Prometheus is now upon us. Here I offer my thoughts on the film, which I enjoyed greatly. It’s by no means perfect though, and some may not able to forgive its faults quite so easily as I was. I have kept the review spoiler free, so feel free to read on without fear of learning too much about the plot.
On a barren planet, a tall, pale figure walks along a cliff edge toward a waterfall. As the giant space ship hovering above him leaves, he drinks from a vial of liquid. Within seconds his body starts to disintegrate, and falls into the raging waters below. As his body sinks, it breaks apart and mixes with the water…
And so begins Prometheus, probably one of the most secrecy-laden, highly anticipated movies of recent years.
It’s fair to say that the level of your enjoyment of Prometheus will depend on how readily you accept the following fact: No film could ever hope to live up to the levels of hype that have surrounded this one. The eye popping trailers and detailed backstory presented in the intricate viral videos and websites have all served to raise expectations to unprecedented levels. It would take a miracle to meet those expectations, and looking through the extensive cast and crew credits, I don’t see the name Jesus Christ anywhere.
If you bare all that in mind, and adjust your expectations accordingly, there is much to enjoy in this film, marking as it does Ridley Scott’s return to both a genre he re-invigorated and an iconic franchise he helped create.
The film is a slow burner, and, like the original Alien, it takes its time to set the scene and introduce its characters. This build up works well, and as the crew investigate their discoveries more closely, the sense of impending doom builds nicely. Indeed, that sense of dread is ever-present throughout the film. After all, WE’VE seen Alien – we know how badly things turn out!
The two lead female performances from Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron are both great. As Elizabeth Shaw, Rapace finally steps out from the shadow of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo with a layered performance that runs the full emotional range, from open-eyed wonder, through fear, terror, then finally determination and grit.
Meanwhile, Charilze Theron’s Meredith Vickers starts as a scenery chewing, hard-ass corporate bitch, but that façade soon begins to slip as her carefully orchestrated mission starts to go to hell. By the end of the film you could almost – but only almost – feel sorry for her.
Michael Fassbender almost steels the show here as the android David, with a performance that is by turns funny and genuinely creepy. While supposedly unable to have any real emotions, you do get the feeling that David is closely studying – and even judging – his human crewmates. With what appear to be several agendas, Fassbender really keeps us guessing about whether David can be trusted.
Secondary characters are a little more thinly drawn, though Logan Marshal Green and Idris Elba do their best with the material they are given as Holloway and Janek respectively. I’ve not seen Green in anything before, so he came with no baggage for me, and is a charismatic screen presence. Elba’s Janek is the stereotypical gruff cap’n and a very entertaining one at that.
The script by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof is very big on ideas and questions – who created us, why, and who created them? – but light on answers, which some may find frustrating. That opening scene, for example, is never explained. It plays without dialogue, subtitles or captions, so where don’t know when or where it is taking place. We can guess, of course…
Personally, I consider LOST, which Lindelof co-created, one of the finest TV shows ever made, so I’m used to his cryptic twists and turns. I think it’s a refreshing change for such a huge blockbuster to not feed us everything on a plate, but many may be disappointed that some of the most interesting questions asked by the characters don’t get answered properly, if at all.
However, this is film-making that truly deserves the adjective ‘epic’; from the locations used, shots composed and ideas explored, Ridley Scott is once again the creator of an utterly convincing world.
There’s a real sense here that Scott is returning to the series – which lost its way with Alien Resurrection and the AvP movies – to take back the reigns and say “Right, I’m back, now THIS is how you do it”. While all involved have been at pains to say this film isn’t an Alien prequel, the links are clear and there’s really no shame in that.
The film’s look is immaculate. The production design is detailed and rich, and as ‘real’ as you could expect from a sci-fi film. Just as Alien’s Nostromo convinced as a run-down intergalactic haulage truck, so the Prometheus shines as the pristine pride of the Weyland fleet. Scott is to be congratulated for using real sets and props as often as possible – nothing beats the real thing, and it helps that the cast have physical surroundings to interact with rather than blue or green screens. Where CGI is used, such as landscape enhancements to the Icelandic locations, the effect is seamless and convincing.
As for the 3D, I’m not a fan of the technology, and I don’t think I’ll ever be convinced that it’s superior to 2D. That said, Scott shows a real mastery here, using the process with subtlety and skill. After a couple of ‘comin atcha’ shots in the opening scenes, the 3D-ness settles down to simply add to the atmosphere, rather than draw attention to itself.
As for Scott’s assertion that the links to Alien will become clear in the final few minutes of the film, yes that’s true, but that doesn’t mean there’s a neat dovetail into the original film. Rather, Prometheus ends at a narrative crossroads. In one direction is Alien and its sequels. In the other is a whole new adventure for those who have survived.
It’s safe to say that Scott has returned to sci-fi with a bang. His direction is assured, and, after last visiting the genre in the analogue age, here he puts all his new digital tools to use wonderfully.
Prometheus is not a perfect film however.
Its biggest problem is that it suffers simply from following the epic marketing campaign. Despite the whole ‘history’ of Peter Weyland and the Weyland Corp being presented online in huge detail, the film makes no reference to any of this. Of course to do so may put casual viewers who were not exposed to the online marketing at a disadvantage, but it does seem a waste that such detailed backstory is not used. We’ll hopefully see some of this preserved on the Blu-ray and DVD extra features.
The film also suffers from ensemble syndrome – aside from the main 4 or 5 characters, the rest of the crew are not really defined beyond basic stereotypes. Prometheus isn’t the first film to have this problem – even the classic ‘Aliens’ loses some of its colonial marines in the narrative fog – and it won’t be the last, but given Lindelof’s skill at giving all the LOST characters their moment to shine, it’s a shame we don’t get to know some of these guys a bit better. One hopes that we’ll see an extended cut of the film, or at least a few deleted scenes that flesh them out a little, when it hits home video.
While big on atmosphere and the feeling that things won’t end well, the film lacks the simple terror element of Alien. It’s telling a different story of course, and with such a large budget Scott has to be sure that the film will recoup Fox’s investment, but I would have liked to have felt my nerves being pushed a little more. That said, at a 15 rating in the UK and an R in the US, the film won’t disappoint those who like a little squelchiness.
Prometheus will no doubt be a very divisive film. There will be those who want the horror of Alien, or the action of Aliens. It has a little bit of both, but it IS its own movie, with its own story to tell. Many may be angry that, like the characters, they don’t get the answers they want, but if the film is a success a little patience may pay off; the coda suggests that if Prometheus is about the questions, the sequel will provide the answers…