Fans of the “Alien” franchise have been awaiting Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” with the eager anticipation of cult members preparing for the landing of the mothership.
It’s been more than 30 years, after all, since Scott gave us the original “Alien,” and what red-blooded movie lover could fail to be enthused by the prospect of the veteran director delivering a prequel to that horror-in-outer-space classic?
Now “Prometheus” has arrived with a slew of state-of-the-art effects, a vision of how the those creepy insect-like aliens came to be, and a promising cast.
The verdict? An “A” for the visuals. A “B” for the backstory (which borrows a lot from “2001: A Space Odyssey”). And a “C” for the human factor.
Near the end of this century, archaeologists/lovers Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway (Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green) discover millennia-old relics from various Earth cultures that all seem to point to the same star cluster light years away. It is, Elizabeth proclaims, an “invitation.”
With funding from the Weyland Corporation (those capitalist villains of the “Alien” universe), the massive research ship Prometheus is built and send into space with Elizabeth, Charlie and the rest of the human crew in suspended animation.
Operating the ship while the others sleep is the robot David (Michael Fassbender).
Upon arrival on a distant planet, the newly awakened crew (Idris Elba as the captain, Charlize Theron as the chilly corporate overseer) enter an ancient pyramid and discover … well, if you’ve seen “Alien” you pretty much know the sort of nastiness that awaits.
“Prometheus” cleverly recycles elements of the “Alien” mythology, including the identity of the “space jockey” whose massive corpse provided an arresting visual image in the first film.
It’s got several mind-blowing action set pieces (the greatest of which is a turn-your-stomach Cesarian section performed in a cramped surgery pod), a genuinely creepy sense of atmosphere, and enough high-tech visual sleight-of-hand for a dozen regular movies.
What the film utterly lacks are characters we care about.
It’s almost as if Scott was so intent on the film’s look that he left the players to fend for themselves. When actors like Rapace (the Swedish actor from “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”), Elba (HBO’s “The Wire,” the BBC’s “Luther”) and the Oscar-winning Theron come off as bland and colorless, you know something’s seriously amiss.
What’s more, the great Guy Pearce shows up in old man makeup as the head of the Weyland Corporation. What’s the point of hiring Guy Pearce if you’re going to bury him beneath phony-looking latex? Why not just hire a truly old actor? Wasn’t Hal Holbrook available?
The only character who truly registers here is Fassbender’s robot, who seems to have been programmed with human affectations (he uses hair gel) and an insatiable curiosity. You can’t actually like him … but you respect him, which is more than can be said for his flesh-and-blood brethren.