Director: Ridley Scott
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron
Excellence: 0.5 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: The Alien prequel that really isn't, with generally impressive special effects but nothing else that impresses -- to the contrary, it's one of the worst films I've ever seen.
I'm not sure where to start with this film ... to attempt to enumerate everything that is wrong with it will be difficult, but given the inexplicably positive reviews this film seems to be receiving in general, I will attempt to justify myself. As I posted on Sunday, this was one of those rare films where I truly wish I could have the time I spent watching it returned to me. It was definitely one of the worst films I've seen notwithstanding special effects that were quite good and even a few pleasant surprises I had from it. The things I hated about it were not things that I went in expecting to hate.
As with other works that I do not recommend, I'm going to be free with the spoilers. But to start, here's the basic synopsis from the Internet Movie Database:
A team of scientists travels through the universe on the spaceship "Prometheus" on a voyage to investigate Alien life forms. The team of scientists becomes stranded on an Alien world, and as they struggle to survive it becomes clear that the horrors they experience are not just a threat to themselves, but to all of mankind.
So now let's try to dissect what made it so bad and what left me sitting in the cinema in a state of shock after it was over, trying to comprehend what I'd just had inflicted on me.
Bad Science Fiction
As readers of this blog know, I'm generally quite forgiving of science fiction films. Being more inclined towards science fiction, I'm even more forgiving of rubber science in films. I'm okay with stuff being totally made up -- for example, I was always fine with the original facehuggers being able to infect human beings even though hardliners like Sophia's Favourite would say it's completely junk science. But even my very forgiving ability to suspend disbelief was beaten and left for dead at the side of the road. Maybe some of the nonsense could be pulled off it it was presented with a science fantasy "feel", but it was instead presented as relatively hard SF.
First the aliens -- they took the facehugger idea to the next level and beyond in convoluted and silly ways that were at once unnecessary and made no sense at all. I mean, here's the basic gist as far as I could figure it out: there's some black goo that, a bit like the liquid in District 9, is able to transform people into aliens (and also seems to be able to spontaneously create silly snake-like things), and if one of those people has sex with another he impregnates her with a squid-like thing, which in turn can shoot a tentacle down a victim's throat creating a creature that sort of looks like the xenomorph from Alien. Really?
Of course, even that's a fair bit of guessing since the guy who gets the black stuff treatment gets barbecued by a flame-thrower about 5 minutes into the movie after he starts showing symptoms of infection. So we never really know what that stuff was doing to him (other than being able to get his infertile girlfriend pregnant with a squid-thing). Which I thought was rather poorly done since given that this character is one of the main characters, it seemed they were playing it up as if it had the makings of another classic horror scene like the chest-buster emerging from Kane. Nope, they just fry the guy, but a bit more on how stupider things got after that later ...
There's also way too many different aliens introduced with no attempt at showing what the connection is between any of them. And none of them seem all that tough. I mean, we see some sort of surveillance footage replay showing the Space Jockeys running away from something Considering one of these guys takes a shotgun blast to the face without flinching later in the film, I'd expect something pretty bad-ass ... but we never are given a hint at what they were running from. I had a bit of hope when I saw that scene because it had some beginnings of suspense wondering what were those guys scared of and then it gets totally forgotten.
The weaponry in the film was pathetic. It's a common complaint that in science fiction films they have fancy weaponry that makes cool effects but is actually less effective than a modern-day firearm. Well, again this is taken "to the next level" in Prometheus where the mercenaries brought along for protection are armed with weapons that look like modern firearms but do squat. The few times they get used they literally do nothing. About five mercenaries empty their guns into a second crew member who appears to have imbibed the black stuff (but we don't really know since the last we saw of him he was getting his face melted off by acid) without any visible injuries being inflicted. But driving over him with an APC-type thing and hitting him with the flamethrower works fine.
The ship Prometheus itself was just lazy ship design. There is, for example, a totally unnecessary gymnasium complete with basketball court in it. It provides a nice opportunity to show us Michael Fassbender's mad android skills as he throws swishes while riding a bicycle, but considering the rest of the crew is frozen until they are in orbit, it struck me as silly.
Also, no explanation whatsoever is given as to why 2,000 year-old corpses, that have been lying in an earth-like atmosphere of comfortable temperatures, show no signs of decomposition at all.
