Et tu, Prometheus?

Dan Efran reviews Prometheus (2012)


I just saw Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s long-awaited return to the universe of Alien (1979). I wasn’t expecting another masterpiece: Alien hasn’t had a really good sequel since 1986’s Aliens, in my opinion. But the later films in the franchise have had their enjoyable moments, if you didn’t expect too much from them. So I had dutifully lowered my expectations for Prometheus, not really hoping for another Alien.

I didn’t lower my expectations enough.

Sure, I was entertained. Really, I was. There were pretty pictures of scary things. We spent a few more pleasantly harrowing hours in the Alien universe and learned a few more cool things about it; continuity was respected and the tone fit well with the rest of the series. The ships are cool. The monsters are gross. The cinematography, special effects, production design, and even the acting are decent. Watching it was a fairly enjoyable horror-movie experience, overall. (And there’s one weird, unforgettable scene that’s probably worth the price of admission all by itself.)

Still, I was disappointed…and confused, too, precisely because I wasn’t expecting another Alien. Perplexingly, Prometheus is nothing more or less than another Alien.

It’s been described as a prequel – though it’s really more like a sequel, in terms of revelatory exposition: Prometheus casually spoils so many key plot twists from Alien, you should certainly watch the original first.

But honestly, this is neither prequel nor sequel. Instead, it’s more like a remake of Alien, or rather a remix. It hits precisely the same notes as Alien, in the same order, but slightly out of tune. Familiar dialogue echoes through familiar scenes on familiar sets, all the way through. It’s as if Ridley Scott, hired to make an Alien movie, forgot he’d already made this one, and accidentally made it again.

I’m reminded of my experience seeing Desperado (1995). I had expected it to be a sequel to El Mariachi (1992), which I loved; instead, it was more like a reboot: it’s mostly a remake, but without ever quite giving up on being a sequel too. It couldn’t seem to decide whether its target audience had or hadn’t seen the cult classic original.

Prometheus, similarly, seems like an attempt to retell the original Alien story from scratch without ever quite owning up to the fact. Watching it, for a long-time fan of Alien and a student of its details, was a continuously jarring experience.

Imagine with me, for a moment, that some bizarre filmic tragedy has destroyed every print of Alien but one…and that one is incomplete, missing nearly all the classic, iconic scares. Missing nearly every shot of the Alien itself…but with most of the suspense-building spaceflight and exploration scenes intact. Imagine that someone has valiantly tried to repair the film by substituting vaguely similar scary scenes from lesser films: Species (1995), The Fly (1986), AvP (2004), etc. The replacement scenes are well integrated, and watching this remix is a lot like watching Alien…but it’s sure not the masterpiece it used to be.

That’s Prometheus.

Everything that’s good about Prometheus is copied directly from Alien, and everything that’s bad about Prometheus is copied directly from somewhere else.

It’s like the Star Wars Special Edition of Alien: a super-crisp digital print of the familiar classic, but with all the best scenes plastered over with computer-generated Rontos. And the pacing thrown off.

There’s plenty of suspense, but it’s uneven, because the characters are mostly Too Dumb To Live. And there are huge plot holes, starting with the basic premise! Honestly, AvP: Alien vs. Predator (2004) made more sense and was, overall, a more satisfying Alien prequel than Prometheus.

HUMAN: “You created us, and now you want to destroy us! WHY?”

ENGINEER: “Duh! Why do you think!? You’re so dumb you’ll stick your finger in a snake’s mouth! You’re too dumb to run SIDEWAYS when something TALL is falling on you! You haven’t made a great Alien movie since 1986! Your species is an embarrassment to a genetic engineer…now put up yer dukes!”

I spent $8.50 to see Prometheus in 3D. Ridley Scott spent $130 million making it. I don’t feel like I wasted my money…but I do think he wasted his.