Review - Prometheus


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Ridley Scott goes back to the genre he created
Prometheus (2012)
Ridley Scott
Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender
Release Date:
Age Rating:
In the not so distant future, a team of scientists discover an impossible link between ancient civilisations that sends them on an interstellar journey in pursuit of the origins of mankind. What they find may be the beginning of our extinction... .

In 1979, Ridley Scott took the seed sown by Star Warstwo years before and used a blockbuster budget and cutting edge technology to essentially create a genre with the original Alien. Remember, this was just a year after John Carpenter ignited the slasher film with Halloween and before the dawn of the 80s and the age of spectacle. With a visionary attention to detail and a monster which has rightfully stood the test of time, Alien deserves to stand proud as one of the most significant films of the 20th century.

It’s a tough act to follow, something which James Cameron chose to simply ignore with 1986s Aliens – a film which draws little but its antagonist and star from the original, instead opting to deliver one of the best action films of the 80s. Fincher’s Alien 3 tried to tease out something more contemplative from the material but was ultimately stricken by its own production issues and Alien: Resurrection is a perfectly average creature feature, but it’s not an Alien film.

Which brings us, rather less than neatly, to Prometheus – a film that has had its identity, staff and connection to the original films toyed with so many times it was feared that it might fall into the same abyss as Alien 3. That hasn’t happened, partly due to Scott stepping back into the director’s chair and also with a little help from 20th Century Fox, who have thrown at least $150 million at the film with the hope of taking the summer by storm. And the name alone should draw in the crowds but the film itself may fail to satisfy.

A star map...
A star map...Enlarge Enlarge

The biggest surprise Prometheus has to offer is that much of it doesn’t resemble an Alien film at all. It’s something of a vindication for Scott, who has been suggesting for months that his intent was to create a standalone narrative. The main difference is the scope of the film – both in terms of the different worlds it travels to and the impressive scale of the production but also in terms of the questions it attempts to raise and the themes it deals with.

The plot concerns a team of scientists who think they have found the secret to the origins of humanity on an alien world and head out to find that planet with the help of benefactor Peter Weyland. The first act of the film goes from the distant past to the year 2089 on the Isle of Skye in Scotland and onwards to 2093 when the crew touches down on a moon light years from Earth. There, they find some answers and yet more mysteries that won’t be discussed here.

Writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof use these situations to tease out questions of faith, chiefly through the character of Shaw, played by Noomi Rapace. She is certain that their journey will lead them to an alien race responsible for crafting humanity but also holds firm to her belief in god, something which becomes increasingly difficult as the narrative begins to assault her with questions and doubts.

It’s a more complex film then without question but for some reason Prometheus often feels less impressive than it might be. While the opening half delivers all the technically impressive visuals we expect and there’s little doubt that the journey and what they find should verge on the wondrous, the feeling is rarely transmitted to the audience. Some key moments are revealed in an indifferent fashion and, crucially, the score from Marc Streitenfeld can’t muster any of the appropriate emotions. James Horner is sorely missed.

Charlize Theron and Idris Elba
Charlize Theron and Idris ElbaEnlarge Enlarge

When Scott does indulge himself for some genre moments, they’re typically well played. The first alien encounter is suitably strong, bone-cracking stuff and a later surgery scene provides perhaps the films dramatic high point. But, unlike the opaque mechanics of the original movie, it’s never quite clear what the extra-terrestrial creatures are after or what they’re abilities are, making the sense of danger still immediate but more vaguely sketched that I’d like. Also, while moments of violence do occur, they’re oddly underplayed – not too many steps removed from a possible PG-13 rating. This, alongside the curious lack of bad language, makes me think the R-rating was something of an afterthought.

And then there’s the ending. Prometheus is content to idle in a pleasant enough sci-fi and portentous conversations mode for much of its running time, with breaks for brief moments of shock and awe. But as the end game approaches, things take a turn for the spectacular which provides plenty of trailer moments but threatens to lose any audience members who were previously on board. It’s never quite unwatchable, thanks to Scott’s robust aesthetic and the hope that some questions will finally be answered, but it’s a messy finale and one which cheapens the film which comes before it. It’s also worth noting that Prometheus doesn’t mesh with Alien canon as you might expect, leaving things open for a further sequel.

Scott has assembled a suitably impressive cast for Prometheus and some fare better than others. To some degree, the rather muted drama of the film is reflected in its lead. Noomi Rapace looks good on screen and her character is nicely drawn but her performance is dull and I couldn’t get over the strange intonations of her accent, which would be fine if the film didn’t go out of its way to define her as a Brit. She certainly commits to the physical requirements of the role and becomes more active as the film progresses but can’t quite carry the film.

Cargo...Enlarge Enlarge

It’s a shame because much of the supporting cast is strong, like Charlize Theron’s sharp-edged but canny executive (who is forced into something of a generic villain role) and nice turns from Idris Elba (who is once more divorced from his accent) and Guy Pearce, as an aged Peter Weyland. Michael Fassbender’s David is more problematic – the actor plays the part with his usual commitment and the character is impressively layered but his vacillating allegiances and internal struggles are never really given enough screentime.

As so called ‘visionary’ Ridley Scott’s first film shot in 3D, it was reasonable to expect great things from Prometheus’ extra-dimensional visuals. Sadly, for the most part I found the image to be flat and dull, with the dark scenes dimmed further by the necessary glasses. Scott doesn’t do anything interesting with the camera, even missing the opportunity to play with the films’ copious hologram scenes in any significant way. You might hear people say that there’s an extraordinary sense of depth to the picture but that, to me, is something you don’t need silly glasses to discern.

Prometheus raised mixed emotions in me. On the one hand, it’s not the disaster it might have been, given drawn out production, the legacy of the last two films and director Scott’s recent track record. But it’s also quite an underwhelming production, one which doesn’t go out of its way to reward franchise fans, nor quite deliver enough appeal as a stand-alone title. The result can’t help but be something of a disappointment but there’s merit to the unique slant of the opening half while some may be dazzled by the pyrotechnics of the finale.

6 Stars
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