There are more characters floating around, but they just sort of exist to be monster fodder in scenes that sort of recall Alien, but, you know, without an ounce of the subtlety or nuance. There’s the doctor lady, the Asian co-pilot, a biologist who wants a friend — even Dan Akroyd’s Judge character from Nothing But Trouble makes a cameo (that’s oddly credited to Guy Pearce), but the Prometheus crew is more or less the motley collection featured above, a set of poorly defined, albeit, well-acted parts that would be perfectly at home in anymovie.
But allow me to interject — Prometheus isn’t just any horror movie. It isn’t content with trying to merely be another take on Alien. So why is the film’s ambition to set itself apart not stretching into the realm of characters? The crew of Prometheus could be swapped out for that of the ship crew in Supernova (Walter Hill’s own rip-off of Alien) and I’m not entirely sure anyone would notice, save for the dip in acting quality (Chris O’Donnell is no Dan Akroyd from Nothing But Trouble).
Well, that isn’t entirely true. Prometheus’ script has two exceptions. Well, two sort-of exceptions.
One could argue that Elizabeth Shaw’s strong faith coupled with her natural knack for survival in the face of Lovecraftian monsters makes her a candidate for Ellen Ripley 2.0, but that doesn’t quite mean she has the same dimensions as the second-in-command of the Nostromo. Part of the appeal of Ripley in Alien is the fact that she’s not naturally likeable in the film’s beginning, but rather take-charge and practical to a fault. Not unlike the flame thrower wielding Vickers in Prometheus, Ripley is willing to sacrifice one crew member (the face-hugger infected Kane) rather than risking the lives of the entire ship by letting him into the medical bay. It is only when Ripley stands up against the homicidal android Ash that we’re truly in her take-no-shit corner, an attachment that remains up to her final showdown with MOTHER and the Alien itself.
Shaw, on the other hand, seems to be both a shoddy scientist and half-crazed train wreck. Her precoitus exchange is with beau Charlie (Prometheus’ Kane, with some Dallas thrown in for good measure) may be the most random “Our heroine can’t have babies” reveal in the history of cinema, not to mention the most telegraphed monster-birth foreshadowing since the sex scene of Bride of Chucky (though I’d argue the animatronic killer dolls of that film had more chemistry than Rapace and Marshall-Green).
While Ridley Scott and company herald Shaw as the second coming of Ripley, I believe she has more in common with Alien’s doomed Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) in her warmth and conscientiousness toward her crew mates. Shaw wears her emotions on her sleeve (case in point — the “barren” reveal) and seems to empathize with most life forms, going as far as patching things up with the robot that tried to kill/infect her at the film’s end (Ripley would not do that). What separates the two is that Rapace’s character does not give in to blind panic in the face of cosmic horrors. Lambert, on the other hand, freezes up and gets Xenomorph-raped so hard she loses a shoe.
So Shaw is a mixed bag of traits taken from the Nostromo crew, which I can appreciate, but a Ripley she is not. Yes, she’s resilient, going as far as performing robot surgery on herself to remove a spermatozoa space squid from her body, and she fearlessly defies David, Peter Weyland, the evil engineer and the her alien squid baby. Yet she lacks the dimensions and darkness that made Ellen Ripley so compelling. Ripley’s cool survivalist personality is overridden into profound emotion in Aliens, when she assumes the role of an adopted mother, protector, and leader of a crew of space marines. Lindleof, Spaihts, and Scott are all too eager to have Shaw pick up the mantle and, in the process, lose a lot of the texture that made Ripley a more three-dimensional character.
These complaints and comparisons aside, Shaw is a perfectly functional protagonist. Like many monster movie heroines, she’s a bit too boring for her own good, but she’s plucky enough to root for and very well played by Rapace. But what of the film’s other Alien franchise-worthy character, David?