Anticipation is huge for Prometheus and the best way to see Ridley Scott’s new film isn’t lowering expectations but altering them. Put Alien out of your mind. Make no mistake, this is a prequel to Scott’s 1979 classic Alien but, tonally and in approach, unlike anything Scott has made before. It pits a crew of explorers (led by Charlize Theron and Noomi Rapace) on a deep space mission to discover no less than the origins of the universe, which takes them to a planet full of horrific secrets about to be unearthed.
Everything on screen is spectacular, from the art direction, costumes, visual effects and cinematography, all of which are Oscar-worthy. The ambitious screenplay is overly episodic, presents grand but frustratingly unsolved mysteries (especially for sci-fi fans with questions lingering since the first film) and leaves some giant loose ends. While piecing it together on the drive home, you’ll see the story’s ambiguity. It feels more like an oddly whimsical remake of Alien than a prequel, and the sequel-ready ending and offbeat approach may incite fanboy rage.
On the other hand, it’s mostly great, with an especially strong first hour and full of ideas and discoveries in nearly every scene. Rapace grew on me, as she initially seems too Audrey Tatou, elfin-like for the lead but she carries the nutty climax on her tiny shoulders. Playing an amorous crew member, Idris Elba provides welcome comic relief in what is essentially the Yaphet Kotto role, Guy Pearce is impressively unrecognizable as the mysterious Weyland, Charlize Theron is excellent as the no-nonsense mission head and, as David, the ship’s android, Michael Fassbender’s robotic movements and creepily human demeanor are mesmerizing to watch.
Not all that different in structure from the other Alien rip-offs of the past 30 years, which is the worst thing you can say about it. As a sci-fi monster movie that mixes B-movie pulp with intergalactic existentialism (imagine if Roger Corman had done 2001: A Space Odyssey), it still offers imagery and moments likely to become iconic over time. I won’t describe it but there is a surgery sequence that is one of the wildest things I’ve seen in a long time. Even with a few jump scares, this is the least gory of the Alien films but still delivers enough gag-worthy moments that merit the R-rating.
The 3D gives some scenes a depth of field but otherwise doesn’t offer much. The bigger problem is how scenes switch from being dread inducing, darkly humorous, awe inspiring and intense at a moment’s notice, as if Scott were racing to get to the big reveals. Still, Scott is jolting the genre to life by playfully returning to this world and the lore of the Space Jockey, as he long promised. He makes this all feel vaguely familiar but much stranger than it was the first time.
My Dad took me to see Alien 3 at the Lahaina Cinema the weekend it opened 20 years ago and I remember vividly how disappointed we and a sold-out audience were as we grimly shuffled out of the theater. Prometheus is a far better film but demonstrates how no one, not even Scott himself, can top or even match his original or James Cameron’s terrific 1986 Aliens.
Some will declare this a disappointment, but it should be recognized as yet another surprising, hugely accomplished and enjoyable effort from a filmmaker who really has nothing left to prove. Prometheus, with its mix of smartly scientific pondering and goopy thrills, isn’t perfect but I can’t wait to see it again.
★ ★ ★ ★
Rated R/124 Min.