Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is two movies: A very good horror flick, and a less-than-stellar sci-fi film.
The very good horror film is the origin story of the alien we know and love from Scott’s original. The story of the Engineers, the alien creator of men, is one of typical human hubris. They develop some sort of biological weapon that they, at the very least, intend to use to wipe out Earth’s human population, a vicious cleaning of the evolutionary slate. Unfortunately for the Engineers, the black goo also affects them, which caused them to abandon the cleansing project. Until a bunch of humans show up and wake up the last living Engineer on the planet, who immediately attempts to put the plan into action.
When the adrenaline is pumping and the sweat is flying, Prometheus is a helluva lot of fun. Noomi Rapace’s alien abortion scene had my heart pounding in my chest. The last 30 or so minutes blast by, a lot of screaming, running and acts of bravery on an awesome looking set (3D is worth it, trust me).
I have heard complaints about the idea that the goo and the worms affect humans and Engineers differently. I had less of a problem with that. The idea that some sort of biological agent might affect different people and species differently is intriguing. And the idea that the original acid-blooded alien is some sort of perverse offspring of super humans and a purely predatory species works with a little explanation.
Explanation comes from the science end of the spectrum, though, and there Mr. Scott falls short. Let me explain why:
* If I see another frigging movie where scientists show up in an alien world and immediately take of their protective helmets, exposing themselves to an unknown environment that could be full of any kind of pathogens or viruses, I’m going to scream. It’s stupid. It’s wrong. And it’s so, so easy to get it right. Yet so often this very basic idea is violated. ENOUGH!
* When, for example, a military unit arrives in a new area, do they just say “Hey, let’s throw up camp right here!” and be done with it? Um, no. There’s scouting, satellite mapping, setting up of a perimeter, etc. Then why, when you’ve spent more than two years in cryogenic sleep, traveled millions of miles across the universe on the hope that what you are expecting to be there will be there but with no actual evidence that anything is there, would you just set the multi-billion dollar ship down as soon as possible without using any of that high-tech equipment to map and/or scan the planet? The answer: You wouldn’t. I wouldn’t, and I never, ever got into science growing up. But I’m smart enough to know how stupid that is. Don’t you think professional pilots, soldiers and technicians would think of that sort of thing? I believe so.
* Nothing was answered. For all the talk and hubbub surrounding this movie and its approach to the big questions about life, creation and evolution, Prometheus really only skims the big questions. We get no answers about humanity, merely a few vague hints and plenty of confusion. A lot of talented actors – Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Michael Fassbender, Rapace, etc. – do a lot of scene chewing but are given little to work with and some, particularly Theron, are completely wasted. Sci-fi is big questions, big answers. The questions are there. The answers, not so much. If we get more in a sequel or extended DVD version of Prometheus that helps fill those gaps, then my opinion could change. But this movie fails based on its inability to do anything but dance around depth, but never really approaching it. I was expecting something a bit more … Kubrikian? And what I got was much more pedestrian.
If you’re a fan of the Alien franchise, don’t miss this. It’s worth seeing, despite its shortcomings. But if you’re searching for something broader than an extremely well-constructed horror flick, you’ll likely be disappointed.