Bowing to my daughter's repeated requests, a few nights ago I went with her and my wife to see "Prometheus", the new movie from Ridley Scott which is a prequel of sorts to his great "Alien" from back in 1979.
However, anyone going to "Prometheus" expecting to find the same kind of intriguing characters and frightening scenarios with which "Alien" was rife will be sorely disappointed. There are some "jump" moments (when some weird thing suddenly leaps at the camera) and some "cringe" moments (when the director uses goopy, gory special effects, such as in the somewhat ludicrous*, albeit intriguing, scene where one of the crew uses an automated robot surgery pod to extract an unwanted alien parasite from her body), but nothing even close to the plethora of tense and scary moments in the original.
Part of the problem is in the casting (it's hard to beat an ensemble like the one "Alien" boasted, featuring Tom Skeritt, Yaphet Kotto, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Veronica Cartwright, Sigourney Weaver, and Harry Dan Stanton), but most of it comes down to the writing -- which is uniformly weak throughout "Prometheus", especially where it deals with establishing characters worth caring about. There are scenes where the viewer knows that he or she SHOULD care about this or that crew member being killed or tortured by some alien thing, but these characters are so flimsily, carelessly written that it is virtually impossible to muster more than an "Oh, that's too bad".
But that's not the worst part of the movie.
No, that honor belongs to the fact that the heart (if you can call it that) of the movie is based on the silly "ancient astronaut" idea first popularized years ago by the fantasies of Erich von Däniken. When I noticed the implication of this in one of the trailers for "Prometheus" a month or so ago, my heart sank -- THIS was the so-called "big, important idea" around which this movie would be structured?
And so it was.
What a STUPID idea.
What an OVERUSED, stupid idea.
I had high hopes that in his voyage back to the sic-fi universe of "Aliens", with thirty-three years of maturing and thinking and imagining under his belt, Ridley Scott would craft a story which really would ask the big, profound questions that much of the pre-release hype had hinted at.
Instead, we get warmed-over "Chariots of the Gods" nonsense.
What an ENORMOUS disappointment.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the visuals are more than adequate to the task. (Of course, given how lightweight the story is, that's "damning with faint praise".) But the combination of models and CGI effects is impressive, and most of it fun to watch in a mindless kind of way, even if much of it is either stuff we've seen before or some slight variation of stuff we've seen before.
But as my daughter Emily and I concluded this week in a highly-enjoyable marathon discussion of the current state of geek-friendly movies (highlighted most recently by "The Avengers"), it is no longer enough to just make great visuals. We all know it can be done. The incredibly talented artists and craftspeople who work on special effects and visual effects for movies have shown themselves to be capable of seamless realization of the most fantastic things, stuff which -- in the pre-CGI days -- would have been difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish.
It is STORY which is of paramount importance, now that anything can be realized on screen with seemingly casual breathtaking verisimilitude. We are past the period when a weak story could be mostly forgiven because of a surfeit of wonderful effects and mind-boggling visuals. That's why a movie like "Avengers" is something that I have gone back to the theater to see four times so far (something I haven't done in many years)… and why I very likely won't be seeing "Prometheus" again. Ever.
Here's where I save you the money and time you would have wasted if you'd gone to see "Prometheus": You know the aliens, the "xenomorphs", from the original "Alien" movie and its sequels? According to the script of "Prometheus", they, along with a host of other weird and nasty critters, were created long ago by an alien race -- who, very imaginatively and creatively (yes, that IS sarcasm) look just about like us, only somewhat bigger and paler) as biological weapons. To what exact end, it is unclear… maybe that will be the BIG IMPORTANT IDEA revealed in a "Prometheus" sequel, if the world is unfortunate enough to suffer such an event. -- PL
*Ludicrous in this way -- the woman in question wants to use the automated robot surgery pod to extract the alien embryo inside her, but when she boots it up, she gets an error message telling her that this machine is only programmed to work on males.
This, on a trillion dollar spaceship where there are several -- I didn't do an exact count, and I very likely won't be torturing myself with a repeat viewing of "Prometheus" to find out for certain -- female crew members, including the freakin' LEADER of the expedition, who also happens to be the DAUGHTER of the man who organized and paid for the expedition!
Yeah, that makes a whole lot of sense.
It's just another poorly-contrived scenario shoehorned in to add more tension to the mix, so the afflicted crew member has to figure out how to jury-rig the machine to do what she wants it to. I suspect the writers may have been starting to realize how flat and uninteresting their script was and how much it might benefit from an injection of drama.
Oh, and after the surgery -- in which the woman's abdomen is sliced open, a writhing tentacled thing is yanked out, and her wide and deep incision THROUGH HER ABDOMINAL MUSCLES is stapled back together -- this crew member spends much of the rest of the movie running about furiously, exerting herself strenuously. The actress playing her DOES make a few pained grunts and expressions of discomfort along the way, and she does keep injecting herself with something (never find out what -- painkillers? stimulants? both?), but I didn't buy for a moment that it was physically possible for someone to do what she did literally minutes after a major surgery involving core muscles. Silly, silly, silly. -- PL