Sci-fi, 124 Minutes, 2012
This is difficult to review. It has to be considered a stand-alone film (because that’s what Ridley Scott’s been screaming at anybody who’ll listen) but dammit, it isn’t a stand-alone film. It’s a prequel to Alien [IMDB]. Telling people to forget it doesn’t change it. So, as a stand-alone film? Not a bad popcorn flick, but tremendously flawed intellectually. As a prequel to “Alien”? Well… then it sucks and blows.
The movie looks great and features good performances. Why Guy Pearce, a youthful-looking 45 year-old, was hired to play a 100-plus year-old man when there are plenty of old actors available is a minor mystery, but it works well enough. As should be expected the special effects are top-tier as is the set- and costume-design.
The story is a muddled mess. There are these big guys that might have started life on Earth or might just have shown up later and changed it. In any case they have “the same DNA” (a statement that never makes any sense in movies since the two things with “the same DNA” never look a good-god-damn at all alike). They leave clues all over the planet that our heroes believe will lead to their home, but actually lead to what turns out to be some kind of abandoned weapons research station with thousands of vases filled with black ooze.
The black ooze turns things into other things. Nasty things. When paired with other frayed threads the threat felt schizophrenic and more confusing than scary. Characters did things patently contradictory to their implied, stated or revealed motivations. Scientists were terrified of the science they had presumably spent their entire lives pursuing. The whole film felt pieced together like a collage of magazine clippings; beautiful and very effective in places but uneven and hard to grasp as a whole.
When considered as an entry in the “Aliens” franchise – as it must be – it simply fails. Although there are many call-outs, mostly in design, to the Alien mythos the changes are jarring and in many cases just plain silly.
One of the great strengths of the Alien is that it has a reasonable, understandable, predictable modality. Queens lay eggs, eggs hatch face-huggers, face-huggers impregnate hosts, hosts give birth to chest bursters which grow into soldiers or, rarely, queens. It makes sense. Here black ooze turns worms into monster worms which turn people into monsters… unless they got into the black ooze first, then they just become monsters later. Squid-things happen and attack other things and then you get an alien soldier. Kinda. If you squint.
This could have been a wonderful prequel to “Alien” but instead was changed to a muddled sci-fi story of panspermia and ancient-astronauts (all-too common and loathsome cliches). It’s still a Ridley Scott film and it’s impossible for him to make a completely bad film. This is a good, if stupid, sci-fi movie – and there are damn few of them – but it could have been something great.