Obviously conceived as a franchise, the filmmakers begin before life on earth, with a translucent humanoid visiting Earth to seed his DNA. These “Engineers,” as the characters in the movie call them, revisited us from time to time and left clues in the archaeological record about where they could be found. Cut to 2094, with a ship called Prometheus, visiting their planet.
The shots of the ship entering the alien planet are outstanding, and in stark contrast to the ‘digital-looking’ effect of the Engineer decomposing in the prologue. But the real hint of the uneven quality of the film is not in the special effects, but the script. Again and again, the characters’ reactions are not credible for people visiting an alien planet, or even interacting as a team.
We have the two archaeologists and true believers, played by Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green. We have the icy android David, played Michael Fassbender, doing his best Peter O’Toole impersonation. We have the icy non-android Charlize Theron, playing the company manager. And for some inexplicable reason, we have Guy Pearce in unconvincing old age make-up, playing the crazy bazillionaire who funded this expedition. (Why did they not just cast an older actor? It must be for the expected flashbacks in the expected sequel.) And then there are the various alien-fodder characters, the equivalent of Star Trek red shirts.
I’d like to move beyond a discussion that pokes holes in the script, credited to LOST’s Damon Lindelof and newcomer Jon Spaihts. (For a compete snarking, go here.) I’ll just put this one question out there… How did the lead scientists and Weyland know to suspect they were coming to meet the creators of humanity when they only find out that the DNA of the ‘Engineers’ matches that of human beings late in the film? The whole “who knows what and when” is basic screenplay stuff, with plenty of potential for great drama. Instead, we get a guy who is infected with an alien suddenly being super-strong and killing lots of people for no plot-necessary reason.
Ridley Scott is a smart and experienced director, so my theory why he made a movie that is so dumb is because he wanted to have a dialogue with some other directors. Kubrick’s 2001 is clearly an influence, as I have mentioned, with direct quotes found in the room of the ancient Weyland and the shots of bubble-helmeted figures exploring rocky landscapes with harsh, raking light. David Lean is addressed when a clip of Lawrence of Arabia shows up, reminding us how a good script subtly establishes character while also entertaining.
But the director Ridley is most directly challenging here is James Cameron, the upstart crow who dared so many years ago to take the Alien franchise in an action-adventure direction. I got the sense watching Prometheus of Ridley Scott desperately trying to top Avatar and again and again falling on his face. Only a late sequence, of a crashing space ship, has the visual detail and epic feel of Avatar‘s lesser scenes. It, of course, is (spoilers!) narratively ruined by three characters who decide to kamikaze at the drop of a hat, none of whom had been previously established as anything but self-interested. Ridley Scott is still a master of visuals, but I had the sinking feeling that here was another movie he’ll be fiddling with in a director’s cut, trying to save the story too late in the game.
Did we really need a complex mythology behind the existence of the Alien from Alien? Midichlorians disease is real, and it has spread to Ridley Scott.
Beyond the aforementioned uneven visual effects, the tech credits are solid. I liked the strong presence of the musical theme but it sounded derivative of one of the Star Wars themes, similar notes in a similar order. Was this an intentional homage, or just another of this movie’s case studies in lazy derivation?