I get it. It’s hard to come up with anything new in sci fi, let alone drum up something revelatory out of an iconic movie franchise like the Alien series. (Well, the first two were iconic. The fourth, Alien Resurrection, was mostly an interesting coda because Joss Whedon wrote it. What’s that you say? What about the third one, Aliensssss? I’m not even trying to hear you. IT NEVER HAPPENED.)
Still, Prometheus, the new Ridley Scott-directed entry, fails to deliver on even these modest expectations.
It’s gorgeous, in that sci fi-green, minimum-budget-200-mil way. Everyone does their A-list thing as best they can. Scott directs with his usual economy and tension. The actors act and scream and sweat like the Oscar nominees and winners some of them are. (Idris Alba should be an Oscar winner, though he isn’t able to smolder here amidst the hardware in his usual way.) The special effects and prop departments outdo themselves with latex, goo and CGI that nicely mimic HR Giger’s indelible art design from the originals. The writing, by Damon Lindelof and John Spaihts (sic), is pedestrian but not Independence Day-bad.
Mostly, it’s hard not to feel like we’ve seen all this before. The franchise’s staples are in place; the hyper-sleep, the sketchy android, the woman in white undies. But I found familiar moments from a number of films. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek, Altered States, Contact, Pitch Black. The movie zips constantly from homage to rip-off with little original substance.
It’s never a good sign when you’re watching a sci fi-action movie and scenes from better films keep playing in the spaces. Why are there spaces, Mr. Scott? Why?
The music doesn’t help. Combining the worst of John Williams’ grandiose tendencies with the orchestral camp of the original Battlestar Galactica, the score had me wishing for a volume button.
The best sci fi leads us to accidentally think Deep Thoughts about Big Issues. Mary Shelley, asking what happens when a pure creature encounters the evils of society. The frequent explorations of the dehumanizing effects of technology. The Matrix vs. free will.
You can feel the writers straining for that kind of subtext, but it doesn’t take off. Like naming a space ship The Prometheus after the human who stole fire from the gods. Yeah, we didn’t forget that the payback was a liver-crunching bitch. (It’s like those space movies that name their ship The Icarus. Uh, guys? Icarus flew too high and burned up. Are you trying to be ironic?)
There’s a passing debate about Darwinism vs. the alien DNA theory that isn’t even as interesting as Jeff Goldblum’s speech about scientific discovery in Jurassic Park. And the references to Lawrence of Arabia go nowhere. Other than Michael Fassbinder’s striking resemblance to the breathtaking Peter O’Toole, it’s unclear why they bothered to pay for the clips.
It really was a great movie trailer. Sadly, the movie falls short of the promise in that preview and of the promise of reviving a great franchise. I give it a solid ‘meh.’
2.5 out of 5 stars