June 10, 2012


In Prometheus, there are a few scenes where the crew members are wearing black jumpsuits with red lining along the edges. It's a designer's nod to an old Italian science fiction movie, Planet of the Vampires, which was directed by Mario Bava. People have often accused Ridley Scott's Alien of stealing from the oh-so-cheesy Bava film. Alien was thought up by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett, who were never deliberately coy about their borrowing inspiration from any number of science fiction movies, novels, and short stories. Now, with Prometheus, Ridley Scott is stealing from himself. He offers up a prequel-cum-remake of Alien that contains essentially the same scares and the same characters and situations.

The magnificent special effects are there to woo us. They aren't overpowering until the end. When the movie gets claustrophobic, you start to really feel the Alien kinship. It's almost the same damn movie at times. In fact, Prometheus feels like the accumulation of every science fiction movie and book and short story and painting ever concocted. And I say this not having all that strong a knowledge of the genre, but only based on what I am familiar with: Alien and Aliens, bits of Planet of the Vampires, The Thing From Another World, Forbidden Planet, et al. That's not to say it's not entertaining. Much of it is fun in a nasty sort of way. You get a kick out of the characters falling prey to what they encounter on the planet they're exploring. (It was however, irritating, to see some old cliches employed to help facilitate the horror. Movie characters never seem to get smarter with age.)

The plot involves two scientists searching for the beings that created the human race. They journey to another planet where they make some decidedly historic discoveries, but, as you might have imagined, not all of them are good, and pretty soon death enters the spaceship on which they traveled. It's not exactly like Alien from there on out. Scott is really trying hard to capture a sense of wonder amidst the horror he wants to create. So this might be a mixture of Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey (or Solaris). It certainly grasps at the pretentious, although not as firmly as Stanley Kubrick did in 2001. Scott's got an action movie sensibility. His movies get distracted from the bigger ideas that often weighed Kubrick down.

Michael Fassbender, who plays a polite, super-smart robot on board the ship (thus making another connection to the Alien movies), resembles Keir Dullea from 2001, and his voice resembles HAL's. Guy Pearce is unrecognizable under CGI-generated make-up designed to age him significantly. The two scientists are played by Noomi Rapace, who's a pretty good lead, and Logan Marshall-Green. Charlize Theron plays the woman who presides over the ship like an ice queen. She owns the company that's funding the mission. Her character isn't particularly well thought out (none of them are, actually), and we never really know why she's so domineering. You get the feeling that the movie's going to make more use of her but nothing comes of it. Idris Elba seems to have the most humanity among the crew. He plays the ships' captain, and the only person with a sense of humor, which endears him to us more than most of the other dispensables on board. (Remember how it was impossible to tell who was getting killed in Aliens, and then you realized it didn't matter because there had never been much attempt to introduce them either by face or by name in the first place? The same thing happens in Prometheus, a little.)

The script is by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, both sci-fi junkies who keep the movie interesting as they rip off everything they've ever watched and read. Prometheus is fun for about three fourths of the way, but the ending feels too anti-climactic, too deflated, to be exciting or compelling. The movie's still trying to hold on to both the "marvel and mystery" of the origins of life and the horror of the beings discovered on the distant planet, and so it just feels like any other outer space epic, one you might have caught while watching the Sci-Fi channel late one night.

With Sean Harris, Rafe Spall, Benedict Wong, Kate Dickie, and in a small role as Rapace's father, Patrick Wilson (seen in a dream sequence.)

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