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.

Deep down I’m a sci-fi geek, and I have a lot of admiration for Alien. I enjoyed Prometheus, despite its flaws, and got a lot of satisfaction out of the nifty tie-ins to the other Alien movies. I loved the cryodeck; the breakfast table chillingly reminiscent of the original chest-burster scene; David shooting the perfect basket, an allusion to Alien: Resurrection; the unveiling of the “space jockey’s” seat; the horseshe-shaped alien ship; the artwork inspired by H. R. Giger; and all the elements of the creature’s biology that will combine to form that awesome fucker that causes such terror aboard the Nostromo. I also liked what I took to be an allusion to 2001: A Space Odyssey: the aged, wrinkled Weyland sitting on the satin-covered bed, in a room with white floor panels, as he prepares to learn the truth about man’s evolution.

As for the performers, Noomi Rapace, in the role of Elizabeth Shaw, seems ill-cast, but she works her way into her role, builds up her presence in the film, and when she heads for the med pod, she’s awesome. Charlize Theron, coming right from Snow White and the Huntsman, seems in a wicked witch rut, but she has some good moments. “My room. Ten minutes.” Michael Fassbender does the most with his role. He gets a little silly, but only momentarily. He makes the early sequence when he’s the only one awake on the ship the best part of the film, and he carries much of the movie with his cold, inexorable pursuit of his directive. Finally, the best performance by a prop goes to the med pod that does emergency surgery on Shaw in the film’s most gripping scene.

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