Stealing Alien’s Fire
With an absolutely brilliant first act–intriguing story, amazing visuals, terrific cast–Sir Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, a kind of prequel to his l978 Alien, promises the world. Setting itself up adroitly, the film is genuinely dazzling.
Its second act, however, begins to wander off from a psychological quest-thriller into mere monster territory. The third act abandons the film’s philosophical McGuffin (“Who are we?” “How did humankind evolve?”) for out-and-out Grade-B action, albeit beautifully staged. And for much too long the film reveals no main character–until quite late, at which point she’s in for some heavy lifting, including enduring an unbelievable series of injuries.
All of this raises some reasonable questions: Why the pretension in the first act? Is this some sort of Oscar-bait?
You can’t blame the cast: Michael Fassbender (as an android); Charlize Theron (as an ice-queen head of an exploration convoy); the great Idris Elba (Wired) as the Prometheus’ captain; Logan Marshall-Green as a reckless scientist; and Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Swedish division) as a ballsy archeologist who seems well-nigh indestructible. An exception is Guy Pearce, in bad make-up, as the trillionaire who underwrites the Prometheus’ investigation of messages from the past . The character is looking for eternal life. Sir Ridley is, too–for his franchise. But he seems to have forgotten its origins.
Alien screenwriter Dan O’Bannon predicted: “I’m going to make a million dollars! I’ve just written a haunted house movie and set it in outer space.” James Cameron nailed the sequel, leaving some French director to screw up the third installment. Prometheus ups the ante considerably with its Waiting for God(ot) theme–but we wait in vain for a pay-off. The action is wonderful, however. So perhaps the moviemakers changed their minds, having painted themselves into a CGI corner.
As “first contact” movies go, this one has some effective echolalia that will please the fanboyz. Visually it’s far superior to any sci-fi movie since 200l: A Space Odyssey, which has an integrity lacking in Prometheus. But then 2001 is our best sci-fi, with one of the finest endings in the history of American film (as opposed to American movies).
This might have been Sir Ridely’s legacy film, only it has no sense of wonder or awe. His best remains Blade Runner (director’s cut). So is Prometheus worth seeing? For most moviegoers, yes.