A spacey odyssey

At least Ridley Scott’s interstellar trip looks totally cool

Dude, these colors are <i>amazing</i>.

Dude, these colors are amazing.

Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron and Logan Marshall-Green. Directed by Ridley Scott. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated R.
Rated 2.0

If nothing else, Ridley Scott’s long-anticipated return to the Alien mythos is certainly ambitious—jam-packed with all sorts of subtext, allegory and motifs concerning the wellspring of humanity and the nature of existence.

He continues his career-long quest to become the next Kubrick, delivering with a splattery, slimy analog to 2001: A Space Odyssey (by way of Mario Bava’s 1960s sci-fi horror, Planet of the Vampires). And for the most part, Prometheus at least rises to the visual heights of Kubrick’s epic. It’s just too bad he didn’t tag a solid writer to assemble all of his random cocktail-napkin notes into a cohesive narrative.

We know we’re in trouble when Scott has to go out after the film’s release and explain his opening scene in interviews. Some proto-Dr. Manhattan stands on a rocky cliff overlooking a raging waterfall as the mothership rises into the clouds. He downs a bubbling shot of some dark goo that makes his flesh spill from his bones, seeding his DNA into the roiling primeval waters below. (“Dr. von Däniken, you have a call on the white courtesy phone.”)

A few millennia later, an amazing archeologist (Noomi Rapace, the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) dusts off some cave paintings in a cavern a few hundred yards from an archeological dig. We know she’s amazing because after calling out to her husband (Logan Marshall-Green) to join her from the main site, she manages to set up arc lights, dust off the rest of the paintings and carbon date them before he covers those few hundred yards. So being amazing, she explains to him that these paintings imply that Earth was seeded by ancient astronauts, and before you can hum “Also sprach Zarathustra” we have our eponymous spaceship hurtling toward a destination many light years from Earth.

On a trillion-dollar expedition funded by the villainous Weyland Corporation, the ship and its suspended-animation crew is tended by an unflappable android called David (Michael Fassbender). (“Hello, Dave.”) After arriving at their destination a few years later, he wakes the crew and opens the pod-bay doors to let them do some exploring.

There’s some setting up of motifs and underlying metaphors before then, but they don’t really have anything to do with the narrative other than introducing us to the archaeologist couple’s shipmates: an ice-queen rep for the corporation (Charlize Theron), the ship’s cigar-chomping, Christmas tree-decorating captain (Idris Elba) and an assortment of other unlikable crew members.

It would have been nice if these characters had been drawn in anything but broad strokes so that we give three shits about them, but that would have gotten in the way of laying out the allusions. It takes about an hour of exploring the familiar H.R. Giger-esque terrain before people start to die. I’d say that up until then the planet was being very, very patient with these boneheads, because they seem to have been hired for their serious lack of survival instincts and their mad skillz in doing boneheaded things to keep the narrative moving. A biologist who only moments before was squalling about the catacombs in a girly panic pauses to pet a slimy space snake. That turns out as well as any rational person might expect. And then things go from pretty silly to just WTF. But not in a good WTF way.

Scott is not and has never been a good storyteller. Like Kubrick, he’s not about letting a cohesive narrative get in the way of cool visuals. But unlike Kubrick, he’s Ridley Scott. So Prometheus lurches about from one set piece to another, overtly driven by how it’ll look rather than how it parses. For all its class-act special effects, bitchin’ 3D and highbrow aspirations, the script for Prometheus is as dumb as a rock. Unless you’re stoned.