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Monday, 11 June 2012


I had genuine faith (please dont mention the irony) that Ridley Scott's return to the genre that defined his early career would yield something special, if not a classic, at least a thought provoking film that could stand on its own as one we might appreciate in years to come like Alien or Blade Runner. Lofty expectations, but that's just the problem - Prometheus cannot shake the lustre of what has gone before with its predecessors,  Alien and Aliens. Either way, measured on its own or with reference to the Alien canon, it falls down very early on and never manages to recover.

For starters the very opening of the films destroys the mystique that the original Alien sustained masterfully. The mysterious Space Jockey encountered in the original film which posed so many questions and theories is immediately revealed in the first few frames as a porcelain skinned alien, essentially humanoid in appearance. With all of the possibilities and the iconic work of Giger as a template, it is disappointing to find out straight away that beneath that ornamental, elephantine mask of the Space Jockey, is an anaemic, oversized human. Furthermore, the Promethean moment where the Space Jockey consumes the dark liquid and kick starts the evolution of mankind I felt sucked a strong element of discovery out of the plot. Immediately the who is taken away and we're left with just the why. The why is fundamentally more interesting because of the notions of God, human agency etc. but at the same time I didn't want to know so early on who the creators, or 'engineers', are. What made Alien so brilliant is that you never know who or what the xenomorph is until much later in the film. The reveal turns out to quick and unimpressive after all that has gone before.

As others have already said, Prometheus also suffers from a severe lack of narrative direction, tonal consistency and intelligent character development. I understood perfectly that the film was meant to be an interrogation on the origins of mankind and the nature and existence of God, but this gets lost amidst a chain of inexplicable plot diversions and incidences that left me completely incredulous by the final quarter of the film. Noomi Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw, a believer in God and divine creation is drawn to the answers posed by meeting the makers of humanity, but the significance and magnitude of this theme is diluted through being interspersed with action and gory set pieces, as well as a remarkably unintelligent script. Only in the last twenty minutes or so does it seem that the scriptwriters remember to make an attempt at following through on the grand questions of creation and/or teleology, and ultimately there is no payout. What cheapens it even further is that with Shaw's departure with David to meet the maker (or the maker's maker) to understand why mankind was targeted for destruction the idea seems to have been so sow the seeds for a sequel, whilst in the meantime expecting the audience to be contented with a distinct lack of closure. There are very occasionally some great lines, mainly spoken by Michael Fassbender's David about the nature of humanity and the relation between creator and created, but these are overwhelmed by the constant shifts in focus and the tendency to revisit the tropes of the original Alien universe, only this time a lot less subtly. The shifty company plant/android sub-narrative returns, but we've seen it all before with Ash and Bishop, and Charlize Theron's Vickers seems to be almost completely redundant; Ripley, er Shaw gets pregnant with an alien; and the scriptwriters make the fatal attempt of trying to cross the gritty character development of Alien with the machismo posturing of the Aliens marines. The result is lines like 'I'm a geologist! I love rocks!', and a complete apathy to the gruesome fate accorded to the entire crew, save for the only interesting characters, Shaw and David. Logan Marshall-Green's Holloway is a thoroughly dislikeable, arrogant prick who I couldn't take seriously as a scientist, Sean Harris is not much better as Fifield, and Rafe Spall's Milburn does possibly the dumbest thing you can do in a Sci-Fi/Horror film when he invites a pre-formed facehugger to get intimate with him the only way a facehugger knows how. I was also bugged by how nonchalant most of the crew apart from Shaw seem to be about their amazing discovery - if I were a scientist having discovered an alien life form with the same strand of DNA I'd be astounded - but you just don't get that feeling from the characters.

Out of the rest Idris Elba is watchable as the straight shooting A to B captain, but no one is free from shoddy writing as his character suddenly becomes privy to the increasingly forced philosophical meanderings which later motivate Shaw to take the Engineers' ship to their planet of origin. The writing, by and large, makes absolutely no sense - after Shaw escapes after being sedated for quarantine, why does no one seem to pursue her? She undergoes the whole surgical procedure without anyone breaking in and even when she leaves to discover in a ridiculous plot twist that Weyland is aboard the Prometheus, none of them seem shocked about what has happened to Shaw, who is covered in blood. Also, why doesn't she just flee after realising that she was going to be sedated in cryo by the company so the alien she was impregnated with would be transported back to Earth? Moments of intrigue such as when they bring the Engineer out of cryo stasis are dashed when it turns out the Engineer is just as malevolent as the xenomorph and would rather kill than communicate about their designs on humanity. In reiteration, it's that inability to stay in one genre that weighs the film down - the monster movie horror moments undermine the more cerebral intentions and as a result the explosions of viscera dominate, to the detriment of taking the questions of grand design seriously.

For all of this however, the one shining, saving grace is Michael Fassbender as David. As with the previous androids he garners our distrust in him with memories of Ash from the first Alien, yet we sympathise with the glimpses of humanity he displays; his questioning of his makers, his appearance of innocence, and his imitations of humanity. The dependent relationship he and Shaw have upon one another by the film's end is genuinely touching, and thinking about it the film would have benefited from more scenes between Fassbender and Rapace. On his own, Fassbender is the most compelling presence on screen, communicating curiosity, duplicity, and suggesting the potential for synthetic consciousness Scott probed originally in Blade Runner. It really is a marvellous, fascinating performance from one of the finest actors of his generation.

Prometheus is a case of a brave, interesting concept collapsing under the weight of a botched execution. It strives to provoke and ask compelling questions about humanity, but this is a lost amidst aimless narrative direction and a confused script. It has some memorable moments, exemplary visuals, and Fassbender's performance is particularly worth revisiting, but unfortunately it cannot hold the elements of intelligent science fiction and horror together to create a coherent whole.