bothering with further exploring some of the interesting ideas dabbled with during the first 45 minutes and building upon these characters, it devolves into an idiotic B-grade monster flick (but with no real monster) where characters make flat-out moronic decisions usually reserved for dumb teenagers in Friday the 13th movies. Making matter worse are the glaring plot-holes that only exist to confuse. Seriously, there are more plot-holes here than an Ethiopian mine-field. Things get so unreasonably silly that I half-expected the guys from The Cabin in the Woods to show up.
It really is a tragedy because there are elements in Prometheus that are of such jaw-dropping beauty and intensity that only a master of Scott’s pedigree could achieve. This is a gorgeous-looking movie –the best looking sci-fi film since Avatar. Credit goes to cinematographer Dariusz Wolski and production designer Arthur Max for assisting Scott in achieving the film’s extraordinary look which I imagine must look extraordinary on IMAX screens. A sequence where the team discovers a room full of urns oozing a slimy tar-like substance is a fascinating mix of science fiction and National Geographic. It’s awe-inspiring, engrossing and tense all at the same time. Another sequence where team members try to outrun a storm of debris is visceral stuff. On the flip side, a scene where a character performs a self-emergency surgery is the ickiest and most intense scene I’ve seen so far this year. It got my blood curdling and it’s bound to do the same to you. You’ll definitely be talking about it. Unfortunately, barring Fassbender’s terrific performance and the beautiful visuals, it’s likely to be the only thing you’ll be talking about.
Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s long awaited return to science fiction, and the world he created with Alien is what I’d dub a misfire. Although there are aspects here that deserve kudos – Michael Fassbender’s brilliant performance, the stunning visuals, and a few expertly staged set-pieces – as a whole, the movie simply falls flat. This is chiefly due to Damon Lindelof’s plot-hole heavy script that abandons all the interesting ideas it poses during its first half, doesn’t care to develop its characters, and leaves the viewer with a feeling of complete dissatisfaction. Make sure you severely reduce your expectations if you see it.
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba
Rated: R (for sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language)