Much hullabaloo has been made about the relation of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus to the Alien franchise that he began back in 1979. None of that, it turns out, was justified: this is a straightforward prequel to Scott’s original film, bearing scenes and sequences that seem directly copied from its predecessor while gluing on a ponderous philosophical exoskeleton that is largely mumbo-jumbo and that seems to run parallel, not integral, to what is happening on screen.
How did we come to this? There was a time, not so very long ago, when Scott was among the most interesting, exciting directors in Hollywood. His second and third features, respectively, were Alien and Blade Runner, two of the most significant science-fiction movies ever made, and his oeuvre since then includes such standouts as 1991’s Thelma and Louise and 2000’s Gladiator. Yet at this point, in 2012, he hasn’t made a good move in over a decade (Black Hawk Down, in 2001, was the most recent). His output in that period has included mediocre con-man movie Matchstick Men, with Nicolas Cage; a preposterous live-your-life rom-com with Russell Crowe, A Good Year; and, not one, but two Middle Age stinkers, Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood. With Prometheus’s craven attempt to exploit already-traveled territory as a way to put Scott back on the directorial A-list, it’s finally safe to say it with conviction: the once-great Ridley Scott, in 2012, is a hack, and will remain so until he makes another movie worth seeing.
I may be overstating the case on Prometheus to make a somewhat wider point. As far as the film in itself is concerned, it has its merits. Scott has always had a peculiar visual brilliance, and Prometheus, useless 3-D notwithstanding, is no exception, a world of cool blues and sinister grays and eerie caves that at points almost give legitimacy to the movie’s more magisterial ambitions. The stated premise of the story, meanwhile, is an intriguing one, and one expressly made for science fiction: if we could meet our makers face-to-face, what would they say? What would they do? And what if they turned out to be a good deal less benevolent than we like to believe?
Unfortunately, that line of inquiry is boiled down a series of pronunciados, mostly originating from Michael Fassbender’s android David (“Big things have small beginnings,” &c, &c), while Scott spends most of his legwork figuring out how to best creep out his audience and explaining just how the alien of Alien came into being. In trying to serve two masters – to both deliver the thrills and chills of his first opus while also moving in a more contemplative direction – Scott does justice to neither. Prometheus never figures out what it wants to be about, and so it settles for half-heartedly suggesting ideas of questions and then offering visual thrills to prevent us from noticing that, not only does it not have answers for its questions, but that it can’t even bring itself to ask them straight-out.
It is, in other words, a Faker. But never fear — there is a good version of this movie, or at least of half of it, and it is called Alien.