Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, and Logan Marshall-Green
Directed by Ridley Scott
There is the potential for a great movie hidden deep within Ridley Scott’s newest film Prometheus, but just like the characters in this (sort-of) prequel to Scott’s 1979 sci-fi classic Alien, what the audience finds within the film is not exactly what they were looking for. Scott and his screenwriters, Jon Spaihts and Damon (Lost) Lindelof, have crafted a story that hoped to expand upon the universe of the Alien franchise, and while their ambition is admirable, the final product does not entirely work as a prequel or as its own story. The movie ultimately fails because it tries to be too many things at the same time, which results in an ultimately unsatisfying film experience.
Prometheus follows a small crew of a research vessel of the same name headed to a seemingly deserted planet to conduct research on an alien life form that they feel has some connection to the origins of human life on Earth. The expedition is led by Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and financed by the wealthy industrialist Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, in some awfully unconvincing old-man makeup), all of whom hope that what they discover on this planet will answer the ages-old question of where the human race actually came from. Every other human on the ship, including the liason from Weyland’s company (Charlize Theron), do not share Shaw and Holloway’s enthusiasm about what they will find on this trip. The crew is aided in their quest by an android named David (Michael Fassbender), who seems overtly curious about the ways of humanity. The crew’s first major discovery on the planet is the dead body of an alien creature who has the same features and DNA as the human race, while David makes a different and more grotesque discovery that inspires him to conduct an experiment of his own that results in great danger for everyone.
The overall plot of Prometheus is similar in many ways to the original Alien in that it tells the story of a small group of humans who are quickly overrun by an extraterrestrial force of some kind, and it’s that very comparison that leads to its ultimate weakness as a film. At its core, Alien was a straightforward horror film with science-fiction elements, while Prometheus quickly establishes itself as something deeper at first before it ultimately devolves into a straight-ahead thriller in its second half. It’s as if Lindelof and Spaihts wanted to write something along the lines of 2001: A Space Odyssey or, more recently, Moon, but then gave up halfway through the script and decided to turn it into a creature feature. The connection to the original Alien is more aesthetic than thematic for most of the film…that is, until the very final shot, which to me felt shoehorned in by the studio in order to drive home the connection to that earlier film and its sequels.
One of the aspects of the original Alien that made it such a special film was in how it made us care for the majority of the characters, even though it didn’t spend much time developing them. The crew of the Nostromo had an infectious sense of camaraderie that made their situation all the more dire because we were emotionally invested in them. The crew of the Prometheus, however, all seem to have nothing but disdain for one another, so their deaths don’t seem to affect us in any way other than to see the cool special effects on display. The only characters we really feel anything for are Dr. Shaw and, to a lesser extent, the ship’s captain Jariek (Idris Elba), whose easygoing demeanor provides some much needed comic relief and contrasts greatly with everyone else on the ship, all of whom seem to have a stick up their ass. Theron’s company liason is portrayed as nothing more than a cold bitch for the majority of the film, which makes the big reveal about her character late in the film all but inconsequential because we simply don’t care about her. Ironically, the most interesting character in the film is Fassbender’s David, because he is the most active character. Nearly everything that happens in Prometheus stems from his actions, while everyone else reacts to the horrifying results of these actions.
This lack of emotional investment in the characters wouldn’t be as much of a detriment to the film if the plot was interesting enough to distract us, but sadly we’re left with a lot of questions within Prometheus that are never really fully answered. This is no doubt the result of Lindelof’s involvement in the script, but while that method of storytelling worked beautifully for the most part during six seasons of Lost, it doesn’t work very well within the confines of a two-hour movie. At some point, the audience is going to get tired of waiting for answers that become more elusive and will mentally check out, which I eventually did with Prometheus.
There is a lot to admire about Prometheus from a visual standpoint. The sets and props are all gorgeous to look at, and the creature effects are effectively creepy, if not a little too obviously CGI at times. There are a handful of tense moments within the film, including one particular scene near the middle involving Rapace and a certain piece of medical equipment, that are wonderfully thrilling. Overall, though, the plot reminded me of the midichlorians in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in that it answered a question about a well-known movie franchise that no one asked. The ending of Prometheus is frustratingly open-ended and is obviously meant to be explored further in a sequel, which made me think of it as more of an extended prologue than as a movie itself. The way this film was pushed by 20th Century Fox by playing up the mystery angle was a shrewd way to get people interested in seeing Prometheus, but the final product does little to satiate the curiosity that the ads established. 2.5 out of 5 Antique Accordians.