Sunday, June 10, 2012

Alien Evolution: Ridley Scott's Prometheus

After a stunning opening scene in which an “Engineer” from another world plunges down a waterfall and contributes a genetic stew that starts human evolution, and a wonderful sequence in which an android named David (Michael Fassbender) occupies himself on a two-year voyage riding a bicycle, learning alien languages, shooting baskets, and watching Lawrence of Arabia, Ridley Scott’s prequel to Alien rushes its pacing and jumps too quickly into sci-fi shock and schlock. But the film is a visual feast throughout, and I enjoyed its use of allusive tropes to set the scene for Alien.

Ridley Scott goes for a grand, epic introduction to the Alien saga. Visually and conceptually, he succeeds, but too many of the film’s parts don’t work as well as they could have. He strains too hard to start the action instead of spending time slowly building tension as he did in Alien. Disregarding how effective Alien and Cameron’s Aliens are because they don’t reveal the creatures too soon, Scott rushes to ram a creature down someone’s throat, and when it happens it becomes the film’s worst moment. A scientist, previously petrified and eager to get back to the protection of the ship, thinks a cobra-like serpent is cute and puts his face right up to it. A trillion-dollar mission, and they hire the dumbest scientist in the world! Meanwhile, the top-notch scientists picked for this mission are responsible for a whole hell of a lot of scientific ineptitude. They touch everything; they work too quickly on the Engineer’s head and blow it up; and they take off their helmets at the risk of contagion.

Visually, however, the film is worth seeing more than once. I loved the Engineer at the waterfall; the Prometheus entering the planet’s atmosphere; the Engineers’ “installation;” the bust of the über-Engineer; and the holographic schematic of the universe. My favorite image is the shot of David watching Lawrence of Arabia. In 3-D, this image has incredible depth. For the most part, however, 3-D doesn’t do much for the film, and I enjoyed it just as much in 2-D.