When you put a list together of the most influential directors of all time, Ridley Scott has to be near or at the top. Known for two of the greatest science fiction films of all time (Alien and Blade Runner), Scott created worlds far from each other, but both rooted in very similar and familiar principles. From the clean white walls of his starships, to the gritty, greasy, well-worn environment behind them, his universe is filled with the very real world ills of corporate greed and the despicable people tasked with running them. In many ways, he has envisioned a future that's more practical and possible than of Star Trek and Star Wars, but not one that's comfortable to watch. Other directors have followed suit, each with varying levels of success; in fact, one cannot list a science fiction film from the past 30 years that doesn't pay homage in some way to Scott's 'worn universe.' It's with this sort of impressive resume that Prometheus debuts, which finds us admiring the pretty scenery but wondering if the story is still in Cryo-Sleep.
To be clear, Prometheus is a prequel, telling us how the Aliens (known as Xenomorphs) were born. When Earth archaeologists Shaw (Noomi Rapace, Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) and Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green,Brooklyn's Finest) discover evidence that several artifacts spread out across the planet contain a similar giant figure (called The Engineer) pointing to a constellation, the company Weiland Industries led by CEO and founder Peter Weiland (Guy Pearce, Memento) packs up those scientists and an odd mix of others onto the Prometheus and sends them to LV-223 to find the meaning of life. While not the harsh environment of Lt. Ellen Ripley's LV-426 from the first two films, this moon is no haven: filled with poisonous air and deadly storms, the crew discovers that The Engineers were officers on a cargo ship that was snuffed out by a much nastier foe. Scattered among the victims are their cargo: Alien-esque pods which were being delivered to Earth to wipe out the human race, that is before some of them got loose. Prometheus is some bizarre marriage between Erich Von Daniken's "Chariots of the Gods?" and Star Trek's Borg, wiping out humanity in order to remake them in their own image.
As Shaw and her team begin to unravel the mystery, the ship's crew headed by a rough and ready captain (Idris Elba,Thor) and the corporate witch Vickers (Charlise Theron, Italian Job) butt heads about the goal of the mission. We soon learn that other Cryo-Sleep units haven't been awakened, and that David and Vickers are the only ones with knowledge of who's sleeping inside. It's barely important that you know that person's identity, as this subplot is not really germane or even necessary to the story. Meanwhile, the early Xenomorphs awaken and start killing the Prometheus crew who are trapped in the cargo vessel during a fierce storm. These uninspired 'red shirts' (Star Trek crew members who always died in the Original Series) are neither interesting nor memorable, and their deaths merely serve as a plot transition to the bigger slaughter to come. As the last surviving Engineer is awakened and finishes killing the Prometheus crew, Shaw must decide her ultimate fate, unaware she herself has created the Xenomorphs which will eventually threaten humanity.
Scott paints us so many beautiful images in the film's early scenes: he gets scale down like no one else, placing our Earth vessel as a tiny point in a much bigger universe of vast expanses, freezing solar rings, and massive alien superstructures. Other sequences, such as the world of Prometheus' android-butler-linguist-double-agent David (Michael Fassbender, X-Men: First Class) are equally enjoyable, as he attempts to pass the long time of space travel by memorizing lines from old movies, combing his fake hair, and riding a bicycle as he plays basketball in the ship's gym.
The Alien universe is filled with off-the-wall android servants who sometimes turn on their masters, and Fassbender is no exception; it's his take on the role which keeps Prometheus from plunging further into a chaotic mess. Even though the film touches on an interesting discussion regarding deity worship, it degrades in Act 3 to the point that even main characters go missing for more than 10 minutes at a time. As previously mentioned, much of the crew are simply there to be killed, including some of the most visible of our cast. In every way, their deaths have little meaning, unlike those of the original Alien, because Scott actually spent time building those characters before killing them off. Screenwriters Damon Lindelof (Cowboys and Aliens) and Jon Spaihts (The Darkest Hour) simply use the Prometheus crew as fodder, failing to build any tension, and rushing through the dramatic after-effects in preparation for the next scene. Dialogue feels uneven, and the casting of Rapace as archaeologist-turned-survivor at film's end just doesn't work: she is neither a Sigourney Weaver nor an Ellen Ripley as her incapability as a leading lady are demonstrated in key scenes near the end of Prometheus. In many ways, it seemed that Scott should have cast Theron in that role, relegating Rapace to a smaller 'red shirt' appearance.
Having vented all that negativity, I would suggest that, if you plan to see Prometheus, you do so in 3D. It's an amazing product, as demonstrated by Scott's mastery to create worlds, not simply provide us with eye-popping special effects. The 3D format actually helps create a greater sense of place, making some of the action and death scenes (particularly near the end) more enjoyable. In the end, Prometheus could have been so much more: a deeper presentation on the nature of God and the universe, a terrifying science fiction thrillride, an enjoyable space epic to compliment Alien while tying in Blade Runner. Instead, all we get is more humans making stupid decisions aboard alien ships they shouldn't be on, meeting superior life forms with flame throwers and handguns, only to find themselves as red smears on the wall. If that was the intent, then mission accomplished.
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