June 12, 2012 by Zack
In 1979, we were introduced to a new kind of alien monster that we had never seen before in the movies. We were always used to aliens either looking like the “little green men” in flying saucers that were popularized in the 50’s, or possibly something tentacled. But in Ridley Scott’s alien horror film simply titled “Alien”, we saw a new kind of monster. It was terrifying, but also mesmerizing. This kind of alien wasn’t necessarily an “intelligent life form” like us; it was more like an insect. And it was simply a killing machine. The film spawned an entire franchise that had its ups and downs (mostly downs) and was finally put to sleep a few years back.
Then, someone had an idea. Ridley Scott admits that this new film, “Prometheus”, is somewhat of a prequel to “Alien”, but not entirely. I think that there’s enough evidence (especially at the end) that gives us an idea that it’s at least a companion piece. It begins mysteriously on an unknown planet with an unknown being that resembles humans disrobing and drinking some kind of sludge from what looks kind of like a petri dish. The being immediately begins convulsing and his status takes a horrible turn for the worse as he plummets into the nearby sea. In the distance there’s a giant ship just hovering above.
The hypnotic beauty and terror of that scene sets the stage for one of the most striking visual experiences you’ll have in modern film–after all, this is Ridley Scott, the same man who brought us visual masterpieces like “Blade Runner”. What’s lacking, however, is a good cast of characters and breadth of story to back it all up.
We’re soon introduced to two archaeologists in 2089, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) who, while on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, find some artwork from ancient civilizations that match up to others and think that this is an invitation to go find them. I don’t know why, but it’s comforting to me to know that the Isle of Skye is still going to be here in 2089. Fast forward a few years, and we’re on the Prometheus, an all-too-obvious name for the symbol of what this movie tries to be about. We’re then introduced to one of the more interesting characters (albeit inexplicably devious) named David, the resident android (played extremely well by Michael Fassbender). Besides the captain of the ship, Janek (played charismatically by Idris Elba), the other characters are mere throwaways–fodder for the upcoming monsters to gorge upon. The real disappointment is Meredith Vickers played by Charlize Theron. She’s icy, almost robotic (and at one point accused of being one), and she’s skeptical. But we never get a good idea why she is the way she is except for maybe a hint toward the end. She works for the company, the Weyland Corporation, that has funded the project. The owner, Peter Weyland (played under bad old man makeup by Guy Pearce), believes in the archaeologists and wants to find these ancient civilizations. But, like in all the “Alien” movies, his motives may not synch up to the good-natured intentions of Shaw and Holloway.
Once they land, the film really gets going and it isn’t too long before stupid crew members play around with things they shouldn’t and all hell breaks loose. This is where the film is at its best–Scott may be getting up there in age, but he still knows how to build tension, and create wildly chaotic scenes that are admirable in the way they push visual horror. The creatures they discover are incredibly hostile and certainly resemble the “xenomorph” structure we’re used to in the “Alien” franchise. There’s also the humanoid “Engineers” who speak in a different language, and we’re never really sure what their true motivation is. But they are hostile toward the humans, and seem to want to go to Earth and bring their slimy friends with them.
The mysterious qualities of the film are where it is most interesting. You can ask yourself a lot of questions about these creatures and what their relationship is to us. But what bogs this film down are the cliched ancillary characters, the predictability of the plot once it starts going, and even a clunky third act that gives you a few “Is it over?” moments that may make you shift in your seat. Be sure to stick around, though, because you certainly don’t want to miss the last scene.
As a monster movie, the film is pitch perfect. It has all of the ingredients of a thriller and it delivers on that. But as a philosophical movie about aliens, other worlds, ancient civilizations, the meaning of it all, it just gets lost in a lot of goo, gore, and derivative dialog. I wish the screenwriters (Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts) would’ve spent a little more time developing a more interesting plot and characters with more depth rather than try to mesh sci-fi mumbo jumbo with quippy one-note characters. Holloway’s character starts off with promise but quickly devolves into an alpha-male meathead. The “geologist” who looks like a futuristic cyberpunk is downright cartoonish. Even our “hero”, Shaw, is somewhat bland (Rapace is no Weaver). Comparatively, ”Sunshine”, which also featured a sci-fi space exploration crew, at least had more interesting and likable characters.
All of this makes for a good movie experience, but not a great one. I’ve heard there is more to this film that was cut for the initial release, and that there are plans for more films in this series. What I’d like to see is this lead up to a full on reboot of the “Alien” franchise to give it new life the way “Star Trek” did a few years ago. This “alien” can easily be given a fresh story and still be entertaining. With the right filmmakers and writers and cast, I think it could work. As it stands now, though, there’s a lot of work to be done.