I went into Prometheus geeked up to see what director Ridley Scott had to add to the Alien mythology he created 33 years ago. The original film is a sci-fi classic, a shocking, thrilling game of cat and mouse played by the astronaut crew of an industrial mining ship and a toothsome hitchhiker they accidentally bring onboard. James Cameron jumped into the director’s chair for the sequel, Aliens, which isn’t quite a classic, but is still one of the best sequels ever made.
These twin triumphs were followed by myriad sequels that seemed to drop in quality from one to the next. Though Prometheus never sinks to the level of dreck like Aliens vs. Predator, it’s still not very good. A visual feast to be sure, sprinkled with interesting characters and set pieces, the film ultimately fails thanks in large part to a story that crashes to earth right when it should be reaching for the stars.
The producers have been working hard to keep plot details under wraps, so I’ll tread lightly — but beware, if I told you the whole story you wouldn’t buy a ticket. The basics: The Weyland Corporation sends an expedition to a faraway planetary system depicted in cave paintings found on Earth by a pair of idealistic scientists (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green). The eggheads get shot into space with a crew of misfits, including a corporate stooge (Charlize Theron), the ship’s captain (Idris Elba) and an android minder/linguist (Michael Fassbender), in search of the beings that first created human life. For a time they think they’ve found their god. They are wrong.
That’s a quality setup. The script, by Lost showrunner Damon Lindelof and newcomer Jon Spaiths, includes a tantalizing first hour that moves briskly and uses deep questions about the nature of life as a compelling backdrop while ratcheting up the tension. Fans of the Alien films will notice clever echoes of the earlier films throughout Prometheus, though the story is not directly related to the tale of Sigorney Weaver’s iconic Ripley. In the end, that was probably a mistake.
As in Lost, the answers that solve the film’s riddles are unsatisfying, and my heart sank for the last half hour as I realized Prometheus was falling apart with each new revelation. In interviews, Ridley Scott repeatedly talked about the last 10 minutes of the film containing some “Alien DNA.” They do, and they’re the worst 10 minutes of the flick.
Which is too bad, since there’s much to like here. Scott’s always been a visual genius (c.f. Blade Runner) and Prometheus looks amazing. Some of the performances are worth checking out, primarily the always great Michael Fassbender as the android David. There’s also a scene of mechanized surgery that’s a mini-masterpiece that would somehow make both Charlie Chaplin and Rob Zombie smile.
Scott has an update of Blade Runner on deck, but I hope he doesn’t go through with it. Leave the past alone, Ridley. You got it right the first time.