By Gary Murray
Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron
Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof
Directed by Ridley Scott
Running time 123 min
Selig Film Rating—Matinee
Alien was one of the best horror films ever made. The story of a spaceship attacked by a menacing space creature had all the hallmarks of a modern telling of a ‘bug-eyed monster’ film of the 1950’s while putting a modern spin on the tale. It was one of the most successful films of the year and became a classic motion picture, part of the lexicon of cinema.
The sequel Aliens was one of the best war movies ever made. The story was of a group of Marines that go back to the planet and find that the species is still there and looking for a fight. The film is a thrill ride that placed James Cameron on the A-list of directors. The next two sequels were a bit drab and the Alien VS Predator series was a bit too silly. The director of the original film Ridley Scott has taken on the reins of this universe and made another film in this vein. It is called Prometheus.
The very beginning takes place at the dawn of Earth civilization. A human-like being drinks an elixir and is destroyed, forming the first strands of DNA needed to start the process of life. Much like 2001: A Space Odyssey, the audience flash-forwards a few hundred thousand years to 2089 and a discovery of an ancient star map discovered by scientists. They interpret it as an invitation from their creator. Then we go to 2093 and the arrival of the spaceship Prometheus on the moon foretold by the star map.
The mission senior Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) wants the crew to avoid all contact with whatever is on the moon. The scientists are lead by Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) a believer who wants to know about the origins of man and the spacemen she refers to as “The Engineers”. She has this wide-eyed optimism that these are benevolent beings who are basically interstellar Johnny Apple-seeds.
The crew goes into a structure that they deduce is a terra-farming machine. They also discover some artifacts that look like the birthing pods from the original Alien film, but a more mechanical version. They also discover a decapitated head and artifacts. A dust storm comes in and traps some of the crew member in the catacombs of the structure. Then things begin to slither.
The film is billed by the fan-boy geek press as a prequel to Alien but it is more of a tangent. Those who think that this is going to be another ‘bug hunt’ full of action sequences are going to be sorely disappointed. There is no Alien creature in the way one expects there to be, no chasing of humans in small spaces by that great mysterious something. To be honest, that would not work. We have all seen the alien and much like in Jaws 3D and Jaws the Revenge, the beast just isn’t as scary as it was the first go-around.
The best performance in the film is by Michael Fassbender as the mechanical man David. There is this other world charm that he possesses in trying to understand humanity. He experiments with his hair in a Laurence of Arabia fashion. One is never sure if he is a friend or a foe to the crew of the Prometheus. He seems to have another agenda that is not on par with the rest of the crew. In a way, he is a walking version of HAL from 2001 and just as scary.
Noomi Rapace is wonderful as our wide-eyed scientist, a woman who is driven my curiosity to the point of being a detriment. As a believer, she sees that whoever made mankind must be some kind of perfect persona, full of all the best the universe has to offer. Her discovery of what exactly the installation on this moon is for is the big reveal of the story. The problem with that is that it is anti-climatic. Everyone knows what is happening on this moon and it is not that surprising.
The biggest question is Charlize Theron as Captain Vickers. Her part is so detached from the rest of the cinematic story that it could have easily have been entirely cut out and never missed. At times one begins to wonder if she is an android, so cool is her personality. It is a total misfire of a character and a waste of a talented actress.
The film looks impressive, with CGI effects that rival the best productions in the 21st century. The technicians do a great job of matching the world set down in the first Alien film, corresponding technology and cinematic feel. There is this feeling of use captured in the lens that gives this world a ‘lived-in’ aspect that is missing from so many science fiction films.
I think the problem with the film is in the editing. It just feels as if there are massive chunks of plot missing in the proceedings as if the movie were cut with a chainsaw. There may have been too much story wanting to be told in the two hours and sacrifices had to be made. It seems that the cuts were done whole cloth and without any finesse.
Much like the first butchered version of Blade Runner that appeared on the screens across the USA, this may not be the vision that Ridley Scott intended but the compromise forced on him by the producers. I am sure there is a longer and more coherent version of Prometheus that exists in some vault in Hollywood, a version we will see at some future date. There are so many plot holes in this version of the story that one begins to wonder if some reels were not spliced in the film before shipping.
Prometheus is a good movie, just not a great one. It had a tough hurdle over Alien and Aliens, a hurdle it does not clear. But it is a much better film that all the rest in the Alien universe; it just doesn’t measure up to the first films that came before it.