Sadly, this is an instance in which popular wisdom is probably right: the opening of Prometheus (or, Alien: Episode 1 — The Titan Menace) is beautiful. All loping landscapes like oil paintings, it’s a Hollywood, CGI-addled Tarkovsky mood piece sped up for the consumption of the attention deficient. And it’s immediately ruined — by the time the title rolls out in a senseless, hollow aping of the first movie’s quiet, untouchable design.
Because we find ourselves, yet again, smack dab in the middle of an era of Inception and Tree of Life, where scripts that are linear like a high school creative writing offering and explicitly walk the viewer through not only the plot but the later DVD extra annotations of the plot are praised for being difficult simply because we’re told they are. Fitting that this movie’s ostensible concern is the question of the chicken or the egg, after all. It wants credit for asking the big questions without doing any of the work.
Still, it’s pretty in the particulars. Do you think Fassbender shooting hoops while riding a bicycle is an homage to clone Ripley dunking on Ron Perlman in part four? Probably not, but I hope so. And his preening in front of the mirror while doing his hair and practicing remembered movie quotes is a great meditation on the sickness of acting. A robot with no Pinocchio’s wish for humanity, who instead sneers as he play acts better than most humans can live.
Then it falls into a long sequence of parody. Major plot holes appear — no minor gripe, things shouldn’t take you out of the movie the first time you see it. Desperate to conform to the Alien formula, we have another rag-tag group that doesn’t quite get along. Which makes total sense when it’s a group of people hired for one job while secretly being used as cannon fodder or for a group of cocky space marines. But it makes no sense at all for a trillion dollar science mission. They should have been Vulcans or, better yet, John Byrne’s version of the Kryptonians. After all, if this is a movie that explicitly pits God and faith against science, how better to make the point than to have a ship full of people who worship science like a god? But, no. Instead we get “I’M NOT HERE TO MAKE FRIENDS, I’M HERE TO MAKE MONEY,” and weary chuckles from the audience.
And it just gets worse. The reason Lance Henricksen worked after Ian Holm was because they explicitly played with the fact that an android had betrayed the first crew: will he or won’t he turn on them? Ripley asked herself this, and so did the audience. Instead, we all know Fassbender is going to end up giving monologues with his head separated from his body, but what’s worse is we don’t care.
This ship of handsomely paid experts with no expertise slogs on: stock horror movie tropes abound; two people die because Charlize Theron goes off to get laid and no one’s minding the store (and, furthermore, the Weyland corporation can make fully sentient automatons, but can’t apparently record a phone call).
A friend who’s not yet seen it asked me the next day, “Was it scary?” It wasn’t. There was none of the brilliant claustrophobia of the first two, the masterful tension of the first, or the hackles-raised desperation — turning fear into might — of Cameron’s big budget remake of a sequel. We were just sitting around waiting for that final alien reveal. And we got it. And the thing didn’t even look right.
By the time we got to Fassbender trying to communicate with the engineer, it felt more like we were unraveling the origin of the aliens from Independence Day. Which is the whole thing: Alien is part of our cultural fabric. It’s been done and redone and parodied and riffed on and repackaged. Just having Ridley Scott do another one was not enough. It needed to bring something to the table besides soothing, comfortable familiarity.
"Sigourney Weaver," Edie Sedgwick