By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Like its namesake in Greek mythology, Prometheus is an intelligent but flawed titan that steals metaphorical fire and then is punished by being compared to a classic.
That 1979 classic would be Alien, the indelible, terrifying, influential horror/sci-fi thriller by the same director, Ridley Scott, which was marketed with the tagline, “In space no one can hear you scream,” and eventually spawned a trio of sequels.
Comparisons with Prometheus’ unforgettable predecessor are both unfair and inevitable. But it’s not as if being perceived as falling short of that remarkable achievement is a badge of shame.
The rumor that Prometheus was a prequel to Alien was immediately and understandably denied.
But however the producers spin it, if it looks and sounds and smells and plays like a prequel, it’s a prequel. And not just because the planet in question is the same one that the Alien crew we came to know about thirty years ago will, according to the timeline of the double narrative, visit about thirty years hence.
It’s because Prometheus goes about its business of replicating and trying to top the most memorable moments and aspects of its glorious inspiration. And falls well short of the mark even though it has its moments.
The plot: the crew of an exploratory spaceship journeys to the darkest corner of the universe in 2093 (in an extended sequence that cannot help but put us in mind not only of Scott’s Alien, but also of Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey) and lands on a distant planet known as LV-223, in hopeful search of clues to the origin of humankind on Earth.
They discover that LV-223’s resident civilization visited Earth long ago and left evidence of its existence. Hmmm.
Charlize Theron plays chilly corporate figurehead Meredith Vickers; Michael Fassbender is David, an android with an ambiguous agenda; an unrecognizable Guy Pearce is Peter Weyland, the founder and head of Weyland Corporation; Idris Elba plays Janek, the acting captain of the trillion-dollar, privately funded Prometheus spacecraft and its 17-person crew; and Noomi Rapace is Elizabeth Shaw, the spiritual archaeologist leading the voyage who first discovered cave paintings that demonstrated that extraterrestrials had indeed visited Earth.
Prolific and accomplished Scott (Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, American Gangster, Robin Hood), who produced and directed, starts off magnificently, overwhelming us with his masterful visual artistry -– the futuristic environment is fascinatingly detailed, with the CGI and 3-D processes seamlessly integrated — and stimulating us with thoughtful thematic exploration of philosophical considerations about our existence.
But the intellectual pursuits are soon abandoned for generic conventions involving action and suspense and, frankly, the expectations generated by our memories of Alien.
The script, written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, has a few twists and turns, but stays with its Promethean theme of the gods punishing people for their ambitions and curiosity.
The astonishingly versatile Fassbender does wonders with his enigmatic role, and Rapace (the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) excels and emerges not only in the film’s most disturbing and impactful scene -– one many viewers will be watching through their fingers, if at all — but as the film’s ultimate star.
At the end of the 2093 day, does Prometheus have anywhere near the tension and propulsive narrative momentum of Alien?
No, but few films do.
It does, however, have visual grandeur and a respectable share of memorable moments on its way to a conclusion that is, if not disappointing, still light years from satisfying.
So we’ll explore 2½ stars out of 4 for Prometheus. We won’t call it a prequel or an equal. But we will paraphrase the Alien campaign: “In this space, no one can hear me rave.”