Thursday, June 14, 2012

Culture Shock 06.14.12: Not much spark from this 'Prometheus'

Thirty-three years after he showed us that in space no one can hear you scream, director Ridley Scott returns to the movie franchise he unsuspectingly launched with 1979's horror/sci-fi masterpiece "Alien."

But with this very loose prequel, you'll scream more out of frustration than fright.

"Prometheus" is exasperatingly thick-headed sci-fi masquerading as smart science fiction.

As with a 1980s slasher movie, it's the kind of film where the plot moves forward only because the characters are idiots. While that's excusable when you're dealing with frisky teenagers and camp counselors, it's unforgivable when you're dealing with the hand-picked crew of a scientific research ship bound for a distant moon, light years away from Earth and any hope of rescue.

These people are presumably professionals and actually follow safety protocols.

Well, if you really think that, you're wrong.

"Prometheus" opens with an alien seemingly sacrificing himself in order to seed a planet — maybe Earth — with his DNA. It's the first of many symbolic moments involving life, death, sacrifice and life from death.

These are eternal themes, but they deserve more coherent treatment than what they get from "Prometheus" screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, the man who executive produced "Lost" to a unsatisfying end.

Flash forward to an archaeological expedition on Earth, decades in our future. Two scientists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) uncover a 30,000-year-old cave drawing of a giant alien seemingly giving us directions to a point in the heavens.

Flash forward a few more years, and the ship Prometheus has arrived in orbit around the alien moon.

Awakened from two years in suspended animation, Elizabeth informs the crew of biologists and geologists and other experts they're there to find the aliens she believes created life on Earth. And when one crew member expresses some skepticism about this wild claim, Elizabeth admits she has no evidence, but "it's what I choose to believe."

Shaw is a religious zealot, and so is Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce in the least-convincing old-man makeup ever), the dying gazillionaire whose corporation bankrolled the expedition. And so, too, are the aliens. At least that's one interpretation.

Unfortunately, it isn't just that "Prometheus" is ambiguous, which can be a virtue, but that it doesn't seem to know where it's going with any of its ideas. And when it comes down to the basic stuff, it fails miserably.

It isn't just a matter of characters doing stupid things. As boneheaded as the characters are, the science of "Prometheus" is worse. We're told the aliens and humans have identical DNA. Not similar, but identical, and this is a major plot point. But if true, this would mean the aliens are just ordinary humans, and clearly they are not.

The treatment of genetics and evolutionary biology in "Prometheus" contradicts all known science. It's creationism with extraterrestrials.

Yet the biggest problem with "Prometheus" is the way it wastes everything good about it. A scene involving an emergency surgery is as harrowing as anything in "Alien," the production design is gorgeous and Michael Fassbender delivers a brilliant, eerie performance as the android David, who emerges as the only likable character even when he's up to something suspicious.

The good points, including Scott's direction, are overwhelmed by the flawed screenplay.

Yes, "Prometheus" makes you think. But the more you think about it, the less sense it makes.

1 comment:

  1. Dan Brown5:54 PM

    I was meh on Prometheus when I walked out of the theatre. As I thought about more, I got more and more disappointed. It answers no questions raised by Alien, just poses a bunch more. I won't be going to see Prometheus 2. Unless, of course, it's directed by James Cameron.