I fully admit I had high expectations going into this movie. We’ve waited 33 years for a follow-up to Scott’s original Alien, though a bit less for a redemption of the franchise (it’s only been 20 years since Alien 3). So, you have to ask: why bother revisiting a universe and not take the time to knock it out of the park? While this is certainly a cinematic treat with all the visual intensity and grandeur that you’d expect from Scott, this movie itself is generally a short-cutted and confused mess of a story that only holds together with rationalization on the part of the audience.
Nods to 2001 and the original Alien abound from the very beginning. Some of them are fun, and some set our expectations. Unfortunately for Scott, try as he might, the original Alien cannot be recreated. Most of that cast was unknown at the time while a good deal of this cast is well known now, creating obstacles for the audience. In a mistaken attempt to recreate the feeling of the original there was even a modest attempt to replicate the original cast and mix in looks. Idris Elba for Yaphet Kotto. Kate Dickie for Veronica Cartwright and other oddities only served to confuse. One surprise cast member was Emun Elliot from Lip Service and Game of Thrones–sadly, it drove me nuts for half the film trying to place him (see obstacles comment above), so it was more of a distraction than a good thing. I admit that is a personal failing on my part, Elliot delivered on his small part just fine. Rapace, with a bit more meat on her bones than she had for the Dragon Tattoo series, tries to work with what she was provided, and in English, but unfortunately doesn’t quite come off as either sympathetic or engaging; given she was intended as the heart of the film, this was a huge issue.
Fassbender as David is as good as you probably have been hearing and ended up the core and center of this movie, stealing it utterly from Rapace. And, for a change, he doesn’t get naked. However, even his character shifts under the pressure of plot manipulation, sometimes quite extremely. Given the additional material on their site (http://www.weylandindustries.com/) it is hard to determine if the choices are logical or not for the character and the film as it stands doesn’t explain them well at all.
With an inscrutable David as the heart of the film, there isn’t any real emotional connection or ties either between members of the crew or between the audience and the characters. The ensuing bedlam and slaughter (c’mon, you knew there would be bedlam and slaughter, though not nearly enough of it given it is an Alien film) becomes nothing more than dark, visual candy robbing us of our catharsis.
From a plot and directing point of view there other frustrations. This time the main crew is a fully qualified scientific expedition, not a mining crew. However, they had no scientific curiosity or method. Archaeologists walked past carved figures with nary a glance. Geologists couldn’t be bothered to notice formations, take samples, or read their own maps. Biologists that seem oblivious to, well, anything and who blithely destroyed samples. How much some of this is the fault of CG being added after the scene was shot I can’t say, but it is the result that matters, not the intention. Even with that wiggle-room of an excuse, the writing was awful. Alien vs. Predator had characters that acted more logically than these did.
Scott tries to provide answers in this film, but they are confused and seemingly contradictory. I spent a couple of hours in discussion after the film trying to find a single answer that fit all the clues. I have yet to fully succeed. Many of the elements are clear. In fact, some were obvious, cliche, and embarrassing to hear spoken aloud. Generally, the story feels unfocused and incomplete. Perhaps a longer cut of it would fill in the gaps, but as it stands, it is often very disconnected bits of action and information that don’t come together in a way you’d expect such a master story teller to be able to do.
It is also obvious that Scott has entered his twilight years as he struggles openly about trying to find the meaning of life and cheating death. I’m not saying these aren’t universal, artistic struggles, but when the director is in his 70s, they take on different context.
Finally, going as far as he did to link up ideas, images, and story with the original franchise, I have to ask one more question: If you go that far, why don’t you pay it off at the very end? Ultimately, he blew the moment that he was so clearly setting up. Frankly, that was unforgivable.
I will end up owning this film, but only because I’m a complete-ist. If you have to put in ranking, it is less successful than Alien or Aliens, but more so than Alien 3 or Resurrection. Certainly, this is a big-screen movie. Take advantage of that before you see it on the small screen and lose the full impact. Just don’t go in expecting revelation or to relive the impact, terror, and surprise of the original Alien; you’ll only be disappointed.