After months of teasers, features, images and trailers that seemed hell-bent on showing you every single frame of footage before you’d ever taken your first sticky-soled step inside the cinema, it’s finally here: Prometheus – acclaimed director Ridley Scott’s return to Science-Fiction
Back in 1979, Scott had captured – and in some cases tortured – imaginations with his gothic space horror, Alien, and now, 33 years later, he would finally be returning to that universe with a tale that began as a prequel, but has since become its own entity. But is it the triumphant return of the King that we’ve all been clamouring and salivating for though?
Well, yes and no.
“Who or what created us?”, “Why are we here?” – These are the heady questions that have plagued mankind from the moment our heavy-browed ancestors first stopped eating ticks from each other’s scalps long enough to have a cognizant thought. Since then, many men and women have bowed the shelves of libraries the world over with musty tomes on the matter.
And now, continuing a tradition of science fiction story tellers that began when a 17-year old Mary Shelley first put quill to parchment back in 1818, Ridley Scott is going to have a crack at it. How fortuitous that the oft forgotten full title of Miss Shelley’s novel (the first true piece of science fiction) was Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus.
Scott’s fire-stealing tale sees two scientists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) unearthing murals from various ancient Earth cultures somehow all depicting the same giant godlike beings who appear to have left some directions as to how to find them. How very Google Maps of them. Believing these beings – termed “Engineers” – to be the creators of humanity, and with the opportunity to finally answer some of life’s greatest mysteries beckoning, the pair convince wealthy industrialist Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) to help them mount an expedition to the planet matching the description, half a billion miles away. But what the crew of the exploratory vessel Prometheus find on the planet, may not be what they went looking for.
The film’s almost-Kubrickian first act is easily it’s strongest. Evoking snatches of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Scott gives us awe-inspiring vistas of terran and alien origin, with mysteries that appear epic in ramifications. And as we hit the second act, encountering the first faintly familiar elements that hint at just how this film fits into the larger Alien tapestry, it becomes startlingly clear that this is no longer just a self-contained battle against a hostile phallic-headed, multi-jawed, alien killer. No, this is the type of widescreen, big idea material that’s normally accompanied by a voice-over from Sir Richard Attenborough. Dariusz Wolski’s sweeping cinematography coupled with Marc Streitenfeld’s emotive score certainly help elevate that palpable sense of wonder and/or dread, as the expedition unearths more of the alien planet’s secrets.
It’s also here that we first meet easily the most significant performance of the film in the form of Michael Fassbender’s Lawrence of Arabia obsessed android, David. Fassbender’s portrayal is just the latest in a list as long as his… well, let’s just say a very long list indeed of powerfully nuanced performances for the actor. In this case, effortlessly flip flopping between tenderly concern and a frigid, robotic detachment that can’t be called anything else but creepy. David’s motivations and agenda remain an enigma for most of the film, and as such his actions provide a large portion of the dramatic tension early on.
Most of the rest of the cast are certainly no slouches either with the aforementioned Rapace, as well as Charlize Theron as the driven and severe Meredith Vickers, standing out from the crowd. But while both turn in strong performances, Theron has the advantage that her character will not face the inevitable wave of comparisons with Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley that Rapace’s Shaw will.
The comparison is a bit unfair though, as while both are tough women – I dare you not to grimace through Shaw’s impromptu “surgery” scene – Shaw is a totally different animal to Ripley. (Well besides for in the uncomfortably tiny underwear department, that is.) Ripley only fought for her survival, Shaw is also fighting for her belief in a higher power, or more specifically that that higher power actually has a plan. And Rapace certainly sells the role, being both vulnerable and hard as nails when required.
The film also boast a production design that is second to none, with amazingly detailed set creations and computer generated imagery bringing the 2092 high-tech ship and ancient alien barrows to life. This is accompanied by a costume design that can only be described as retro-futuristic, which while appearing fresh and modern also ties in nicely with the look of the old Alien films. I saw the film in the dreaded 3D, and while the added dimension brought absolutely nothing noteworthy to the table, it certainly was not offensive in any way, with everything appearing bright enough.
However – and you just knew this “however” was coming – if only as much attention was put into Damon Lindelof’ and Jon Spaihts’ script as was put into the design, there’d be at least one more red star to go with these words. Firstly, for a film filled with so many high-brow ideas, the characters sure do tend to do a lot of really dumb stuff. Just landed on the planet a few hours ago and haven’t really run any tests? Who cares, just take your helmet off and take a big ol’ lungful of that alien atmosphere! Encounter a strange alien species whose intentions are unknown? Just stick your hand in its mouth to see if it’s friendly! The bonehead list just carries on and on.
But when the film’s final 20 minutes roll around though, you’ll probably have forgotten all about these lapses of sanity and intelligence, as you’ll be too busy balling your fists and gnashing your teeth at the screen in frustration. While some reviews have called Prometheus “overly ambitious”, I disagree. Because you see, that would imply that the film tried to deliver on it’s lofty earlier promises but fell short of the mark. Prometheus doesn’t even try. It simply says, “You know all those profound, thought provoking questions we asked earlier? Well, we have this cool big budget action sequence to get to, so let’s just shelve them all until the next time. At least, we think there’s a next time. Either way, we ain’t telling you squat now.”
Yep, Ridley Scott has pulled the old “set up the sequel” trick on us. And it’s handled in such a clumsy and hamfisted way, that instead of leaving me intrigued to see more, it just left me feeling short-changed and pissed off.
In a film as highly anticipated as this one (I don’t think I’ve written more about any other title this year), where so much is done right, it’s very sad and disappointing to see one brainfart of a scripting decision ruin all its efforts, dragging it down from the great film it could have been to just the okay-ish film that it is now.
Last Updated: April 27, 2017