Old Alien DNA, new story
Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is intriguing, but loses itself in its complexity
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green and Michael Fassbender
I had high expectations going into Prometheus. Ridley Scott finally took the director’s chair again to create a pseudo-prequel to Alien — one of my favorite sci-fi films — which he directed in 1979. Scott did such an amazing job with Alien, so how could Prometheus not be good?
Prometheus was good, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. Maybe I should have believed Scott when he announced that Prometheus would not be a bona-fide prequel, but rather, simply take place in the Alien universe and have “strands of Alien’s DNA.” Prometheus was meant to be a brand-new story.
New stories are great, but Prometheus’ Achilles’ heel is its complexity. The original Alien was great because it was smart and simple — a crew of rugged space travelers must fight for survival against the universe’s most terrifying hunter. Prometheus features a crew of scientists, mercenaries, and corporate-types searching for clues to humanity’s beginnings, which they think they’ll find on a distant and desolate moon. The premise is intriguing, but Scott sabotages his work by mixing in strange subplots about the Weyland Corporation, the company sponsoring the mission, and its enigmatic founder Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce).
And while Alien’s theme was that of predator versus prey — pitting humans against a quick and powerful creature amidst the shadowy corridors and crawlspaces of a spacecraft — Prometheus is a tale of gruesome discovery. The crew, while searching for the answers to their own existence, encounters a new alien race and a biological weapon that decimates their ranks and threatens Earth next. The alien race in Prometheus, their biological weapon, and the creature from Alien are connected, but not in a way that will satisfy fans of the franchise. I personally found Alien’s theme of “being hunted” so expertly crafted through a combination set detail, costume, cinematography, and score, to be much more fun than Prometheus’ theme of “exploration-with-some-creature-horror-thrown-in.”
Don’t get me wrong, though — Prometheus has some great things about it. It is visually stunning, from the sweeping alien landscapes to the Prometheus spacecraft itself, bristling with colorful holographic displays. The 3D effect, refreshingly, is not at all in-your-face or distracting. And Michael Fassbender does a fantastic job as the android David, who pursues the new lifeforms the crew encounters with a ruthless curiosity. The film’s lead, archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), and mission overseer Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) also help carry the film through the generally poor screenplay.
I can guess why Scott might have abandoned the winning formula that made Alien a classic, but I think he was wrong to do so. Rebooting the franchise with a fresh take (and fancy CGI) on an old theme could be just what the doctor ordered. After all, Hollywood nowadays doesn’t have enough of the smart suspense you can find around every corner in Alien. Sci-fi/horror films seem to get too caught up in themselves and their convoluted plot lines to actually do what they’re supposed to do: Tell a scary story.
If you’re looking for the thrill of Alien (and James Cameron’s Aliens, too), you won’t find it here. Prometheus fell short of my expectations, but it’s still worth a watch, if only for the visuals and some great performances. There’s another upside, though: Prometheus sets itself up for a sequel. Maybe Scott will go back to the basics in a follow-up?