Scientific improbability

Logan Marshall-Green, Noomi Rapace, and Michael Fassbender

“Airborne biological agents?
What are we, science nerds?”

It’s been a depressing half-decade for Ridley Scott fans. His track record has been bleak ever since 2007’s American Gangster and from there he’s been accelerating down an ever-steepening slope that bottoms out with Prometheus, the new film with which he has finally completed his tragic evolution from visionary to hack.

To trace Prometheus‘ numerous flaws would be folly, as once the absurdity kicks in (very early), every scene becomes more inane than the last. The pity is that there is a real gem trapped inside this lump of coal. The root of the story is fascinating and a Blade Runner-era Ridley Scott might have crafted from it another masterpiece. But the man who delivered such magnificent suspense with his truckers-in-space thriller, Alien, conspires with screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof to ensure virtually every character in this prequel makes laughably implausible decisions.

Things begin promisingly enough (after a bewilderingly illogical prologue) half a billion light-years away on a quiet vessel in the middle of space with but a sole individual, an android named David (Michael Fassbender), on duty. Scott borrows liberally from Stanley Kubrick and, to a lesser degree, Steven Spielberg to wonderful effect and the early scenes really shine.

Sadly, once the passengers and crew are awakened, any attempt at logic and credibility quickly disintegrates. Half are nameless, faceless paper targets who clearly exist for the sole purpose of becoming corpses. The other half are presumably scientists, virtually all of whom have made this dangerous and lengthy journey without even the slightest clue of where they’re going, what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. When these “scientists” enter the archeological ruins for which they have traveled so far to study, they burst through it like children bashing a piñata, eager to accrue goodies and neglectful of even a fractional bit of investigative caution or even real science.

The point, presumably, is to keep things moving untenably fast, regardless of cost to character development. At one point, after about thirty seconds of examining the atmosphere of an underground chamber, the lead archaeologist astoundingly removes his helmet. Apparently, that’s what scientist-astronauts do when they’ve been exposed to an alien environment for less time than it takes to order fast food, and that’s the last convincing action anyone takes. Science fiction indeed.

The performances are equally bananas. Fassbender begins favorably before succumbing to bland malevolence, essentially becoming a knockoff of Alien‘s Ash. Logan Marshall-Green is mostly off-putting as the lead archeologist who exhibits less finesse or aptitude for his job than either Indiana Jones or Robert Langdon. Charlize Theron gives what may be a career-worst performance as the corporate lackey in charge of the expedition. Guy Pearce, in the most  nonsensical role, doesn’t understand that makeup alone can’t convincingly convey old age.

The one superb quality Prometheus possesses is its stellar cinematography. Perhaps constrained by the limits of shooting in 3D, Dariusz Wolski photographs one of the most gorgeous Scott movies since Thelma & Louise. From the opening vistas of Earth’s mountains, valleys, and bodies of water, to the alien landscape of LV-223, Prometheus is beautifully rendered and the results are breathtaking. It’s unfortunate that this return to visual form for which Scott is renowned is in service of such disastrous storytelling.

See instead: Alien (1979). Because you’ll really need to wash the bitter taste of this fiasco out of your mouth and be reminded of what Scott was once capable.

Disagree? That’s fine by me. Share your thoughts below.

  • Jereome Bork

    I agree, Pitch Black and Gattaca are a few of my favorite movies, and would easily put them above Aliens. I also enjoyed Kingdom of Heaven, even though a lot of people hated it. Prometheus left me empty, and I was hoping it woudl want to make me go and watch the Alien franchise again. It did, but for the wrong reasons.

    • I shudder to think what he might do to a Blade Runner sequel.

  • Jereome Bork

    I agree, Pitch Black and Gattaca are a few of my favorite movies, and would easily put them above Aliens. I also enjoyed Kingdom of Heaven, even though a lot of people hated it. Prometheus left me empty, and I was hoping it woudl want to make me go and watch the Alien franchise again. It did, but for the wrong reasons.

    • I shudder to think what he might do to a Blade Runner sequel.