I’ve been putting this off (which seems to be becoming a bit of a theme for me), but here’s the review:
Science (only applies to sci-fi films, not counted in overall): 2
Synopsis: Much better than Resurrection, and if you prepare yourself for just a simple action film with some neat special effects, it’s worth the money to see it in a theater. If you go in expecting a smash epic hit, you’ll be very disappointed.
Detailed Review (SPOILERS):
This film loses strength progressively as it gets longer in the telling.
They had a decent primary plotline, centered around the couple who were doing the historical research and were the reason for the expedition, their interaction with the Weyland company and some interesting plot developments behind that.
Then they arrive on-planet (which turns out NOT to be LV-426 as everyone was assuming – if you watch closely, early in the film the nav charts specifically designate the world to be a different marker), and movie-style things go to shit rapidly.
Science score got a 2 for the primary reason that the whole thing kept banging around about them tracking down our makers – the “space jockey” from Alien – who supposedly designed us. As it turns out, they *are* us, we’re some kind of genetic descendant of them. Anyone with a lick of knowledge will recognize that this is simply not possible, since humans didn’t just magically spring fully-formed onto the earth. The precursor scene to the whole film seems to present the space-jockeys as seeding the earth from its barren state into the life-bearing world we have today. So somehow over billions of years the genetic code for humans makes its way through the lineage of or molecular-biological history and reconstructs itself to be for all intents and purposes identical with the jockeys again? Flatly, no. Granted, I let this garbage slide because we’re already talking about the “Alien” universe, where an embryo can be planted, grow to the size of an artichoke in under 24 hours, pop out of its host (never mind the human not noticing the presence of something that big compressing his/her internal organs, never mind the immune system of the host going berzerk over the presence of this foreign body), and within another 24 hours become seven or eight feet tall, probably 100 kilos or more, strong as an ox, etc. Oh yeah, and that second growth spurt? Doing that without anything to eat. Chemically such a creature would have to be (a) mostly inflatable, and (b) would immolate itself processing the largely exothermic reactions necessary to build its body up so fast. We already know those things don’t dig fire so much, but if they survive their own growth, they should be made of freaking asbestos.
But back to the point – science score was abysmal. This film was like a big advert for the Intelligent Design crowd, except instead of a god doing it, it was us.
Ridley Scott seems to just not know where to channel his alien-fu in this film. He’s a visuals specialist, and he was trying to juggle a Stephen King-style epic plotline. He put in tons of creepy-spooky angles, tried to chase them all, and they ended up tripping all over each other. I can see he was trying to tie them all together towards the end to close the loops, but it turns out that he can’t write more than one plot dimension at a time. How did this guy pump out Bladerunner? I’ll tell you how: he had Phillip K. Dick’s novel to start, and he dumbed that down to make a screenplay. How did this guy pump out Alien? Because that was just a haunted house in space, with one malign force and a vignette of evil-corporation-android. Visuals and atmosphere saved his bacon in the first film, and same for the second. Visuals made Prometheus tolerable, and to some degree even enjoyable. But if plot and cool story is your hook, forget it.
Now before I beat the shit out of this film, I have to give it kudos for what it did right: atmosphere and visuals. Ridley Scott knows how to make a pretty picture. He’s also good with atmosphere. For these reasons alone, I think you’ll be pleased to see this film on a big screen.
But again, on plot, this film fails miserably. Allow me to explain why Ridley Scott should never be trusted to write a plotline:
(a) This expedition has been traveling for over two years to get to their destination. Yet within HOURS, if not minutes, of setting down on the surface, they’re popping out to go investigate the structure(s) they find. With only six hours of daylight remaining. And a massive sandstorm inbound, which, if they’re driving an advanced expeditionary vehicle, they’d have seeded weather satellites to keep them updated on exactly that sort of thing. Not to mention they’d have spent time in orbit surveying the surface and looking for their landing site. Sorry, no. Expeditions take their time, take gear along, etc. etc. etc. Maybe some of that got dropped on editing, don’t know. The end result made me feel like I was watching a trillion-dollar version of “Blair Witch.”
(b) Near the start we find out about the space jockeys, having something of an industrial accident – we are shown a recording of several of them running into a chamber, the last member of that crowd doesn’t quite make it and falls to have his head severed by what appears to be a door that seals off a stasis chamber – one that you see in the trailers with the big statue of a human head – and that stasis chamber perfectly preserves the head inside the creature’s suit. Team decides to take this back to the ship to study. There are no other exits to that room. Yet the two or three runners that actually made it into the chamber aren’t there. Huh? Where’d they go? Meanwhile, the canisters all over the floor are leaking black goop, which some mealworms in the ground (I won’t ask what they were eating or where they came from) get engulfed by goop. Goop will later turn out to be highly mutagenic – and spawn our first monsters (okay, that’s within bounds for suspension of disbelief).
