Ridley Scott returns to space in this quasi-Alien prequel, a visual marvel that's let down by an unfocused script.
Over 30 years later, Ridley Scott returns to the Alien universe with Prometheus, a film surrounded by insane levels of hype and marketing, so much so that it’s almost impossible to not be disappointed in some way by the end product – that’s not to say it won’t make a gazillion dollars at the box-office! It’s easy to understand why 20th Century Fox are pushing this so hard though, afterall Alien and Aliens (forget about every other entry in the franchise) are two of the most revered sci-fi movies of all time, and the promise of a 5th entry in the franchise, directed by none other than Ridley Scott himself has been teased for over 10 years.
Whether Prometheus is a direct prequel to Alien or a completely different film has been debated ad nauseum in the lead up to its release, so let me set the record straight – the film is certainly part of the Alien universe, but it goes in a much different direction to the earlier movies, with the only real connection to the plot of Alien being the mysterious Space Jockeys found on the downed spaceship.
Set roughly 30 years before Alien, Prometheus follows two archaeologists – Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) & Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), who lead a team of scientists aboard the titular spaceship to the remote moon LV-223, where they hope to discover the answers to ancient star maps found on Earth – all of which point to the origin of our species. Unfortunately what was meant to be an expensive science experiment soon becomes something else entirely, when the crew discovers the true nature of LV-223’s inhabitants.
Joining the two scientists on the mission, we have the android David (Michael Fassbender), Captain Janek (Idris Elba), ‘Mission Director’ Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), Geologist Fifield, Botanist Milburn and a few other stock characters who clearly serve no purpose other than cannon fodder for the film’s action-horror sequences. Funding the whole thing is elderly billionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), whose true intentions are kept murky.
I don’t want to spoil what happens once the crew arrives, but the story heads in two separate directions, which never quite gel. On the one hand, the film tries to placate fans of the Alien series with periodically thrilling survival-horror moments, but on the other it’s also weighing up some pretty heavy questions about the very origin of humanity, and our shifting relationship from created to creators. Neither are worked to the extent they could have been, as the latter questions are never directly answered, instead being saved for the inevitable sequel and the horror moments are undercut by a lack of character development.
Thankfully Michael Fassbender is around to raise the bar on proceedings – the man can do no wrong. His android is deeply unsettling, he is at once human and distinctly inhuman in his lack of empathy, and we’re never allowed close enough to understand his true motivations – regardless, he steals every scene he’s in. The other cast members are barely introduced beyond name and occupation, so it’s unfair to judge, although Noomi Rapace offers a lot more than in her last English language role (Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows), where she was completely wasted. One scene of hers in particular is bound to stay in the memory – a self-administered caesarean. Ouch.
Despite some significant flaws, one thing’s for sure – it looks amazing. Shot entirely with 3D cameras, the film immerses you with its grand vistas and eye-popping visual effects. You expect a blockbuster like this to have one or two real money-shots, but Prometheus has dozens of them, justifying the huge budget and extra expense of 3D. The production design is fantastic too, particularly the sleek Apple-styled interiors of the spaceship.
Prometheus is no Alien – then again it was always going to struggle to live up to such cultural baggage. Taken on its own terms, it’s an enjoyable, at times thrilling sci-fi that could have been fantastic if the script hadn’t attempted to place the audience in two starkly different states – primal fear and philosophical musing. When acting, rather than dying is required – the film impresses and the visuals are some of the best you will see on screen this year. Perhaps the inevitable sequel will be given the room this story needed to explore its own ideas, rather than be beholden to the Alien mythology.
3 1/2 Stars