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" Maybe we should let bygones be bygones. You got off some good shots. I got off some good ones. Let’s call it a tie. "
— Owen Wilson, Shanghai Noon

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At the age of 74, director Ridley Scott has gone back to the turf he so ably mined with 1979’s Alien. Alien, of course, spawned a franchise that included entrees by such important directors as James Cameron (Aliens) and David Fincher (Aliens 3).

Scott’s initial movie, which has stood the test of time, caught moviegoers by surprise with its high-voltage suspense, terrifying creatures and cynicism about what might happen if humans encountered alien life forms. Alien arrived in theaters as a welcome antidote to the awed optimism epitomized by movies such as Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

True believers and robots seek their creator
True believers and robots seek their creator

In the world Scott created, space no longer represented a final frontier where mankind might find salvation, but a lonely expanse filled with unrelenting terror.

Although Prometheus marks Scott’s return to outer space, it can’t steal the fire of cultural relevance that marked the director’s initial attempt to shed Earth’s gravitational pull. Prometheus makes use of lots of spiffy new technology — notably the improved 3-D that seems to have become a mandatory part of every summer movie — but the movie feels as much like an embellishment of recognizable themes as a bold journey of discovery.

Scott has applied a taste for the monumental to a lurid B-movie, sci-fi scenario about a voyage to a distant planet, and for a time, it works. But when the crew faces its predictable eve of destruction, vague aromas of familiarity begin to waft over the proceedings.

It’s telling that Prometheus’s collection of characters includes only one real standout and that this most memorable of characters is a robot played by Michael Fassbender, an actor whose lightly expressed sardonic wit can be as subtle as one of his character’s raised eyebrows. Fassbender’s David is a humanoid variation of 2001’s HAL, a machine that develops its human style by watching Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. Nice touch.

Those who see Prometheus will not enter an idea-free zone. I have mixed feelings about whether that’s a good thing. The screenplay tries to pit creationism against Darwinism and then stand both of them on their heads, but the movie’s “serious” talk doesn’t always synch with the expected and often well-delivered shocks.

The greatest of these jolts occurs during an automated operation undergone by Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, played by Noomi Rapace, still best known for her work in the Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. I’ll say no more about this bit of surgery, but it’s probably destined to become the movie’s most talked about scene.

Dr. Shaw, who wears a neckless from which a cross dangles, subscribes to the notion of a created universe. Her faith-based position contrasts with her lover Dr. Charlie Halloway (Logan Marshalll-Green), a staunch Darwinian.

Both Shaw and Halloway are participants in a mission prompted by their early-picture discovery of cave drawings that suggest that an alien life form may have had something to do with the origin of life on Earth. When the movie heads into space, we learn that the mission has been taken over by a corporation whose on-board rep (Charlize Theron) is an ice princess and the movie’s resident bitch. The vessel’s captain (Idris Elba) is a hard-boiled guy who who tends not to focus on big questions.

As the story progresses, Rapace’s performance becomes increasingly focused, a display of ferocious determination. And, of course, a variety of lesser characters become fodder for many hideous-looking monsters that seem to have been designed to ensure that the movie fulfills its obligations as a summer slimefest.

With a couple of amazing exceptions, Scott’s use of 3-D proves less than spectacular and some of the movie’s visual creations — an alien spaceship that looks like a giant bagel from which someone has taken a healthy bite — are more impressive for their size than for their imaginative design.

During the movie’s stunning prologue, I scribbled a note to myself; I wondered whether Scott had begun so amazingly that nothing in the rest of his movie could live up to what transpires during the opening credits. I was sort of right about that, although Scott can’t be faulted for not adding enough bells and whistles. If you sit through the closing credits, you’ll discover that Prometheus’s technical crew takes up nearly as much space as half the London phone book.

Should you see Prometheus? I certainly wouldn’t try to talk you out of it. Prometheus is a decent helping of sci-fi that’s probably a shade more intelligent than most of what we’ll see this summer, but ... and this is a major “but” — it is not the knock-out for which I had been hoping, and as a colleague eloquently expressed after the movie, Prometheus , which eventually does become a kind of prequel to Alien, diminishes in the mind the more the furor around it subsides.

