Dir. Ridley Scott
Is it possible to get de-knighted for poor performance? If so, we might have to start investigating the necessary paperwork, because Sir Ridley Scott, one of England's most celebrated and decorated filmmakers over the last three decades, has made one of the weakest films of his storied career and desecrated one of his early masterpieces in the process.
The masterpiece, of course was 1979's Alien, a film that stands very near the top of my list of all-time favorite movies. This quasi-prequel (coquettishly described as "sharing DNA" by Scott) attempts to steal much in the way of imagery and concepts from the original, but encases them in a tight casing of ineptitude and pseudo-philosophic nonsense.
The films progress along similar lines, at least at first. The Prometheus is a scientific research ship, headed out to deepest space with a crew of scientists, lead by Dr. Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her partner Dr. Holloway (a dreadful Logan Marshall-Green), who are following a sort of star map oft-depicted in prehistoric cave drawings in an attempt to make contact with humanity's creators, whom they are convinced dwell somewhere on an otherwise miserable god-forsaken planet. Also on board, ice-queen Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron, who, along with playing the evil queen in Snow White and the Huntsman, appears determined to make this the summer of her bitch), the emissary of the giant multi-conglomerated corporation that funded the trillion-dollar expedition, and the obligatory robot, David (Michael Fassbender), a somewhat fey blonde with a Peter O'Toole fetish. In short order, the crew begin to explore the strange pyramid-like structure they land near, get sick, get attacked, turn on each other, and generally fall into deathly chaos.
Which more or less describes the film's effect on its would-be audience. The beauty of Alien was in its essential, disarming simplicity: There's a crew on a giant, mostly deserted ship, and a single creature that wrecks savage havoc in their midst. There was an elegance of structure at work, an elemental effect that pulled you in and kept you in rapt attention until the credits rolled. Here, by contrast, the ludicrous screenplay by Jon Spaihts and "Lost" veteran Damon Lindelof seems to work absolutely against itself with strange, unnecessary complications, ridiculous set pieces (the worst of which involves a scene of self-surgery as gruesome as something out of Martyrs), Guy Pearce as a Mr. Burns-type figure in wrinkled age make-up so poor he looks like Miracle Max, and, most damningly of all, a complete lack of repercussion to the ridiculous plot machinations it grinds into the dust. In this way, the film is every bit as poorly conceived and executed as the loathsome Alien: Resurrection), a crazy mish-mash of gorgeous imagery and toothless story.
Worst yet, the movie never generates a moment of shock, awe or fear. As good as the effects are, and as much money has obviously been poured into to production value, there's never a moment that suggests the filmmakers really knew what they wanted to achieve. The comparison between this empty, squalid vessel and the original puts into glaring relief the diminished returns of Scott's more recent oeuvre. Sir Ridley has accomplished more in his lifetime than many of us could ever dream. In this critic's assessment, he's made a couple of masterpieces, and a good handful of solid works amongst his 31-odd films, amassing wealth, fame and knighthood in the process. I suppose he's earned the right to do unto his legacy exactly what chooses, but I do wish he'd see the value in leaving well enough alone. You would hope he'd revere his past works at least as much as the rest of us do.