Review: Prometheus

Ridley Scott’s return to directing a sci-fi film for the first time in thirty years has been eagerly anticipated, not to mention the subject of a lot of debate; is it or isn’t it the prequel to Alien (Scott’s game-changing sci-fi/horror movie that scared the life out of audiences in cinemas in 1979 and ever since on home video)? Alien spawned three more films and a number of computer games as well as a successful cross-over with the Predator films. But all of them would never have existed without the dark, suspenseful first installment.

Three decades on, Scott has come back to where he started it all to flesh out his story further (as soon as the trailers were released it became clear that even though this film may not have been about the aliens of the previous films there were so many references to the original that he could deny it no longer).

Prometheus opens with some of the most epic landscape shots I’ve ever seen on film, even better than a lot of nature documentaries, and has you wondering if this is supposed to be Earth or some extra-terrestrial planet. Then we see a space ship leaving behind an alien figure who appears to kill himself, right down to his DNA being ripped apart. He falls into a river and we see strands of DNA beginning to be reformed and you realise that this is the beginning of life on Earth as cells start to multiply and the titles appear.

Cut to the not-too-distant-future and the discovery of cave paintings on the Isle of Skye – which is beautifully shot – and see the discoverers (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green) begin a voyage to the planet depicted on the cave painting and various others from all over the world. Cue the shot of the titular spaceship Prometheus sliding through the void of space, cut to the interior and instantly get hit by how similar the interiors are to the Nostromo from Alien. David (Michael Fassbender) wanders around the ship making sure the crew are safe in cryo-stasis and boning up on dead languages while amusing himself with playing basketball on a bicycle and watching Lawrence Of Arabia, hence Fassbender appearing to resemble Peter O’Toole. He wakes the crew upon reaching the planet and the briefing takes place.

As with previous films in the franchise there is an instant feeling of mistrust towards the android; Fassbender really plays the part of soulless robot with no sense of morality and an unending curiosity to a tee. There is also the rag-tag team of scientists and security who are all there for different reasons, none of them seemingly knowing what the real mission is, which fuels the paranoia  between them all. Once it becomes clear that they may have been sent on a wild goose chase by two archaeologists to find the race of people who gave life to our planet tensions begin to rise. Things get even more tense as Doctors Shaw (Rapace) and Holloway (Marshall-Green) are taken to one side and told they are not to contact the ‘Engineers’ of life on Earth by the team’s leader Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). Vickers is just as – if not more – cold-hearted than David leading you to suspect that not only is she the representative from the Wayland company (a name fans of the franchise will be very familiar with) but could be another android. So, they embark on their mission and things start to go horribly wrong.

The film is styled to within an inch of its life, everything on the ship and other vehicles resemble designs from previous films and the shots of landscapes have no rival. The sense of tension, paranoia and fear of infection is just as palpable as in Alien and the special effects and action sequences are breathtaking. But there does seem to be something missing.

The reason Alien was so scary is that it was dark and hard to see what was going on (mostly to do with the restrictions of the budget and special effects), but now, with clear crisp detail there were no really scary moments. Not even a jump, which says something for me! Also, as much as the deaths were incredibly detailed, they weren’t gory like the horrible chest-bursting and skull-puncturing we’ve come to see in the past. This falls down to the fact that it is a 15 where as the others were (originally) 18s.

There is, however, a graphic caesarean scene where a female character manually cuts an embryonic alien life form from her abdomen before it finds its own way out. This had a lot of people in the screening I attended wincing, especially as the machine stapled her back together again while the alien burst to life and tried to attack her!

There is also one sequence, which is in the trailer, that suffers from what was always silly about cartoons like Scooby-Doo: Vickers and Shaw are running away from a crashing spaceship which is collapsing towards them; it looks spectacular, but I and others around me, couldn’t help wondering why they didn’t just run in the other direction as the ship itself was not very wide. They wouldn’t have had to run as far or fast. Scooby-Doo had that trouble because it was hard for cartoonists to make the characters run into the distance or the foreground, but in this age of celluloid, let alone increasingly thrust-upon-us 3D, how can this be left in a Hollywood blockbuster? That said, some of the minute details were brilliant, such as in the close up of David’s fingertip while he examines some living goo – the logo of the Wayland company is included as part of the ridges in his fingerprint.

Prometheus is well directed, beautifully shot and brilliantly acted by a cast without a weak link; even the supporting cast play their parts well, and the special effects and set design are jaw-dropping. But it seems that this film couldn’t live up to the high water mark that has been set by 33 years of Alien being watched and loved by fans. The baggy continuity between this and the 1979 film show that Scott was aware of this problem and as much as this is a prequel, he looks as if he has tried to distance himself from the original. But if this is the case, why not just write an original script and make a stand alone film? This script would still work, though I’d leave out the second to last shot, which was a bit too ‘happily ever after’ for my liking.

That said, it is an enjoyable ride, but is easy to predict if you know your way around the back catalogue of Alien films. But it did need to be scarier.

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