Now available on video, “Prometheus,” produced and directed by Ridley Scott, is a long-awaited follow-up to Scott’s 1979 thriller, “Alien.” While not exactly a prequel, it bears strong resemblance to the earlier film, particularly in its very last shot. Viewers who can hang in there that long will be rewarded; others may wish to hit “Stop” early. For all its striking production design and cinematography, Scott’s latest fails to achieve the impact of “Alien,” in part because of the similarity of their plots.
Missing in action, alas, is Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, a tough mama who gave audiences a character to hang onto and identify with, at least to the extent that we could. In her place we have two young scientists, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her lover, Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green). After a mysterious (prehistoric?) opening, the time shifts to 2089 and the two discover a cave in Scotland with some paintings that strikingly resemble others from widely separated times and places. Each one depicts a large humanoid figure pointing to a constellation not familiar to the scientists.
Two years later, funded by the elderly, wealthy Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, all but unrecognizable under a ton of makeup), the young folks awaken from hyper sleep as their ship, “Prometheus,” approaches its target, a moon that looks like it can support life. They hope to answer Weyland’s questions: “Where did we come from?” and “Why are we here?”
The audience has been given a teasing clue in the opening moments, one that involves DNA but is never fully explained, like some other crucial plot points. Scott—who directed “Blade Runner” right after “Alien”—and screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof are more intent on dazzling us with some cool sets and CGI-aided cinematography. This is fine for about the first hour of the movie; then things fall apart. The most appealing of the characters becomes David (Michael Fassbender), a smooth android with a rebellious streak and a secret agenda. He and The Weyland Corporation’s representative, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), bear some animosity which only gets partially explained in the climactic moments.
The 17-person crew of the “Prometheus” slowly gets whittled down as they explore the tunnels of a mysterious hollow dome, aided by some nifty little flying mapping globes. They discover piles of bodies and encounter some holographic images of human (?) beings running from… something. The rest of the movie deals with who they are and how they got there. Oh, and what they were running from, which supplies most of the gory thrills. The movie is correctly rated “R” for violence and language, though again it’s not a patch on its “Alien” forerunners.
Scott attempts to give the goings-on some gravitas by introducing themes of faith vs. skepticism, corporate greed vs. scientific inquiry, and parent/child relationships. None of these is dealt with fully, which costs the story some coherence. It also lacks the tension of the three “Alien” films, despite cutting back and forth between action and contemplation. Though this one clearly sets up for a sequel, stretching the series to five numbers seems a risky bet.