"If you can't be with the one you love - love the one you're with..."
"We were wrong...we were so wrong..."
-Dr. Elizabeth Shaw
ATTENTION: Prometheus is and is not an Alien movie.
Ridley Scott produced and directed two of the finest science fiction films of the 1970s and 1980s before leaving the genre to work in others (fantasy, modern crime thriller, war) over the next few decades. Ever since it was announced that the second Alien film would be directed by James Cameron, fans have wondered when Scott would return to sci-fi.
It was with Great Internet Joy, then, that news came out a year or so ago that Scott had taken up a new project in the Alien universe. After a time, word found its way into the world that the project was a prequel - this was received well, since the series had steadily declined in quality from sublime sci-fi horror to sheer silliness complete with bad jokes.
A few months ago, Scott made it clear that while the new film Prometheus was based on the Alien universe, it was not of that universe. His reasons for doing this were not explicitly given, but it was generally thought that there were probably two major drivers - one, issues over the rights to Alien and two, his desire not to bind himself in terms of story continuity.
Prometheus was promoted by a series of clever, high-priced trailer and teaser releases. Besides the traditional teasers and full trailers depicting carefully-selected scenes from the movie, there was a teaser which consisted of characters from the movie giving what was described as a 'TED Talk from the future' on the subject of the origins of human life, and another extended teaser which turned out to be an advertisement for Artificial Persons. APs are a fixture of the Alien universe, and Prometheus is no exception. Unlike in the original film, here the identity of the AP is clear from the outset - and in that teaser 'David' (Michael Fassbender) - the AP from the movie - stars as the example AP, produced by the Weyland Corporation. Weyland-Yutani Corporation was known as 'The Company' in the Alien movies, and Weyland Corp. appeared in the last installment Alien Vs. Predator which also predated Alien in the continuity timeline. Peter Weyland, the company founder, makes a (virtual) appearance early in the film.
Prometheus is, above all else, incredibly pretty. It's meticulously built, rigged and shot, as we have come to expect from Mr. Scott. I didn't see the 3D version, so can't comment on how well that was done - but the 2D one was good looking enough that I felt satisfied with my ticket price.
The special effects are very, very, very well done. They blend into the background when necessary, and they shine out when required. Unlike the brightly-lit, too-sharp and too-complex crap that seems to show up in big-CGI productions like Transformers and GI Joe and Battleship, the effects here just look like...they belong. This is of course easier to pull off for the Prometheus team because their setting isn't familiar modern cityscapes and Terrestrial scenery. Some early scenes are set on Earth, and the eventual destination of the Prometheus - the titular starship - looks uncannily like those first shots of our home.
The holographic interfaces that are common are so well done that you almost immediately forget about them and focus on their content - a neat trick, I must say - but the physical effects are of very high quality as well. Sets, props, costumes - all very evocative of the original movie while still being distinctive and extremely believable. Vehicles, suits, tools - even the more incidental things like random gear aboard is consistent and well done.
The acting is a bit uneven but competent - there are a relatively large number of characters in the movie for the amount of screen time we actually spend with them, and the difference between leads and also-starrings is pretty blurry. Charlize Theron is fun to watch as the icy Company representative Miss Vickers; Idris Elba handily fills the molded role of 'crusty ship captain' although he may be overdoing the accent a bit, in my humble opinion. Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green's characters seem to be central ones - Marshall-Green ended up being, for me, just competent enough to be forgettable. Rapace doesn't really get much to do until the latter portion of the movie, and then her part really opens up - she's fun to watch, and comparisons to Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley are inevitable, although they're not very similar. Michael Fassbender's David is probably the most 'central' character of the film.
The movie falls down, more than a little, when it comes to story. There are two areas which I found problematic. The first big problem is that of believability. Not the Big Picture - the points the plot is framed on, those which are exposed in the trailers, are just fine and serve well to provide an explanation for why this spaceship is headed out there in the first place. The real problem, though, is behavioral. In the original Alien, the movie works so well partially because the crew of the CTV Nostromo behaves completely consistently with what we know of their characters. We are privy to all the information they have (with one obvious, plot-driven exception) and everyone's actions make perfect sense for their characters. Some of them are more cowboy, some are more cautious; some are analytical and some are impulsive, but all through the horror story the fear and tension works because they are visibly doing pretty much what we would be doing at all times, and the fact that that's not enough to save them is what makes it so scary.
Not so much here.
This crew is incredibly inconsistent in their behavior. Sometimes they're cautious; sometimes they're impulsive or reckless or just plain careless to the point of sheer stupidity - and those might both describe the same character at different times. The viewer will have to stifle cries of "Oh for pity's sake, what the hell are you doing?" or similar sentiments more than once. More than five times. Pretty much continuously, in fact. You end up with (in many cases) a general feeling of "Where the hell did they find these idiots?" What makes it really inexcusable is that these lapses of common sense and even believability are transparently necessary to move the story (not plot) along.
The second big problem is the plot. The setup is fine - it makes perfect sense and ties into Alien really well. About two thirds of the way through the movie, however, it starts to become worryingly clear that the plot is tertiary to the story and the spectacle. Entire scenes and even characters end up, in the end, appearing to be completely unresolved and, worse, completely unnecessary to the plot. Like, completely. Sometimes they're unnecessary to the plot or story!
The film wraps itself up fairly conclusively - there are sequel hints you could park a truck on, sure, but there is indeed a deal of closure to the immediate story. But the closure doesn't really relate to the initial setup plot. It's so dissonant that I had to spend ten minutes walking home from the movie with the friends I saw it with ranting about the plot holes before I could settle back into appreciatively discussing the movie as a whole. I did, because the production is technically so very well done that it almost makes up for the plot and associated story problems.
In sum - this is a movie I'm glad I paid to see in the theater. I recommend you don't think too hard about it, and especially don't think too hard about its relation to the Alien movies - just tell yourself it is a prequel that was disowned, continuity wise, and you'll be fine.
Directed and Produced by Ridley Scott