Review — “Prometheus”: Sir Ridley Scott and Grover

First of all, let’s get this out of the way — if the forthcoming “Bourne Legacy” is a Bourne movie whether or not it has Jason Bourne in it, then “Prometheus” is an Alien movie whether or not it has Aliens in it.

That out of the way, the success and merit of an Alien movie is based entirely in the high concept. Despite being in the same series, each movie is, ultimately, in a different genre, and that diversity is the strength of the original films. (For the sake of this review, the two “Alien Versus Predator” movies don’t count.)

For example, Alien = Monster Movie + Science Fiction

Alien is nothing but a conventional creature feature, told in a science fiction environment. It works quite well, because it allows everything to be ramped up a notch — the monster is scarier, the victims are more isolated, etc.

Aliens = War Movie + Science Fiction

Aliens keeps the same monster from the first movie, but uses it to tell a different type of film. This is not “The Alien From The Black Lagoon,” this is “Saving Private Newt.” Aliens is, largely, a by-the-numbers war film, and the combination works quite well.

Alien3 = Psychological Thriller + Science Fiction

Alien3 inherits elements of the DNA of the first two films, but takes it in a different direction. For all the studio changes, the third film still bears the fingerprints of director David Fincher, who followed it up with Se7en and The Game and Fight Club. There are monster movie elements, but the real story here is the psychological thriller idea of “the monster within us,” both figuratively and literally. Sure, it’s a smaller film in many ways that its predecessors, but that’s generally going to be true when you compare Fincher’s style of films and James Cameron’s.

Alien Resurrection = Science Fiction + Science Fiction

The fourth film is the weakest link because it’s the most self-indulgent. The strength of the first Alien movies was overlaying science fiction elements on another genre. This film takes the science-fiction elements of the Alien movies and overlays them on a science fiction story. It’s a fanboy movie, full of interesting ideas that fail to scare and ultimately go nowhere.

Which brings us to “Prometheus.”

In some ways, “Prometheus” shares some of the same failings as “Alien Resurrection,” combining science fiction on top of science fiction, using, as Scott put it,  “the DNA of Alien” as a springboard for speculative fiction. That said, Scott’s take on that combination is stronger than “Alien Resurrection,” being far greater in scope than mere fanboy self-indulgence. The questions Scott tackles with his speculative fiction are not about the nuances of the Alien universe, but rather the big questions of our universe.

In that respect, the movie does have its strengths — it is, indeed, intelligent, polished, pretty science fiction.

It’s weakness comes in the high concept of the structure of the film. For all of its deep questions of life, the universe and everything, Sir Ridley Scott has essentially made an Alien version of the Sesame Street classic, “The Monster At The End of This Book.”

“Prometheus” is a monster movie in search of a monster. Rather than the clear and visceral danger faced in Scott’s original film, “Prometheus” has the scare factor of Grover’s assurance that if they keep turning the page, something bad will probably happen. Even the characters in the film aren’t sure whether or not they’re supposed to be experiencing dread. They find themselves on a world where they will encounter … maybe something … that will … do something … that might be bad? Or maybe nice? Having watched the entire film, I’m not sure what the monster of this monster movie was supposed to be.

And that’s a waste of some good Alien DNA.