Game Over: Prometheus looks great, but fails to deliver on anything approaching the best of Ridley Scott.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
Prometheus! It’s the Alien prequel we’ve all been waiting for all these many months. Just don’t go into it expecting facehuggers and chestbursters or pretty much any sort of sci-fi horror and humor and tension and gore. This ain’t that sort of flick. Instead, it’s an ambitious science fiction drama about humanity’s place in the universe that deconstructs our ideas about God and religion and life and death and –
Well, except, no: Prometheus may want to be that ambitious SF drama. It’s just that somewhere along the way, the provocative speculation and the seriocomic tragedy got lost. Oh, and the characters got forgotten, too. Plus there’s precious little authentic drama.
Gorgeous visuals of prehuman Earth in the distant past – when something Vitally Important to human development happened – melt into gorgeous visuals of near-future scientists unraveling clues to that Vitally Important thing – a hint of a Chariots of the Gods (i.e., aliens done it!) scenario driving human evolution – melt into gorgeous visuals of a deep-space mission to find our E.T. parents. Such promise! We haven’t seen a science fiction film like this in a long time, one that’s big and brawny and space-travel-y and full of the same sort of robust industrial authenticity that Ridley Scott brought to Alien – this feels real, and not like fantasy at all. Screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof seed their setup with all manner of mind-blowing ideas that tickle with their potential: We are not alone and we are not an accident; humanoid robot who tries to be human; religious belief conflicting with scientific fact.
PROMETHEUS ENDS UP FEELING LIKE AN ALIEN RETREAD, RATHER THAN AN EXPANSION… IT NEVER DELIVERS.
It had me at hello, Prometheus did, and for a fair while. I’m still in awe of it visually, for moments like this one: Scott draws out the sequence in which the ship Prometheus approaches the planet it has been aiming at in a way that’s like cinematic lovemaking, one that lets our eyes and our minds luxuriate in the notion that this is a whole ’nother planet.
And then Prometheus lost me quickly after that, and never won me back again. It ends up feeling like an Alien retread rather than an expansion: There’s a derelict ship! There’s the saps sent out to investigate! There’s the infected one we can’t let back onboard! There’s the infection onboard anyway! Yet while Alien worked on a pure monster-movie basis, Prometheus had promised so much more before this point, and then never delivers on it, while also not indulging in pure monster-movie scares, either. There are only the ideas here, and the more exploring we do in this story, the more nonsensical the ideas turn out to be. There’s Noomi Rapace’s scientist, Elizabeth Shaw, who believes the aliens she calls “Engineers” engineered we humans, and then left a map for us to come and find them on this very planet at which Prometheus has arrived… but what she and her team find (no spoilers!) certainly does not seem to be anything the Engineers would have pointed us to.
Shaw is the central character here, and it’s around her that so many questions are briefly posited and then quickly forgotten about. Her religious faith is played up early on, and then just as her faith should be getting rocked by the avalanche of her scientific discoveries, or subject to reconsideration or even possibly a sort of confirmation, it’s dropped. Where Alien was content to allow examination of the power and horror of biological reproduction arise from its subtext, Prometheus tries to make it text – via Shaw’s personal romantic relationship with her partner in science (Logan Marshall-Green) – but then that gets thrown out the airlock, too.
The other characters are hardly more than spearcarriers: Michael Fassbender is allowed to do little more than a tepid impersonation of Data as David the android; Charlize Theron’s company exec stalks around being coolly, randomly bitchy, and that’s it; Idris Elba as the ship’s captain is even more underutilized. Like the film, they look good, but appear to have no reason to be around.
There is a certainly geeky pleasure in rehashing what little stuff of actual substance we’re offered here to see how we can make it work within the narrative framework we are already intimately familiar with. But that has a certain desperation to it, as if we’re trying to force Prometheus to measure up to Alien (and Aliens). Which, sadly, we cannot do.
PROMETHEUS (2) • Directed by Ridley Scott • Starring Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender •Rated R •124 min. • At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Northridge Cinemas, Maya Cinema and Cannery Row XD.