Prometheus makes a crash landing
In anticipation of the release of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, there has been much discussion over what this story will reveal. It’s well known that The Alien director was interested in telling the origin story of the xenomorphs, but he has been dismissive towards persistent rumours that his latest is a direct prequel to his 1979 classic; famously stating that the films share strands of the same DNA. While it would be expected that Scott was lying through his teeth, the surprise is that his statement is more of a half-truth, which may have been the worst option.
Set in 2093, a full 29 years before of Scott’s franchise leader, Prometheus treads very familiar territory. In these pre-Ripley days, we get Dr Elizabeth Shaw, whose tenacity is amply supplied by Noomi Rapace. On the slightly less human side, Michael Fassbender fills David’s synthetic shoes (although he probably should have been named Aaron). Visually, Prometheus paints a spectacular vision of life in space, but as the Prometheus ship itself is introduced with its name, crew number and “destination: unknown” flashing across the screen, it feels like Scott is coming home and taking the audience with him. Throughout the opening act, as the Weyland funded and led expedition to a far off planet gathers steam, a slow-burn, yet exciting pace builds. As the team explores the dark, mysterious caverns it’s easy to feel there beside them, despite knowing more about what may lie in wait for the crew than they do. When an instantly recognisable body is discovered, it’s almost enough to make one cheer. Heartbreakingly though, Damon Lindelof’s script gets it almost entirely wrong beyond that point.
Prometheus touches on several themes, but never has the focus or sense to actually run with any one of them. Religion and faith are gently explored without risking offense to anyone. Phallic representations and violations are plentiful. And naturally, the old series trope of pregnancy is well embodied with an absolutely toe-curling scene that provides the best moment of tension in a film that, while not starved of it altogether, is deeply lacking when it comes to paying off the majority of it. The reveals are sadly lacking in weight and their presentations are fumbled due in large part to poor dialogue. For Alien fans, Prometheus goes to great lengths to titillate and hint at where the story could be headed, only to unforgivably lose its nerve in the final act- leaving the viewer disappointed and wholly unsatisfied. Meanwhile, the Alien uninitiated will simply be left with a film that poses many questions, but answers very little as it shamelessly paves the way for sequel.
There are the rare occasions where it virtually hurts physically when a film misfires so badly. Prometheus is one such example. It’s clear to see how a great story could have been crafted out of the material Scott and Co were working with. It almost beggars belief that he could botch this story, yet Prometheus doesn’t just collapse under close scrutiny, it’s damn near decimated by it. From character motivations to continuity problems to the lack of explanation of just about everything, the script is an absolute mess. High on the sci-fi, low (as in none) on horror, Prometheus resorts to actually zombifying a crew member in a scene that should never have been transferred from pen to paper, let alone shot and screened. Perhaps coincidentally, the film appears to also “share DNA” with the Assassin’s Creed video game series, as aesthetic and plot elements bear striking resemblances. From a performance perspective, Rapace and Fassbender are terrific, shoring up a perfectly acceptable cast, with the notable exception of Guy Pearce. Relying on questionable prosthetics to appear as the elderly Peter Weyland, it boggles the mind to think that a more age appropriate actor was not cast simply for the sake of the viral videos.
Credit is due to how magnificent Prometheus looks: the set design, the visual effects, and the technology of the future all amaze, especially on IMAX. The imagery and atmosphere of Alien are so splendidly evoked that it’s impossible to not be eagerly drawn into Prometheus’ plot. That is, until it becomes obvious that little has been explained after all. The 3D works well some of the time, but noticeable cross-talk hardly makes it worth the trouble.
For Prometheus, Scott would have been better served to employ a less-is-more approach similar to that taken with Alien: no overload on creatures, but rather a focus on properly built tension that actually led somewhere worthwhile. In revisiting that world, Scott has taken a cynical blockbuster approach that sacrifices plot and pacing for spectacle. Worst of all, the audience is strung along in the belief that answers will be forthcoming and connections made, when all Scott has actually done is lay the groundwork for a sequel to a film with too many holes to keep its giant metallic head above water. The ride may be fun, but once Prometheus reaches its final destination, it feels little more than a wasted journey. 6/10
Prometheus is in UK cinemas 1 June