Just out of the 00.01 showing of Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi offering in the BFI IMAX. And may I just say wow. That is a huge screen. It lurches one’s stomach rather like the feeling you get when you stare up a large tower or grounded sailing ship from the very bottom and feel as though it may just slowly fall on you. Its sheer height actually makes you a little emotional for some reason – I found myself strangely moved by the trailer for the Dark Knight Rises which I’d already seen and been pretty indifferent to.
Anyway, onto the matter at hand; Prometheus. Caution, fellow travellers, thar be *SPOILERS* ahead.
But I must confess to something first: The first Alien film I ever saw was 2004’s Alien VS. Predator. This didn’t stop me from becoming the avid Alien fan that I am or appreciating the subtleties and horror of first two films or from developing that special place in my heart for the much maligned Alien Cubed. It acted as a doorway into a wider, more satisfying universe and thusly, I have to say I’m glad I saw it. Every Alien fan should.
I wish Ridley Scott had. Because then he might not have accidentally remade it.
Ok that might be a bit harsh but seriously Prometheus is full of “haven’t we already done this?” moments and leaves the audience with so many unanswered questions that one wonders why there was any merit at all in making this film only tangentially refer to its progenitor. Why Lindelof and Scott thought there was anything so new and original in this story that it required its own spin-off is beyond the reasonable mind.
Let’s get the AVP similarities out of the way. The plot similarities, both based on nut-case Eric Von Daniken’s “God is an Astronaut” theory, are excusable (AVP isn’t exactly the apex of its genre here) but the way in which it’s introduced – a lecture delivered to a group of hard-case experts, in a hanger of their vessel which is heading toward the point of interest – is identical. In both cases it’s absurd that these professionals would hop on a ship heading toward uninhabitable landscapes with no foreknowledge of what they were there for but in Prometheus we’re told they’ve been in Cryo for 2 years and they only get briefed when they reach their destination?
Oh and the reason they’ve spent a trillion dollars and relinquished two years of their lives? Some paintings…you prolly saw it in the trailer. There is literally no better reason given for their expedition . At least in AVP there was a fricking pyramid heating up in the Arctic to justify their adventure. Also, in AVP they had a heat-signature to locate their future tomb – in Prometheus the crew flies their star-bug down to the planet and just happens upon some Nazca lines and Alien-God jackpot about a minute after arriving. Pretty lucky. Other comparisons are slim but no less irritating including the “No guns; this is a sciencey trip?” “Whatever you say, lady” exchange between strong female expert and gruff worker character and having two of our underdeveloped fodder characters getting lost in the maze-like alien tomb. Oh and dying member of the Weyland family who bankrolls the venture, inadvisably tagging along only to be killed off by a gargantuan extraterrestrial.
But let’s get onto the real meat. Music sets the tone. Alien is famous for its restrained use of any orchestral score only appearing intermittently during transitions or as the creature attacks. The infamous tagline “In Space no one can hear you scream” accurately evokes the bed-shitting silence at the end of the film when Ripley is left alone with the Phallic nightmare. Conversely, Prometheus is underscored with a grandiose and uplifting motif akin to the Aaron Copland American sound which is more at home in the Star Trek series than a grotesque space-horror. The score tends to displace the mood, and moments which in the trailer seemed ungodlily creepy and horrifying can blip past without evoking a simple jolt or shudder.
But perhaps you’re normal and don’t even notice the music unless it’s terrible. The dialogue is pretty worn. None of the characters seem to ask any reasonable questions and consequently, the audience isn’t given any satisfying answers. Moments which should be great literally fade before you as there is never much fuss made out of anything that happens. **SPOILERS** They discover the first sign of alien life, they discover it looks just like us, they discover that it shares our DNA, they discover that they made us, Naoomi Rapace gets impregnated and removes a giant horrific squid from her guts and NOBODY SEEMS TO CARE. Not even the director. And then, how are we to?
There’s far too much cod theology and many many empty exchanges which tend to drag the story around its ankles.
The whole story, thematically, is about parentage, and it’s about as subtle as a chestburster. Dr. Lizzy can’t have babies, Holloway, Vickers and David clearly all have daddy issues and they occasionally “reveal” these insights in choice moments that I presume were intended to be plot twists. **SPOILERS** Theron’s dramatic turn around to Wayland toward the end with the immortal “Father!” was particularly loll-ful. **END**
What was good? Well, what was good was great! I loved the Engineers. Ever since I laid eyes on that dead Space Jockey in Alien they had transfixed me so getting to see them fleshed out and move in all their lumbering glory was a treat. There was something very LOST about their introduction. The Black goo, the loin-cloth…probably the loin-cloth. But they were gorgeous; their statuesque form, marble skin, Roman noses and their loin-cloths evoked classic gods but somehow managed to gel seamlessly with the Alien universe. Their motives, however, do not sit so well.
We are told they have been to Earth previously and instructed primitive people to find them, “inviting” them to this nearby stellar constellation. We learn that they create biological weapons. Devastating, resilient, biological weapons of mass-destruction. We learnt that these weapons turned on them, hence there being no Engineers left. We learn that they created us. We learn (through just about the weirdest last minute piece of exposition I’ve yet seen) from the Cap’n that the planet isn’t their home but a place to store their super-dangerous weapons. We learn that their ship was bound for Earth, full of weapons, presumably to destroy it.
So, to recap…They make weapons, they make man; the most dangerous weapon. They decide to destroy man. They teach primitive species the directions not to their home planet but their weapon stash? A weapon stash they were going to fly to and dump on Earth eventually anyway? I…whut?
Then there’s Wayland who finances the whole trip based on cave maps and secrets himself on-board, with a vague plan of achieving eternal life granted to him by creatures he doesn’t yet know to exist? And he makes David infect Holloway…because…? and tries to sedate Dr.Lizzy why? and they all seem to forget about it immediately because…the…plot…and…The pace is simply to choppy and fast to accommodate any answers to these questions.
David, however, is a joy to watch. Fassbender once again steals the show with his curious, captivating, open face and dubious, self-righteous malice. With the leads being so dissmissable/dislikeable you almost cheer when he tries to do them in. Rapace fails to ignite any sympathy – hackneyed faith in the face of insurmountable evidence plot drew a yawn or two. Vickers was far more interesting a character and the moment she stepped up and refused to let the infected Holloway on-board I saw flickers of Ripley there and thought Scott had out-clevered us again; making us think Rapace was the strong woman who survives when in-fact it’s the by-the-book Vickers. But no-dice. She gets squashed. I really though Shaw deserved to bite it, like all mad scientists should, when their follies cause the deaths of everyone they know and love. It’s uptight “bitches” like Ripley who should get to survive. But no, Shaw has her faith rewarded. Humbug.
So, all in all, I enjoyed it, of course I did. The first half is fantastic, raising question after question and genuinely creates an interesting mood. But it just kinda falls apart. I think the disappointment you’ll feel with this film will be measured by how high your expectations are. And mine were unfortunately pretty high. And I don’t think Ridley Scott’s promotional campaign helped that much. The ads promised creepy, shock, grotesque alien body-horror, eerie atmosphere, the unknown and deliberately harked back to the original Alien trailers so it is completely fair to compare them and to say that yes, it did disappoint – yes it failed to satisfy not just my expectations but also the expectations it itself raised.
For me the final insult is it’s having nothing to do at all with the ship found in Alien which would have given the whole affair a kind of reason for existing.