If you believe Guillermo Del Toro, “Prometheus” killed his pet project, an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness.” Del Toro claims Ridley Scott’s “Alien” prequel was so similar to his ode to the Elder Gods that Universal pulled the plug. “Same premise. Scenes that would be almost identical,” Del Toro recently explained on his official website. “Both movies seem to share identical set pieces and the exact same BIG REVELATION (twist) at the end. I won’t spoil it.” But “Prometheus” is significant for more than breaking the hearts of Del Toro and Lovecraft fans. It’s Scott’s first science fiction flick since 1982’s “Blade Runner” and his return to the “Alien” franchise. So, understandably, expectations are running with “Prometheus.”
The movie is about a group of scientists and corporate lackeys travelling to a distant moon where they hope to meet their makers (never a good idea, is it?), an ancient alien race with killer abs and biceps that would make Chris Evans jealous.
The first half of the two-hour movie is slow and talky, posing questions of theology and the origins of life on Earth. The second half picks up as the creatures come out to play. But “Prometheus” never launches into a full-fledged horror movie. Scott seems to pull his punches. The scares and thrills of the earlier “Alien” films just are not there, though all the familiar tropes are: the face-hugging creatures, the gut-busting, the questionable robot, the rampaging alien. At times “Prometheus” feels more like a remake than an original movie. Though most of the rehashed elements pale in comparison to the first two films, one scene (which I won’t give away, but I will say it’s a play on the most famous “Alien” scene) is a real nail-biter. Unfortunately, there aren’t many other memorable moments.
The H.R. Giger-inspired sets and design are visually stunning, dark and imposing. The 3D is seamless and works well. Lovecraft is evident in the alien designs. The so-called Engineers have a Cthulhu feel about them and the monsters are all tentacled, eyeless, squirmy goodness.
Michael Fassenbender as David the android has the standout performance. I’m nominating him for creepiest robot in film history. He’s slimier than any of the squids. But the rest are stock characters, perfunctory and forgettable. Guy Pearce is lost under a mountain of old-man makeup; Charlize Theron struts around being bitchy in a skin-tight uniform that must have been issued from S.H.I.E.L.D.; Noomi Rapace does her best, but there’s not much for her to go on. In typical horror fashion, the bad characters die in bad ways and the good ones die in good ways, or even survive.
In the end “Prometheus” comes across as watered-down horror and dumbed-down science fiction. The frights are stock as are the SF ideas. You would do much better to take in a double feature of “Alien” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Let’s hope the door is still open for Guillermo Del Toro to make “At the Mountains of Madness.” When did Hollywood begin caring about originality anyway?