It’s nice to see old friends, and on a purely nostalgic level, Ridley Scott’s return to the mythology of “Alien” gives us a grin on a double set of extending, slavering jaws.
“Prometheus” doubles down on the impeccable design, editing and art direction that elevated Scott’s 1979 space monster story to an electrifying adult horror masterpiece. Scott delivers a visually exquisite, unmissable film that demands and deserves to be seen on the biggest screen available.
It is also unforgivably stupid. For all its gloss and craftsmanship, this is a rote “final girl” flick with tentacles. “Alien” was about more than a look. It was blessed by the sardonic tang of Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay, a paranoid psychological thriller that tightened its screws with each narrative twist. O’Bannon’s genius lay in grounding his bleak horror havoc in ideas that preoccupy the modern psyche: social collapse, malaise and distrust of authority.
“Prometheus” was co-written by Damon Lindelof, a creator of TV’s “Lost.” Brace yourself: Lots of weird stuff occurs without rhyme or reason.
In the moody, mysterious prologue set on a planet abounding with waterfalls (possibly primordial Earth, but who knows?), someone does something that is startling, ambiguous and visually arresting. “Wow,” I thought, “that’s amazing. Why is that happening?” It was a thought that became distressingly familiar over the next 119 minutes.
“Prometheus” springs from the cautionary fable of fire stolen from the gods, and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus,” which revisited the whole man/God/creation situation (and the perils thereof). The story proper begins with archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), whose discoveries suggest that humanity is not alone in the universe.
This intrigues the world’s richest and apparently oldest man, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce under a thick impasto of wrinkle makeup). As he grapples with mortality he dispatches the cave researchers on a trillion-dollar space expedition seeking alien beings who may have kick-started humankind’s evolution. Once they reach their destination, things do not go as planned and the crew is swept into an epic battle for mankind’s salvation. The fact that the devout, infertile Elizabeth and rationalist Charlie are lovers plays a significant part in this story. Like its “Alien” kin, “Prometheus” mines icky anxiety from human and E.T. reproduction.
No effort has been spared in imagining the luxury-liner space vessel and the barren moon it visits. The film’s physical environments have a tangible realism and an unsettling aura, too. But it’s populated with characters we scarcely get to know.
The ship’s soft-spoken robot (Michael Fassbender), who behaves like a blandly sinister Jeeves, is more engaging than his human cohorts. Other than Charlize Theron’s condescending Weyland Corp. overseer and Idris Elba’s affable captain, the crew are indistinct characters who might as well be named Victims 1 through 10. “Alien” built to a big emotional payoff because we were surprised by Sigourney Weaver evolving from a peripheral character into the last heroic human standing. No one in this film creates such a compelling connection to the audience. The crew gets gobbled up like beer nuts, and without much more impact.
“Alien’s” blue-collar crew did their ill-equipped best to fight an ultimate killer. Here the astronauts die because they are idiots. Would you mourn for a chump who reaches out welcomingly to a space cobra as if it was a docile attraction at a petting zoo? Would you grieve patsies who get lost in corridors they have just painstakingly computer-mapped, or a nimrod who runs from a giant wheel of death along the path of its rotation rather than veering perpendicular to safety? Would you accept one crew member infecting another with alien bio-slime just to see what happens?
“Prometheus” saddles a billion-dollar franchise with a dollar-store script. Luckily, in space, no one can hear you groan.