When Ridley Scott's ALIEN hit in 1979, it was a game-changer for the genre of cinematic science-fiction and earned classic status overnight for its blend of visually realistic and believable deep space adventure and outright horror. It also spawned a number of sequels, the second of which also quite rightly became a classic, and its creatures — known as "xenomorphs" — and their horrific life cycle became iconic, terrifying touchstones for the post-STAR WARS era. Having been sequelized to ever-escalating diminishing returns (especially in the case of the execrable ALIENS VS. PREDATOR flicks), it was only a matter of time before Hollywood's mania for re-imaginings/reboots/remakes got around to the whole ALIEN thing, so now we get the ambitious PROMETHEUS, helmed by the director of the original ALIEN, and it's definitely a re-imagining/reboot/remake and possibly the most anticipated of this summer's potential blockbusters.
Opening with an archaeological discovery in the year 2089, PROMETHEUS details an expedition to a distant planet whose location was determined from ancient cave paintings and stone carvings found all over the world, crafted by completely unrelated cultures. The two archaeologists who discovered the imagery believe it to be an invitation for the inhabitants of Earth to go and meet the depicted giant spacefarers whom the archaeologists believe to be the creators of the human species. Upon arriving at the planet in question, the expedition discovers the derelict spacecraft from ALIEN, only it's buried so they think it's just some sort of underground crypt. The place displays the bio-mechanical visual tropes established in the first film and features a couple of rooms housing thousands of upright containers filled with an ominous oozing black glop that the expedition's obligatory artificial human/robot sneakily obtains a sample of. The presumed crypt is also littered with the bodies of dead giant aliens — dubbed "Engineers" by the archaeologists — so the head of one is brought back to the ship for study. As expected, all hell eventually breaks loose and very bad things happen to the crew as a number of suspicious aspects of the voyage's agenda begin to crop up. Why is the ship's medical pod only equipped for male patients? Why is a representative of the corporation that funded the mission along for the ride and why are her quarters a large and luxuriously-appointed self-contained escape pod? Why is the ship's artificial human/robot committing very questionable acts that completely violate Asimov's Three Laws? And exactly why did the Engineers seed the Earth with their DNA (which is an exact match with human DNA) and what are they doing with all those containers?
As previously stated, PROMETHEUS is a series reboot, and it takes the ideas and basic universe of the ALIEN films and plays with them in a number of ways, but for me it came off as a visually stunning hollow shell that failed to grab me. I did not connect with or have even the slightest interest in any of the bland scientist characters that meandered about during its running time, and more than once I looked at my watch and wondered when it would all finally end. In fact, about a third of the way through the film I was so underwhelmed that I seriously contemplated getting up and leaving. I'll try to stay as spoiler-free as possible, but here are the pertinent points:
- For an attempted reboot of the franchise that pretty much defined the blended science-fiction/horror genre, there is absolutely no suspense and only the most minimal horror.
- We do get creatures that are intended to be scary, but these re-imagined versions of the larval and adult versions of the xenomorphs and what looks like a fused proto-version of a facehugger and an eel fail to deliver in the scares department. There's also a creature that starts out resembling a sort of four-tentacled octopus wiggly (a "quatropus," if you will) and ends up as the biggest goddamned kinda-sorta facehugger you've ever seen. It would have been right at home in a Sinbad movie.
An Engineer ends up on the wrong end of an encounter with the biggest face-hugger ever.
- And speaking of the quatropus, it's the end result of a ridiculous and dire Caesarian surgical procedure in which the previously-infertile female archaeologist (Noomi Rapace) finds herself in an advanced state of pregnancy after getting it on with her husband following the artificial human slipping him a sample of the black alien glop while he was on a booze-fueled bender. (pauses to catch breath) The terrified mom-to-be hauls ass to the aforementioned automated medical pod, dopes herself up and straps in as the unit carves her open, removes the wildly squirming quatropus and seals her gaping abdominal wound with surgical staples.
Apparently, having just endured an automated C-section to remove a rapidly-gestating extraterrestrial horror does nothing to hamper one's ability to take care of business.
