A few days ago I got my picture taken beside Robbie the Robot. I was at the Museum of Atomic Testing and there, in the lobby, was the mechanical film star, best known for his part in the 1956 film “Forbidden Planet.” Ironically, the next movie I attended was a new version of “Forbidden Planet,” and Michael Fassbender was playing the equivalent of Robbie.
The new film is “Prometheus,” director Ridley Scott’s second go at the science fiction reality he got us all started on in his 1979 “Alien.” Not counting the Alien vs. Predator movies, there have now been five of these films about the space-traveling, goo-drooling, boomerang-headed omnivores who have an on-going feud with a space cargo-ship worker named Ridley and played by Sigourney Weaver.
No Ridley in this new film, which instead stars Noomi Rapace (who was “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” in the Swedish film version of that book) as a scientist named Shaw. Shaw and her beau Holloway are among those flown to a distant, tree-less planet to which they have been directed by prehistoric cave paintings.
For some reason not made clear, Shaw and Holloway are convinced there are aliens on the planet who once came to Earth and made our species. The space ship on which they are flying is named after the titan of Greek mythology who created man (and was roundly punished for having done so).
The owner of the ship is the ancient Weyland (poor Guy Pierce wearing make-up most Halloween revelers would think silly) who hopes he and his daughter Vickers (Charlize Theron) and his pet android (Fassbender) will find the great makers and ask they how to lengthen the rich old guy’s life.
On landing, our space travelers almost immediately find the corpses of some of these “Engineers.” But they also find fast mutating worms which sneak into human bodies—the “Engineers” have human d.n.a, confusingly—and become the creatures that have been chasing Ridley all these years.
In “Forbidden Planet,” a rich old man with an attractive daughter and a pet robot (Robbie) wanted to use the power developed by “advanced” creatures on a lonely planet. But when a space ship from Earth arrived, the power destroyed the old man (Walter Pidgeon). Ironically, “Forbidden Planet” got its story from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Unfortunately for twenty-first century ticketholders, some things go wrong with the new film, and I wonder if fans will be able to overlook some of the goofs in order to enjoy the movie. For example, Rapace is miscast in the lead part. She was good as the tattooed Lisbeth Salander, but there she was being asked to be spooky. In “Prometheus,” she needs to elicit good will, and she doesn’t manage to do this. In fact, the only character one likes in the new movie is Idris Elba’s heroic spaceship captain, Janek.
Then there’s the difficult first scene. Before the titles run, the film shows one of the “Engineers” on the forbidding planet taking some sort of multi-colored potion which, apparently like the worms, attacks him from the inside, killing him before his fast-deteriorating body can fall into a pool of water. When the movie was over, I tried to explain what this featured scene meant, how it helped viewers to make sense of the events of the film. Is there an explanation?
Finally, the movie wants to comment on science. “Forbidden Planet” suggested that living creatures are not capable of controlling unlimited power—so maybe the atomic bomb was a mistake. “Prometheus” is a little more specific, warning viewers about both genetic engineering and carbon dioxide. I wondered if Scott hates the bumper crop of wheat maturing at about the height of Robbie’s knee. When the robot was new, wheat grew considerably higher. And we fed considerably fewer people.
Come on out to Kansas, Mr. Scott. I’ll take your photo next to some healthy, ripe wheat.