Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Screenwriters: Damon Lindelhof, Jon Spaihts
The problem with making a genre-defining work is that it tends to cast a shadow. Look at the rather bloated fantasy genre, for instance. Pick up a random book from the shelf of your nearest book shop, and chances are that it is influenced by Tolkien – even if it is simply in trying to go against the traditions set by ‘Lord of the Rings’. Publish a high fantasy novel, and people will compare it to Tolkien’s work, if only subconsciously. However, by and large such comparisons remain in the background, particularly if the book is good. We don’t expect everyone to create a similarly definitive work.
However, if Tolkien were still alive today, and were to publish another book…we would hold him to the standard displayed by ‘Lord of the Rings’. Similarly, when Ridley Scott makes a science fiction film for the first time in several years, we expect it to be as good as if not better than ‘Alien’. When it actually is a prequel to ‘Alien’, or at least set in the same fictional universe – well, the anticipation is even higher.
Sad to say, ‘Prometheus’ is nowhere near as good as ‘Alien’.
Perhaps that expectation is unfair; you would have to work hard to find someone who would disagree with the statement that ‘Alien’ is one of the definitive films of the genre over the last fifty years. Lightning, as they say, never strikes twice. Then again, Scott also made ‘Blade Runner’, also a definitive example, so lightning clearly can strike again. Whatever the justness of the weight of expectation (and it must be said, any film that has the kind of marketing campaign ‘Prometheus’ has enjoyed is setting itself up to fail – could it ever be as good as the studio wanted us to think it would be?), the fact remains that ‘Prometheus’ is distinctly mixed at best.
When it’s good, it’s good. Noomi Rapace, as the lead character Elizabeth Shaw, is genuinely outstanding. Brave, vulnerable but charming, and undeniably badass when she needs to be, (to frankly ridiculous levels, but that’s hardly Rapace’s fault), she anchors the film very well indeed. Of a similar – possibly better – quality is Fassbender’s David, an android with an unsettling level of ambiguity about him. More than any philosophical question raised by the film, David will be a matter of discussion for a long time after the film has left our screens. From the rest of the cast, Charlize Theron is a rather one dimensional character for the most part, but she does it very effectively and dominates most of her scenes. Similarly, Idris Elba as the jovial captain is a welcome does of humour and warmth in an otherwise very bleak film.
In addition, it all looks stunning. Probably the best moment is the very start of the film, apparently set far, far back in Earth’s past, and the planet has never looked better. The cinematographic quality continues throughout the film, and when the titular ship reaches its destination, the locations are exquisitely detailed. It’s honestly a shame that everything is so dark, but it does help the atmosphere. And on the subject of atmosphere, there is a moment of body horror that is absolutely up to the standard of ‘Alien’.
However, such moments, while appreciated, are few and far between. After the excellent introduction, the film gets bogged down in philosophy, with the characters asking each other questions that, from the audience’s perspective, have already been answered. That’s about as much fun as it sounds, and takes up the majority of the first half of the film; in the second, we get monsters. Lots of them – too many, frankly (although whether we are seeing different types of creature or the same one at different evolutionary points is a matter for debate). You may find yourself spending more time pondering how each one has been derived from apparently the same source, yet become so different, than being scared out of your seat.
It doesn’t help matters that much of the death and destruction could have been avoided by the inclusion of a touch of common sense from…well, anyone. I realise that the horror genre is in large part reliant on people not doing the sensible thing and running like hell, but most horror films don’t have a cast of highly regarded intellectuals who really ought to know better. There are some staggering moments of stupidity throughout the film.
And finally, when we reach the end of the film (the final minutes arguably constituting the most idiotic moment of the plot), have we really answered any questions over the two hours or so? Aside from the information gleaned during the introduction, not really. Scott presumably wants people discussing the film, and claims that many of the hanging threads are to promote this. That may well be the intent; the execution feels like nothing more than one of the more blatant sequel hooks of recent months.
Left in the hands of a director without the baggage of expectation, ‘Prometheus’ might have turned out differently. As it is, the final product is disappointing.
A note on the 3D: it was there. It worked, in that it didn't detract from the film (apart from the annoyance of paying another five quid to watch a film with silly glasses on), but it didn't really add much to it either. As 3D goes then, not a bad job. Just pointless.