  • Leo Halpin: Aliens (and T2) were arguably the greatest sci-fi sequels ever produced. Tours d' force in their own right, their impact transcended time and space. Even Ripley's needlessly wanton acts of vengeance against the black queen and her vile spawn (yes, it would have sufficed to "Nuke the site from orbit.'') couldn't derail Cameron's intoxicating, steaming locomotive . Have we forgotten what usually makes great films great. The script! Those unforgettable scripts:

    '"Hey Vazquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?" - 'No, have you"
    "We're on an express elevator to hell; going down!" - 'We're in the pipe, five by five." "
    "Let's not make snap judgments. This is clearly an important species...I don't think...anybody, has the right to arbitrarily exterminate them." - 'Wrong!' - "Yeah, watch us"
    "You always say that, Frost. You always say, "I got a bad feeling about this drop." - "Okay, okay. When we get back without you, I'll call your folks."
    "A Hyperdine System's 120-A2" - "Well, that explains it. The A2s always were a bit twitchy. That could never happen now with our behavioral inhibitors. It is impossible for me to harm, or by omission of action allow to be harmed, a human being."
    "Cut the power? What do you mean they cut the power? How could they cut the power, man?! They're bugs!"

    While Prometheus is ravishing to look at, with incredible art direction, set design, and cinematography...", the party implodes from there. With the exception of an eerily disturbing performance by Michael Fassbender, a pitiless synthetic devoid of remorse, and commendable contributions by both Logan Marshall-Green (Charlie) and Noomi Rapace (Elizabeth), the directionless plot meanders disjointedly from one implausible event to the next:

    Elizabeth's self-orchestrated Cesarian Section (fully conscious) of her alien embryo, followed by a Houdini like escape from certain death. This, just seconds after undergoing extensive staple "suturing". Her immediate and "miraculous" (see cross) surgical recovery. The elemental failure to quarantine potentially infected crew. Despite the ominous signs of extraterrestrial dead everywhere, no one takes precautionary measures, nor discusses standardizing crew responses. Everyone is mindlessly scurrying about, touching this and that - ETs, Alien eggs, ectoplasmic membranes, contaminated slime, you name it. All in all, the "plot" is pathetic.

    Prometheus - a classic? Hardly. In fact, there may be but one truly memorable line in the entire film, "The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.", and that's been lifted straight from "Lawrence of Arabia". July 12, 2012 reply
    • Leroy Stone: It is interesting to me how much I wanted to love this film. And on some levels I do like it a lot. Unfortunately it doesn't deliver on the premises set up at the film's beginnings. Some will argue that this is to give room for a variety of sequels from many other directors. But in terms of clear story telling, why put an audience through that?

      Aspects of this movie angered me. It was promoted too heavily where almost every key scene had been shown publicly before the movie's release. Of course I realize that I could have avoided all of these "clips". I agree with the point you brought up about character's reactions to things and subsequent discussions which never take place. Each scene feels like it's timed for specific minutes just to move onto the next scene. Science Fiction films have of late been focused on "end of the world" ideas (alien invasions and so forth). It's insulting that Ridley Scott didn't consider creating something truly wonderful and instead went for ambiguity of story, confusing character actions and a general cowardliness to create something for mass market.

      This should have been a truly remarkable film. It looks remarkable... visually, but feels like a con ran by cheap scam artists. I really wanted to love this movie. And I believe many others wanted to as well. It's like watching a race to see someone get so close to the best and then to stop midstream to pose for a picture. July 13, 2012 reply
      • BrianK: I wanted also to love this. My second viewing on dvd was more satisfying than the cinema visit on the day of the UK release but I was left confused and underwhelmed by the direction in the closing sections.
        Scott makes great claims in 1978 at the start of the original project that he did not want any references to traditional monster stereotypes. He succeeded massively in the originality of adopting Giger's "Necromicon" imagary for Alien. This got subsequently slightly watered down in the sequel franchising from Aliens onwards but largely stayed faithful to this concept.
        Regrettably what we witness in the end is a squid/octupus end game of zero originality.
        The character non development makes the entire movie lack any of the feel of the first two films. It's almost as if other forces were at work in the making of the product. Hard to believe when considering Scott and his reputation? Shame. October 25, 2012 reply