Prometheus, unofficially described as a prequel to 1979’s Alien, opens in theaters this Friday to much anticipation. What started as a question (“is it an Alien sequel?”) and became the term describing it (“it’s the prequel to Alien.”), Prometheus has generated lots of buzz, from indistinct trailers to a few clips recently released online. I’m avoiding all the hype, minus the trailers I see in theaters and on television, hoping I approach the film untainted by critics and exposition; I want to see Prometheus for what it is, through my own eyes and without a perception clouded by Roger Ebert or the always terrible Roger Moore (former Orlando Sentinel movie critic).
Although I publically claim Prometheus will be amazing I don’t believe that. Seriously, when was the last time Ridley Scott directed a good movie? Thelma and Louise, maybe Hannibal. Arguably his best two films are his earliest (at least in America): Alien and Blade Runner. Scott’s 1977 debut The Duelists wasn’t bad, demonstrating the man’s vision succinctly but since Blade Runner he’s churned out mediocrity and won Academy Awards for it (Gladiator won Best Picture in 2000). I liked Gladiator in the theater but watching it now is like sitting through the bad version of Ben-Hur, where Charlton Heston’s replaced by Russell Crowe and the CGI makes the SyFy Channel’s version of Dune look like Star Wars. HBO’s Rome sufficiently dethroned Gladiator as the quintessential Roman saga.
Everybody liked American Gangster but I fell asleep, woke up with a stiff neck and complained that my ass hurt. G.I. Jane was abysmal and there are only two words anybody needs to remember about Legend: Tangerine Dream. I like Hannibal but only after watching it a decade later when the hype wore down. Seeing Hannibal in theaters was all the evidence I need that American audiences are stupid—the ushers were distributing barf bags in the lobby, touting Hannibal as the most disturbing film ever made. Were they paid an extra dollar an hour to sell Hannibal that hard?
While Alien was a box-office smash, earning over $100 million (in 1979 money) and spawning a hugely successful franchise, Scott’s next foray into American cinema, Blade Runner, was abhorred. It took home video and an army of devotees before the masses saw Blade Runner for what it is: one of the most influential and stunning science fiction films of the 20th century. From there Scott kept churning out prosaic films, averaging a film every two years, but nothing captured what he did in Blade Runner, a film called a “very expensive art house movie” in the documentary Dangerous Days.
So, 30 years later Scott’s revisiting his science fiction roots but isn’t traveling far, staying in a playground he invented, later played in by James Cameron and David Fincher. The big question going around asks if Giger’s aliens appear in the film; generally I’ve been keeping my questions to myself, knowing they’ll either infuriate or depress any diehard Scott fan. I’ve narrowed it down to one: is Prometheus going to suck? It’s a valid question.
Is Prometheus a genuinely terrifying science fiction film, manipulating scares out of the audience while exploring the human condition on a universal scale or just another horror/sci-fi popcorn flick featuring Michael Fassbender to hook in accompanying wives and girlfriends? Ladies love the Fassbender, probably because he’ll do full frontal for $1.25 and two packs of Camel Lights. He’s a good actor with a list of excellent credentials (Inglourious Basterds, Fish Tank, Hunger, and my favorite film of 2011: Shame)…and a cock most women want to see. He’s like the Ewan McGregor of the tweens (2009-2013) who hasn’t had his career ruined by George Lucas yet. It’s possible Prometheus will be Fassbender’s Phantom Menace; then again, it’s also possible Prometheus will be everything everybody else is expecting and Fassbender’s package will appear in movies for the next few decades.
Like those embarrassing Star Wars prequels the special effects for Prometheus are slick and overly digital, vastly different from the effects seen in Alien. Scott’s vision in Alien is of a world monopolized by a single corporation, a monolithic economic structure whose underbelly is as grim and hollow as our own. The spaceship in Alien looks like an old tanker barge, transporting vital resources across millions of miles and waiting for one gin soaked captain to cause an intergalactic Exxon Valdez incident. The ship in Prometheus looks fancy and streamlined, missing any of the grittiness suggesting the future is dystopic and oppressive. Maybe I’m basing my assessment on short clips seen in a trailer certain to cause an epileptic fit in children under three and maybe my prejudice against CGI is coming out but I hope Scott isn’t sacrificing story and aesthetic for expensive graphics. After all, if science fiction author Philip K. Dick’s assessment that the environment in a science fiction story is also a character then maybe Scott has sacrificed one of the most important elements of his story in lieu of eye candy. In a few days I’ll find out for myself but I’m hoping Scott succeeds. I’m just not holding out any hope.
Here’s the trailer