In 1979 filmgoers left the ground-breaking original Alien with a variety of emotions: nausea, fear, and in some cases bafflement. Along with the now infamous chestburster scene, one fleeting moment in the film has continued to instigate debate: exploring the dingy corridors of a crashed spaceship the crew of the Nostromo come across an enormous mummified humanoid (slumped at the controls of what seems to be a cockpit), a massive hole in his chest, his name and race unknown. Later christened by fans as the ‘Space Jockey’ his origins were left unexplored in the sequels, but the mystery of his identity continued to interest Sir Ridley Scott, as much as the fans.
Almost Thirty Years after the last Visit to the desolate wastes of LV-426, such thoughts act as the jumping off point for Prometheus, a part-prequel to Alien and the first film in a mooted trilogy. Working from a muddled script by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, Ridley Scott’s return to the Sci Fi Genre (answering the above question at last) is refreshingly bold for a summer blockbuster, but too uneven to be an entirely successful film.
In 2089 (roughly 30 years before Alien takes place) Astrophysicist Dr Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace-Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) and her down to earth partner Charlie Holloway (newcomer Logan Marshall Green) uncover a cave painting confirming the existence of an extra-terrestrial race predating Modern Humanity. Christening the mysterious figures ‘The Engineers’ the duo put together an exploratory team, with the financial backing of aged, wealthy businessman Peter Weyland (A miscast Guy Pearce), and voyage to the figures apparent Home world, on the Spaceship Prometheus, looking for answers.
Ill prepared for the events about to unfold, the Seventeen Man crew touchdown on the planet, the Android David (Michael Fassbender) and Company Executive Meredith Vickers (Charleze Theron) add mystery to proceedings, their secretive agendas gradually revealed as a life changing discovery is made…
Whilst as first glance it follows a similar plot to its successors, and features some of the same characteristics- a shady Cybernetic Human, extended chases down dimly lit corridors, a slow start (a recurring issue in the series-made worse in this film where many such slow points don’t even add to the story) and a strong willed female protagonist (with a fondness for skimpy underwear), Prometheus should not be viewed as a mere Alien Prequel.
It works well as a standalone film, its tenuous links to future events remain relatively shadowy until a gripping final Ten minutes, which goes a long way to answering three decades worth of questions (in surprising fashion). The ‘Engineers’ are very different antagonists, action is largely Earth (well LV-426) bound, and newcomers to the franchise should have little trouble following the storyline, even if they may have some enjoying it. That’s not to say fans of the franchise and Sci-Fi in general won’t enjoy the film, the expected set pieces and scares are present, and it is worth noting the 15 certificate is certainly merited, the film doesn’t shirk on coarse language or gore (though neither are as prevalent as you’d think…or hope).
Whereas the original Alien was a straight forward, tension-wracked Horror film in space (Albeit it one with the shadow of the AIDS epidemic hanging over it) Prometheus feels at once both more Epic…and less exciting. An over the top, over prevalent musical score removes a lot of dramatic tension and rarely merits inclusion, the deaths come gorily and relatively quickly, but most are predictable and hampered by the film’s 15 rating (only a DIY Medical Procedure performed by a patient on their own body truly stays in the mind), and neither the tautness of Alien or the Testosterone driven action of Aliens is reproduced here, though that doesn’t seem to be Scott’s Goal.
The biggest issue is the script, many Intriguing story ideas: Creationism versus Evolution, the relevance of Religion in the Modern Era, and most importantly the question where did we come from? Whilst commendable in a sea of predictable Shaky Cam Sequels, are poorly handled. Subtle metaphors all too often give way to in your face speechifying, significant characters have predictable clashes of personality (more minor characters often having no personality) and the frequent stop-start pacing does the film few favours (Despite its running time of 127 minutes the film feels overlong). Dialogue tends to be better thought out than the film’s structure, but even so there are a few cringe worthy one-liners best not repeated here.
Whilst not all the (fairly numerous) set pieces create the tension or impact they could have, they are staged well on an mix of colossal Soundstage Sets and imposing Icelandic Scenery, the film looks and feels expensive (Budget-£84 Million), and the visuals often outrank its predecessors. Drawing from HR Geiger’s original artwork CGI and Practical effects are put to extensive, effective use, dank, atmospheric corridors are juxtaposed with striking Alien creatures and futuristic spacecraft design, whilst a visually inventive Holographic sequence provides the first real reason for the film’s (for once quite impressive) 3D effects. Visually at least Scott return’s to the Sci-Fi genre is a welcome one, though admittedly his evident enthusiasm does very little to cover the bigger holes (or cavernous cracks) in the script.
The truly bizarre opening sequence sets the tone of the film well, and immediately showcases Scott’s famed attention to detail, dramatic camerawork and flawless editing hammers home the scale of the film, whilst the final set piece is an exciting, appropriate end to the film…if very ‘sequel baitish’.
Though few of the ship’s crew are given much purpose in the film (some are little more than bit parters), Scott guides several cast members to impressive performances, Rapace dominates proceedings with an emotional draining performance, which comes close to rivalling Sigourney Weaver at her best, Fassbender is on typically brilliant form in a surprisingly human turn (for an Android) as the Naïve David, and Idris Elba has fun as the gruff Captain of Prometheus.
Prometheus is something of a mixed bag, lumpy storytelling and easy to anticipate set pieces are balanced by Interesting Visuals, skilled Direction and Several Notable performances. For some viewers the thrill of revisiting old locations and receiving long awaited answers will make up for these flaws, though for others the differences/ similarities to previous films in the franchise may prove a turn off.
In conclusion it is best to come into this film with an open mind and low expectations, so disappointment won’t hit so hard. Prometheus it is far from a terrible film, and its pros outweigh the cons, but it is not the masterpiece it could have been, and frankly isn’t the prequel Alien Deserved.