|Image: 20th Century Fox|
The blitzkrieg of an advertising campaign for this film has made it clear that the quest for knowledge of our origins can lead to all sorts of trouble. One wishes that the filmmakers could have followed their own advice and left the origins of the Alien series well alone. Director Ridley Scott has strived to point out that this is not a direct prequel to his 1979 masterpiece, but rather a film which shares certain aspects and tells a new story. What this means in reality is that Prometheus is a schizophrenic muddle, packed with useless continuity references which lead nowhere and a new story which struggles to make us care.
Scientists in search of the origin of human life (Noomi Rapace and Tom Hardy-alike Logan Marshall-Green) follow cave painting clues to a distant planet, and discover that every Eden has its snake (or xenomorphs). Along for the ride we have a suspicious android (Michael Fassbender), an ice-cold company exec with some sort of agenda (Charlize Theron), the ship’s captain (Idris Elba) and seemingly hundreds of other underwritten hangers-on.
The film’s flaws are immediate from the outset, where a nice pre-credits sequence segues into interminable scenes of the plot coming together, where only Fassbender gets stuff to do. Even once they reach the planet (LV 223, take note fans) and the rest of the crew thaws out things still take an age to pick up, with loads of characters staying totally undeveloped – a far cry from James Cameron masterfully introducing the massive cast of Aliens. After a bit we get some nicely gory scenes, but a lack of explanation beyond vague musings renders it all pretty boring. Some scenes are laughably weak, in particular the convenient holographic projections that fill in missing storyline.
Alien succeeded in part due to its simplicity. People go to a planet, pick up a nasty beast and then have to deal with it. Bish bash bosh. In this film there are all sorts of nasties flying about the place, with eye-worms and sexually transmitted octopi and itchy looking skin diseases all getting a look in, but none of them has anything like the impact of HR Giger’s gorgeously sickening monster. People waiting for an appearance will be disappointed – all we get is a giant proto-facehugger and a short scene at the end with a boring chest burst and a variant Alien giving us a quick roar. This final scene has been predicted by everyone who has seen the first film, but it happens in the wrong place and leaves some annoying final questions. Also annoying is the fact that the Space Jockeys (or Engineers, as we now have to call them) don’t have trunks, which ruins years of fun fan fiction. It’s just a suit, you see, and underneath they are humanoid. Shame on you for ruining the dream, Ridley!
In terms of the acting, Noomi Rapace as Dr Elizabeth Shaw is fine, but her character is badly served by the script and comes across as fairly annoying. Shaw is a devout Christian, and there are a few times where the script seems to confuse the terms “human” and “religious believer”, which leaves a distinctly sour taste. Michael Fassbender is also good in his robot role, but his performance seems at odds with the chronology of the films that have gone before, and he just isn’t in the same league as Ian Holm or Lance Henriksen when it comes to treading the fine line between likeable and creepy. Fass never ‘goes Irish’ in this film, though, which is surely a career first. Idris Elba’s Janek probably does best, but his role is terribly hackneyed. All the other people are fine, but few make much of an impression. Guy Pearce turns up in silly old-age make-up for a bit, but his character should probably have been played by Henriksen as well.
There really is nothing about the storyline that works, and the direction is mostly point-and-shoot, but where the film does succeed is in its set design. Using lots of HR Giger’s original sketches for Alien, we are given a nicely fleshed out version of the sort of environs we saw in that film, and the lovely big sets make it all look satisfyingly solid in a way that such places often don’t in modern sci-fi. The exploration scenes are really where the film comes to life, with all sorts of hidden menace and nice visual nods to Alien. Unfortunately much of the good work is undermined by the horribly out of place score – I don’t know what film Marc Streitenfeld thought he was composing for, but it certainly wasn’t the one we got. His music isn’t at all bad, just wrong. Imagine if the score from Avatar was stuck onto the original Alien and you are halfway to seeing why it is so disastrous.
Fans of Alien and the series will be disappointed, and others will only find a confusing and weakly-written mess of a film that could obviously have been so much better. In short, everyone loses. It’s still better than AVP: Requiem, but then so is snogging a facehugger.