Not only was it specifically bad Sci-Fi -- or lazy Sci Fi at best -- it was just a plain bad film. By biggest gripe is that hardly any thing the characters do makes any sense. I mean, here's one example: Noomi Rapace's character gets impregnated and the android reveals to her that he orchestrated it and he's going to freeze her for safe transport back home to be studied. So she manages to escape when the doctors come to escort her to the cryogenic freezing pod. She gets to this emergency medical pod thing and it pulls the squid-thing out of her. Then, covered in blood and pumped full of drugs, she staggers into another part of the ship where android, the doctors, and Mr. Weyland are. And their reaction is along the lines of "hey, how's it going ... do you want to go with us to meet the space jockeys?" And of course, she just goes and puts on her space suit and joins them. What the??? Or even her boyfriend drinking and crying himself to sleep because on the first foray to the alien building they don't find any live space jockeys. Or instead of running to the side to avoid the alien ship rolling like a wheel after it crashed, runing along the path it's rolling so you can get crushed.
Not only to they behave in incomprehensible ways, the characters are generally underdeveloped, and/or clichéd. The best character was the android played by Michael Fassbender (even the positive reviews seem to agree on this) ... you know there's something wrong when a non-human is the best character. This may be partly due to the fact that there were too many characters, yet there weren't really many more than in Alien and Ridley Scott did a fine job with that crew. Oh, and about half the crew mysteriously disappears near the end of the film. We don't know where they went. Maybe they were still on the Prometheus when the captain crashes it into the alien ship (a scene that was robbed of all its heroic drama by the underdevelopment of the captain and the fact we're given no explanation why he's willing to do this) but then why didn't they get into all those empty escape pods when the captain orders to abandon ship?
The plot in general tended to meander, probably due to the aimless and nonsensical antics of the crew. We had little sense of why most of them were even there in the first place. It also utterly failed to build any sort of tension and the "bad guys" kept changing and getting forgotten. For a film that claims to be "cerebral" (it certainly had little enough action) it needed a way more coherent plot. And while I loved the long establishing shot going through the Nostromo in Alien, the lengthy establishing scenes (plural) of Prometheus had none of that artistry, did not set a clear tone for the film, and didn't even succeed on explaining to the viewer what was going on.
I posted on Facebook that "even the score was bad". Well, I should revise that statement somewhat: if the score were in a different film it might have been alright. It was on the whole fairly bland and unremarkable. What prompted me to say it was bad is that it did not fit with the film at all -- in fact, it tended to clash with the visuals. The visuals tended to be an attempt at recapturing the feel of Ridley Scott's Alien, with a certain darkness, and even a lot more lived-in/"maculate reality" to the sets than I expected (one of the pleasant surprises). But the score contradicted this, with a sort of upbeat, idealistic feel that is suited to a film like Amageddon or The Right Stuff.
I suspect (but cannot prove) that Ridley Scott set this film in the Alien universe as a way to cash-in. Because it really has nothing to do with the original film, and certainly betrays it in many ways. I mean, making the space jockeys into over-sized humans that only wear elephant-like helmets was a cop-out, and making them diabolical Dr. Mengelas is a betrayal of even himself since he's on record stating that he and the original crew on the set of Alien believed them to be benign creatures. It's also totally clear that that was no helmet the giant fossilized guy was wearing, it was his skull (in Alien).
And it attempts to be an upbeat film while attempting the "dark and gritty" feel of Alien at the same time. It absolutely does not work. Trying to hijack the franchise for use in some (absolutely unoriginal and done-to-death) "life on earth was created by aliens" theme did not work either (although, at least, finally, the token Christian character asked "who, then, created the aliens?").
There is more I could write (maybe I should comment on how silly it is to have total nerd scientists with olympic athletes' bodies, especially cf. Noomi Rapace?), but I think the reader gets the idea at this point. It had some good -- it had probably the best CGI I've seen to date, such that I scarcely noticed it. They had some really cool effects with the space jockeys' navigational holograms. The Prometheus had a more lived-in feel than I expected and aside from the main characters the crew was refreshingly normal/average in appearance. But none of this could come close to saving a film with all the flaws noted above. In the end, I have to say that the film was rubbish. Save your money and valuable hours of your life!