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Ridley Scott fails to recapture the magic

Jun. 11, 2012
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Not unlike Star Wars two years earlier, Alien (1979) brought something new to science fiction film. Director Ridley Scott imagined a grungy future of shopworn starships whose crews didn't see themselves as going boldly where no man (or woman) had gone before. Space wasn't an adventure; it was just a job. And like George Lucas, who suffered a backlash from disappointed fans when he revisited Star Wars two decades later, Scott may be in for much of the same with his Alien prequel, Prometheus.

The unforced chemistry of Sigourney Weaver and her Alien crewmates has evaporated, replaced with more of a Hollywood potpourri, including the soulful African-American space captain, the angry lower-class Brit and the nerdy biologist. Charlize Theron plays Meredith Vickers, the corporate representative on the research vessel Prometheus, with all the presence of an icicle in the dead of winter. The star of the starship is meant to be archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw, played by the Swedish actress from the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace, with a low-key poise that seldom dominates the action. Her co-stars, including archaeological love interest Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), never develop much character interest. While Alien's spaceship Nostromo was praised for the scrappy realism of its crew and its need for a good swabbing and new paint, the Prometheus and its mates look freshly unwrapped from plastic.

' story is not without interest, but where Alien was startling, the new film has a familiar ring to it. Supported by megalomaniacal trillionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, unrecognizable under wrinkly-old-man makeup), Shaw and the Prometheus set forth to the planet she believes was home to an alien race that created humanity on Earth in the dim recesses of time. Vickers looks down her haughty nose on the whole adventure. Her motives are unclear. The most fascinating personality aboard the Prometheus doesn't belong to a person, but to the android David (the marvelous Michael Fassbender), who behaves with the polite yet supercilious manner of a lordly British butler and sounds a bit like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. As with his computerized predecessor, David keeps a hidden agenda as he serves his human masters.

Spoiler alert: Those slimy horrors from Alien are at the heart of Prometheus. You could even call the film their origin story. But where Alien left a great deal to the imagination, building dread and terror step by step, Prometheus shows too much and its thrillingly horrifying scenes are widely dispersed. Some plot pieces don't fit together realistically, with the failure residing in characters whose lives were not fully imagined or thought out by the screenwriters. Where Alien was a marvel of pre-computer special effects under a tight budget, Prometheus relies on software. Some of the special effects are well done but most have already been done to death in dozens of action movies.

Early in his career, Ridley Scott directed Alien and Blade Runner, two films that shaped the way many of us imagine the future. With Prometheus, Scott returns to his own past and fails to recapture the magic.


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