Review By: Gordon K. Smith
At the end of Ridley Scott’s mega-budget reboot to the ALIEN franchise, I felt more confused and bludgeoned by sensory overload than entertained. “Reboot” is the right term, as Scott has re-teamed with the original 1979 ALIEN producers, Walter Hill and David Giler, to recover the series from the ALIEN V. PREDATOR detour it had strayed off into, and back to the original mythology. For you non-fanboys (the ones with way too much free time who’ve been debating this online for months), PROMETHEUS was originally announced as a prequel to ALIEN, then as a non-sequel, and finally as a story taking place in the same universe, some thirty years before ALIEN, and dealing with the same mythology, but not a direct setup to the 1979 film (although the final scenes could certainly be interpreted as such).
The script by Jon Spaihts and Lost writer/producer Damon Lindel of crossbreeds that mythology with 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and the British QUATERMASS series. Prometheus is the name of the gigantic spaceship commissioned by Weyland Corporation head Guy Pearce (in 100-year-old makeup) to investigate “origin of man” evidence found in archeological digs that point to the moon of a Saturn-like planet galaxies away. Since, as we’re quickly told, Prometheus was the Greek Titan tormented eternally for defying the gods by introducing mankind to fire, we can expect that what they find there will not turn out well.
Company rep Vickers (Charlize Theron) heads the expedition of supposed brilliant scientists who wind up doing some rather dumb things. The lead egghead is Noomi Rapace (the original GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO) as Elizabeth Shaw, African-British actor Idris Elba is the ship captain (attempting an uneven-at-best Dixie Yank accent) and Michael Fassbender is the obligatory mysterious android, who’s obsessed with Peter O’Toole in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (while also channeling David Bowie in THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH). The rest of the cast (the non-CGI ones) don’t make much of an impression, and are in fact hard to tell apart in the big action scenes, which is never a good sign.
On LV-223, the moon in question, they encounter numerous elements from the early ALIEN films – the massive horseshoe-shaped spaceship, the “space jockeys” (redubbed The Engineers here) and various configurations of the face-hugger, chest-buster and biped critters. The Engineers have some very dark designs on the human race, which they maybe also created. And from there on, PROMETHEUS is minimally coherent, if that. Scott has always been a better film stylist than a storyteller — even his Oscar- winner GLADIATOR had a hackneyed revenge plot. His triumph in the 1979 ALIEN was introducing a gritty, sweaty, dingy working-class atmosphere to the hitherto bright and colorful world of space epics, which continued through the series and its countless imitations and rip-offs. What also continued was the gaps in logic, scientific inaccuracy, and “reverse anachronisms” – things you’re not really likely to see a century or two from now, like cigarettes, eyeglasses, manual wheelchairs, and slang from whatever year each film was made (James Cameron also contributed to that in his excellent sequel ALIENS and up into AVATAR. I didn’t care much for ALIEN 3 or ALIEN RESURRECTION).
So, visually, especially in IMAX and 3-D, PROMETHEUS is impressive, until the relentlessly downbeat, color-drained and cluttered look finally wears the fun level, and you, down. Add to that the almost non-stop hi-decibel level, which also doesn’t help your aching head keep up with the storyline and details. Just when you think it’s going to get profound, Scott whips out the CGI gore and mayhem to get it back on the familiar track of slimy alien hijinks. The highlight (SPOILER ALERT!) is Rapace reprogramming a robot self-surgery device to extract an icky squid-like embryo from her womb, although for such device to be unequipped for female surgery makes about as much sense as trained scientists not showing caution when encountering a new life-form.
The references to the earlier films are fun (Theron wielding a flamethrower, literal talking heads, and the ALIENS line “WE ARE LEAVING!” to name a few), and it’s good to see science fiction (without a super-hero) done on this scale again, but I think a movie hasn’t done its job when you have to read the nerd chat boards to understand it.