(c) A couple of the team get lost inside the complex while the rest return to the ship (they leave to deal with (b) above, and because big storm is incoming) to ride out the storm mentioned above, the two are told to wait till morning. Okay, fair enough – there should be nothing threatening there. While waiting, the captain says the drones mapping the place pinged a life form, but then the ping vanishes. It never comes back. For the whole movie. The two guys of course fall victim to some serious trouble courtesy of the mutated worms mentioned previously, but that isn’t what they were warned about. This trouble is also something easily avoided, but much like teenagers in a slasher film, they think it’s smart to approach what amounts to a cobra sitting up and threatening them.
(d) These same two guys previously stumbled across a large pile of space-jockey bodies, which have “exploded from the inside”, there’s lots of signs of violent demise there in that pile. We already know that the subjects running this place had to evacuate because something got out of hand here, apparently that something got out of hand all over these individuals whose bodies are laying here. We are never told what or how things went south for this rather large number of jockeys, and there’s no further attention paid to them. Since the disaster was approximately 2,000 years ago, it is assumed that whatever happened is past.
(e) One of the head researchers gets infected with something, actually SEES a worm crawling across his own eye in the mirror (you catch this in the trailer), and in spite of not feeling entirely well, decides not to tell anyone about it and amble merrily along with the mission. Did I mention they took their helmets off inside the structure, and the most logical place for him to have been infected was breathing that air? So it would behoove him to notify the gang, right? Nothing. Even ends up having sex with his girlfriend (with predictable results), and shortly after collapsing while helping the crowd explore the structure, decides that rather than stay outside the ship waiting for the illness to resolve itself or receive treatment remotely, he invites someone to torch him. Literally. This results in a serious “huh?” moment for the audience, and even Charlize Theron stands there, obviously thinking the same thing with a giant “What the fuck is this doing in the script here?” look on her face. Granted, he deserved it, because the not-telling-anyone is equivalent to being infected with ebola and french-kissing as many people as possible in the hopes that everyone will join him in his miserable and fatal illness.
(f) Before the torching above, the team returns to the scene where the two deadsters who got left behind yesterday in (b) are. They find bodies, of course. One of whom is quite dead and something obviously alive and pissed off shoots out of his mouth, the other also quite dead with an acid-eaten face and his helmet melted in. This is where boyfriend collapses, and the team once again has to return to the ship because he’s in bad shape. Torching ensues. So, they leave the bodies there for now, retrieve them on the next trip out. Except! Overnight, acid-eaten-face guy apparently walked home and parks collapsed up like a spider outside the ship’s garage door (it’s where they keep the vehicles, it’s basically a garage). They see his camera feed the next morning, “Hey, he’s right outside!” and open up to see him laying on the ground there. Well, surprise, he’s grown into some kind of malevolent zombie because of his exposure to the goop and tries to kill as many crewmembers as he can until he gets run over and squished by one of the vehicles in the garage. No indication of what happened, they didn’t bother to inspect the body and find out how this supposedly dead guy got warped out this way. Basically a big WTF there.
(g) Zombie-man’s friend was killed by a worm in a way very similar to how you’ll see a remaining live space-jockey get impregnated (which will later spawn what we might see as a precursor to the “Alien” we are familiar with). Why killed? Why isn’t he unconscious and spawning something vicious, evil, and ultimately destructive in the same manner we were told the dead jockeys were killed? Yet his thread in the plot just ends there, abruptly.
(h) Somewhere along the line, the Captain figures out that this whole place is a big weapons factory, not the jockey’s homeworld, and stuff here was too dangerous to keep close to home. He monologues this to get the point across to the audience. Kudos to him for figuring it out, but then this shatters the whole premise on which the expedition was sent in the first place: on no less than seven separate ancient civilizations’ records there is a map to this weapons installation, with people worshipping big giant people in the pictures. We apparently think it’s a map to “go and find them.” Well, duh. It’s obviously not a “don’t ever go here” sign. But it’s a map to a weapons factory, and given that the highly-mutagenic kill-goo is in a stasis chamber with a giant statue of a human head in it, it seems the kill-goo was being designed to kill us or turn us into killer zombies. Or hosts for aliens. Or some goddamn thing. What? If the giants were here, 35,000 years ago, and talking to people and telling us how to find this star system in order to find lots of nasty stuff that’ll kill us, why weren’t they just killing us then? Huh? Major plot-quake there.
(i) Girlfriend mentioned above, who happens to be the main character, got impregnated (of course she’s supposed to be barren, so it’s a big surprise) by infected boyfriend, and to use the words of the script, it’s “not your traditional fetus.” The predictable “let’s freeze you and take you home where we will have people who can get that out of you” conflict ensues, she fights her way free of the two crewmembers who are supposed to prep her and freeze her (we never hear from them again, apparently their ability to fanatically follow orders is prized, since she doesn’t bother to talk her way into having them help her). After making her way to an auto-doc chamber, she has what amounts to an emergency caesarian done, yanking a squid-like alien out of her and stapling her gut shut. Now I’m not going to complain about 22nd-century medical technology, but no one goes running around, jumping, fighting, blah blah blah with a large gut incision held together by staples. Not for more than about sixty seconds, that is, which would be about long enough for a few of the staples to tear free and the subject to bleed out. This could have been handled much better.
