For the past three years, sci-fi geeks worldwide have speculated about Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. After Scott revealed the film was set in the same universe as the Alien saga, internet fan communities buzzed with rumors about the picture’s connection to the lucrative franchise. As expected, the director’s newest does not match the quality of his 1979 entry in the series. Horror movie clichés, plot holes, and hokey philosophizing mar the script, credited to Jon Spaihts and Lost writer Damon Lindelof. Nonetheless, Prometheus is decent sci-fi rife with gross-out scares and spellbinding visual effects.
Noomi Rapace plays Elizabeth Shaw, a tree-hugging archeologist who, in 2089, discovers hieroglyphic evidence for extra terrestrial life. She is convinced that these cave drawings point to a planetary civilization containing answers to the mystery of human creation. Flash forward four years and she is onboard the space vessel Prometheus, preparing to land on said planet. Once the crew is on the ground, it soon becomes clear that Shaw’s journey has taken her to a deadly alien environment. Who would have thought?
Similar to Alien, the first half of Prometheus is propelled by an eerie, gradual buildup of fear. Sadly, Spaihts’ and Lindelof’s storyline devolves into Hollywood predictability. For example, characters have an idiotic sense of judgment a la a B-rate slasher flick. Decisions they make in moments of stress are completely bonkers. The screenwriters attempt to make up for such silliness by throwing grandiose philosophical ponderings into the mix. All of the metaphysical mumbo jumbo further exacerbates Prometheus’ unintentional cheesiness.
With one exception, Prometheus also falls short in the acting department. Unfortunately, Noomi Rapace—who was superb in the Swedish film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—gives a mediocre turn as Scott’s protagonist. It is a shame that Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw comes off as a typical horror movie heroine. In terms of likeability, she falls far short of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, the lead in the original Alien installments. Much to Prometheus’ detriment, Rapace’s acting frequently veers into hackneyed melodrama.
A highlight of the film is Michael Fassbender, who turns in a delightfully menacing performance as David, the spaceship’s resident cyborg. Judging by Fassbender’s acclaimed work in X-Men: First Class, Shame, A Dangerous Method, and now Prometheus, it is clear that he is one of the finest actors working in cinema today. Ironically, Fassbender’s robot is the only role that breathes a little humanity into Prometheus.
Idris Elba, Charlize Theron and Guy Pearce round out the cast. Although these three are quality performers, their characters in Prometheus are undeveloped sci-fi archetypes. Elba is sorely underused as Captain Janek. Recently seen in Snow White and Huntsman and Young Adult, Charlize Theron plays her usual vixen as crew supervisor Meredith Vickers. Even though the Oscar winning actress is satisfactory in the role, it’s a part she takes all too frequently.
In a bizarre casting choice, forty-four year old Guy Pearce portrays the aged CEO of Weyland, the corporation sponsoring Prometheus’ journey. The Memento actor falls victim to the same brand of botched makeup work that plagued Leonardo DiCaprio in last year’s J. Edgar. Unquestionably, Pearce’s character would have been better realized in the hands of an elderly performer.
Despite Prometheus’ contrived storyline, it showcases many of Ridley Scott’s talents as a filmmaker. The British director crafts an all immersive setting in Prometheus just as he did in American Gangster, Blade Runner, Gladiator, and so on. The scale of the film is truly massive. In IMAX 3D, Prometheus’ visual effects and sprawling set pieces are wowing. Never has an extraterrestrial environment looked so real on the silver screen.
Of course, Prometheus would not exist in the Alien universe without sinister ETs. The movie’s monsters, while not as horrifying as Alien’s titular beast, are sufficiently squirm inducing. For audiences seeking nothing more than a fun creature feature, Ridley Scott’s newest is sure to please. While lacking the intelligence and originality of Alien, Prometheus is fine popcorn entertainment. Given the director’s pedigree, it should have been much more.