All suited up, running away from imminent disaster and confronting extraterrestrial mayhem with a firefighting axe while traipsing about with a gut held together by surgical staples.
Literally at the moment this procedure is completed, she leaves the med-lab and spends the rest of the film running around in a full spacesuit and getting bumped about and bounced off of very hard surfaces and objects like she hadn't just had an unnatural horror ripped from her womb not even a half hour earlier. I can suspend a hell of a lot of disbelief for a science-fiction story, but I just couldn't buy that.
- I may be looking at this from a cynical point of view, but this reboot appears to me to be a convenient way of ditching the majority of ALIEN visualist H.R. Giger's designs in favor of more predictable and generic creatures in a concerted effort to not have to pay or credit the groundbreaking Swiss artist for his indelible contributions to the look and feel of the franchise. The creepy and slime-laden look of Giger's concepts are utterly stripped away and the xenomorph eggs have even been reduced from fleshy oversized "footballs" to mass-produced, character-void containers. I'm guessing the prestige name of Ridley Scott will attract droves of ALIEN fans in hope of rendering this a hit and thus generating sequels to be passed off to any convenient hack director and equally hackish designers, and that prospect just fills me with inertia.
- Among the many nonsensical examples of how people act put forth in the film's script, the most egregious are the numerous times wherein professional scientists proceed in handling what is the most important scientific discovery in all of human experience with not a lick of common sense or anything resembling considered procedure. There's little thought given to possible contamination from previously un-encountered micro-organisms on A GODDAMNED ALIEN PLANET other than a couple of token decontamination sequences, which are either forgotten about or not, depending on what the sloppy script calls for. Needless to say, this stupidity comes back to bite this crew of alleged professionals on the ass on several eye-rolling occasions. There are also several examples where no caution whatsoever is exercised in handling various extraterrestrial remains and compounds, and anyone with even half a brain will be astonished by those lapses.
- The black goo that occupies the containers on the Engineers' ship is inconsistent in its effect on those who come in contact with it or ingest it, a fault that should have been dealt with before the final shooting script was approved. It causes different "cool stuff" to happen as the script dictates, and this occurs with no rhyme or reason.
- The film utterly wastes beautiful and talented Oscar-winner Charlise Theron in the thankless role of the aforementioned corporate rep. She turns in her most lifeless performance since the title character in the live-action adaptation of AEON FLUX (and bad though that film was, it was a lot livelier and more visually imaginative than PROMETHEUS). She does have one fun character bit with ship's captain Idris Elba (aka Heimdall from THOR), but it's one minuscule moment of personality in a desert of ciphers.
- The sole character that I gave a shit about was David, the ship's artificial human, well-played by Michael Fassbender.
He pretty much performs the same plot function as Ian Holm's Ash in ALIEN, but he's far more charming and sympathetic because he's essentially a slave who's got no choice in his actions.
- Never show excerpts from a much better film in a mediocre movie, since that could serve to remind viewers of how there's much better fare out there to be had. In the case of this film, they unwisely and unnecessarily included a sequence from David Lean's LAWRENCE OF ARABIA that made me think of how much I would have preferred to be watching that instead.
- Perhaps most dishearteningly, PROMETHEUS is highly derivative of a good number of science-fiction stories found in books, television shows and films, not just what came before in the ALIEN franchise, and as a result there's nothing here that we have not seen done somewhere else and usually in a much more interesting/engaging fashion.
The audience opinion at the screening I saw was hotly divided, with some declaring PROMETHEUS "a science-fiction masterpiece" while others disappointedly groused and one patron loudly exclaimed "BOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" when the credits rolled (with a hearty Bronx cheer thrown in by Yours Truly). I've certainly seen worse movies but I was hugely disappointed and occasionally bored by PROMETHEUS, though your mileage may vary. If all you're interested in is great special effects and production design, you'll do just fine. (I did not see it in 3-D, though I've been told that the 3-D is exceptional.) Those who need more than that may end up feeling gypped, so if you're in that camp I suggest you see it with your expectations kept as low as possible.
No, this isn't Melody, Alan and Josie in a live-action re-imagining/reboot/remake of JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS IN OUTER SPACE (unfortunately).