Perhaps my expectations were too high. Maybe I shouldn’t have bought into the publicity from director Ridley Scott when he stated that “the last eight minutes of Prometheus will evolve into the DNA for Alien.” Maybe I’ve seen too many movies and have become too hard to impress. Perhaps this is just not a very good film.
Regardless of the cause, I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed by Prometheus. This is 20th Century-Fox’s big-budget effort to jumpstart their Alien franchise, though they seem to be doing their best to assure viewers that this is a stand-alone adventure. Giving the reins to Scott is a smart move as his imaginative visual style helped make Alien a distinctive sci-fi entry that’s oft been emulated but rarely equaled. To be sure, Prometheus follows in those footsteps. It too creates alien worlds that are Earth-like in nature yet just foreign enough to offer up a myriad of intriguing narrative possibilities. Also it’s riddled with futuristic devices with enough basis in fact that they could plausibly be developed into real-life tools.
While the film’s look is cutting edge, the script by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof is a by-the-numbers pastiche of elements from all of the Alien films as well as such disparate sources as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier, a famously misguided movie I should not be thinking about while watching a film with this much talent involved. However, it crossed my mind more than once as I witnessed Prometheus unfold. The space travelers at its core set out to, among other things, try to find some answers as to our origin and perhaps discover just who created us.
These are heady matters for a film that unfortunately can’t find much new to add to the Alien franchise, let alone the sci-fi genre itself. The action begins in 2089 when archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) make a discovery on the Isle of Skye that provides the final piece in a theory they’ve been working on. An ancient cave drawing shows a creature, human-like in appearance, pointing to a cluster of five stars. This is similar to images found at other archaeological digs from around the world and they draw the conclusion that “they want us to come find them.” Billionaire industrialist Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) is convinced they’re right and funds an expedition to a distant planet, LV223, which has an Earth-like atmosphere. With a crew of 17, the ship Prometheus sets down on the surface, intent on bringing back knowledge to mankind regarding their origin.
What they find is familiar to anyone who’s seen the Alien movies, but as members of the ill-fated crew have not, we can only sit back passively and watch them get picked off one at a time by the creatures they’ve trespassed on. A pyramid is discovered that contains a spaceship that’s begging to be explored, as well as a decapitated humanoid. However, when they come across a large statue of a human head, which was surely being readied for shipment to Easter Island, and hundreds of canisters oozing a black substance, a feeling of dread comes over the crew. It’s just a matter of time before the ship’s residents come calling, shooting tentacles and impregnating humans in a less than gentle manner.
These plot elements are familiar as are the dynamics between the crew. There’s an android among them, Michael Fassbender’s David, who models himself after Peter O’Toole’s portrayal of T.E. Lawrence, a veteran captain with common sense in the person of Idris Elba’s Janek and an icy, pragmatic corporate stoolie with Charlize Theron’s Meredith Vickers. The rest of the space travelers are from central casting. While one or two of them might be given a nice line of dialogue here or there, they serve no real narrative purpose.
That’s not to say that the script doesn’t contain its share of lofty ideas, albeit ones that are undeveloped. Shaw and Holloway each have their own agenda regarding this expedition. While he hopes to find evidence that Darwin was on the right track, she hopes her religious convictions will be confirmed. This is an interesting premise but it’s only mentioned in passing before all hell breaks loose. We’re treated to what seems like a series of scenes that play like a checklist of highlights from previous entries in the series. Before you know it, there’s a confrontation over whether an infected crew member should be allowed back on board, a key character ends up with an alien in their chest, that pesky android has a nefarious agenda and we’re treated to another attractive female running around in her underwear. The knowledgeable viewer can’t help but realize these are just rehashed moments that lack inspiration, though it must be noted there’s a showstopper among them – when one of the crew enters into a robotic surgical chamber to have an impromptu alien abortion. It’s a race against the clock as the creature is squirming in the character’s chest cavity and is near to bursting as the laser knife slices and clamps stand at the ready to extract it. It’s bloody, gruesome and the one moment viewers will talk about after the credits roll.
It isn’t so much that Prometheus is a bad film. It’s surely one of the best looking productions of the year and uses the 3-D format to spectacular effect. It is a film that underwhelms. I wouldn’t be surprised if it gives up further revelations on repeat viewings, but upon first impression, this is a movie that fails to blaze new trails and is content with returning to familiar locales and situations.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at email@example.com.