(j) So girlfriend staggers out of the operating booth and discovers that – surprise! Old man Weyland came along for the ride, because he’s hoping that if we find live space jockeys, their knowledge of biology should be pretty freaking advanced, and they may know how to extend his life, maybe even grant him some form of biological immortality. Okay, that makes sense from a motivational standpoint. Yet here we are with people getting violently killed all over the place, and the old coot thinks its a good idea for him, his pet android, and a couple of security guards to go find the control center of the place and wake up the one surviving space-jockey whose cryo-stasis pod hasn’t malfunctioned yet. Apparently he thinks the one guy that survived – who might very well be the janitor – will have the knowledge he’s after, and he’s in a big enough rush that he won’t accept sending someone in there remotely. Which seems an awfully contradictory set of conditions, given the buckets of death being tossed around and that they’ve just experienced a zombie attack downstairs. Still, Weyland is one cool customer for just saying “Hey, fuck that, I’m busy, let’s go talk to some space jockey.”
(k) Girlfriend staggers her way along with Weyland, after having basically been told that she was intentionally going to have been stored to transport her alien baby back to earth, that Weyland doesn’t really care about her or her goals, blah blah blah. She knows the jockeys want to kill us (courtesy of the Captain’s monologue clarifying matters for her), and although she insists on this with Weyland, he isn’t listening. Okay, fair enough, Cassandra complex, etc. They wake jockey up, jockey goes berzerk and kills everyone while she makes a break for it (lots of gut-busting gymnastics ensue, which should have killed her but didn’t). Turns out the space jockeys have a ship, it was loaded with kill-goo, and it was on its way to being launched to depopulate our earth when the accident happened two thousand years past – and we’ve come along and located precisely this particular installation and woke up the fanatically devoted pilot who decides to carry out his mission. That’s a major stretch in the world of suspension of disbelief.
(l) Boom, ship gets stopped, Prometheus blows up, girifriend is the only one left alive (David the Android, decapitated, doesn’t count) and she makes her way to an escape capsule jettisoned by the Prometheus to restock her air and see if she can’t wait out some time, I guess. On board, she discovers her aborted alien fetus is locked in the med bay and is now about the size of a young giraffe. I didn’t bother to ask the projectionist to pause the film and explain what it ate or the thermodynamics of such growth, it was a monster, fine, I used to watch Gamera films and accept a giant fire-breathing tusked turtle when I was eight. But jeez, this is a Ridley Scott film. Can’t we have something that could potentially be related to the real world?
(m) Space jockey decides he’s gonna kill every last human on this planet for some reason – they must really hate us, seeing as his mission’s pretty much over and he still wants to kill a human – comes after her in the pod, whereupon she pops the door to the medbay and baby squiddy (did I mention it was the size of a pretty hefty wildebeest?) gets cuddly with space jockey. Girlfriend then piles a bag full of air cans and escapes the pod while squiddy impregnates jockey orally. This is a tie-off of a quality I’d expect from a Friday the 13th part ninety-seven, not the guy who came up with Alien and Bladerunner.
(n) So, what does girlfriend do now? David the Android tells her he can pretty much pilot one of these alien ships, having observed space jockey doing so, and he can drive one for her – there are more installations here, they’ve only looked into one, and it stands to reason that each is equipped with its own ship. Okay, fair enough. Does she decide to go home? Ohhhhh, no. She wants to go on and find the space jockey homeworld and ask why they want to kill us, or meet the people who made us, or whatever. So she flies off into the sunset. Literally.
(o) We get a final scene of space jockey getting ripped open and a roughly dog-sized alien popping out complete with umbilicus and placenta (did I mention that space jockey was a guy? what’s a placenta doing in there?) and taking a few breaths. End of film. This isn’t LV-426, so that’s just for the satisfaction of watching jockey die, I guess. Note that jockey isn’t even in his native ship, which is where Lambert, Dallas and Kane find the dead jockey (who had a much smaller hole popped out of his chest) in Alien. So that ship and that jockey are either a different set, or this is (yet another) major hole in this plotline. I’ll be gracious and assume it’s a different set.
So, like I said, it seems like Ridley Scott just doesn’t know how to channel his alien-fu coherently – so suddenly you’ve got three or four different angles of interaction going on, he’s trying to be spooky-scary with each one, and they end up falling over each other. If just one of them had been the venemous, insidious evil, with perhaps a vignette of the more banal human evil we all know and love, it probably would have been the blockbuster we were all hoping for. But his story was too much for him. Too much for me.
But all that said, it was fun to watch. After about (c) I just decided “fuck the plot, let’s just see what happens, that ship is cool looking.” If I had to liken the experience to something, I’d say it was similar to watching Episode 1 of the newer Star Wars trilogy. I thought the story was shit, and Anakin should have been jettisoned from an airlock, but Darth Whatsisface had a double-bladed lightsaber, and that was cool shit.
UPDATE: Because it was so damn funny, I’m linking Prometheus as Told Within A Role-Playing-Game