- 28 June 2012
- By John Howell
Ridley Scott's long-awaited Alien prequel Prometheus should have been the stand out science fiction event of the year. The creator of Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator (to name just a few of his great films) has instead created a visually captivating, yet amazingly flawed prequel that falls far sort of expectations.
There will be spoilers in what follows, so please stop now if you don't want to know story details - although if you've watched the trailers, you're probably ninety percent of the way there anyway.
There's nothing wrong with the premise. In 2089 on the Isle of Skye, scientists Elizabeth Shaw, (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover cave paintings identical to those already discovered at different sites around the world from different time periods and cultures. Each painting depicts a giant humanoid shape reaching for a star system floating above. How and why has the same painting with the same star system appeared in different cultures separated by geography and time?
We jump three years into the future and Elizabeth and Charlie are now on board the Scientific Exploratory Vessel Prometheus, heading for the only habitable planet in the Star System depicted by the paintings. They've managed to continue their explorations with the help of some serious funding from Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce under heavy makeup). Weyland is the head of a vast mega-corporation, Weyland Industries. It appears that his dying wish was to discover where mankind came from. Who or what created us? Along with Elizabeth and Charlie he believes the paintings are an invitation from mankind's creators to come and pay a visit.
It's at this stage that the film becomes increasingly silly. Firstly, the crew that Weyland and his team leader Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) have selected appear to be random, dysfunctional misfits who have no right being on board a starship, let alone a starship that could potentially be involved in a first contact situation. Did they vet their suitability at all? They're supposed to be highly trained scientists but come across as nutters with extreme personality disorders. When they reach an ancient building and discover a petrified alien corpse, Fifield (Sean Harris) immediately wants to dash back to the ship in a panic (has he taken space weed?) while another scientist Millburn (Rafe Spall) thinks it's a good idea to pat a snake like creature that rises out of some murky water after they become trapped in the building after a storm. "There's a good alien snake thing from another world." Pat, pat, pat. "Would you like me to tickle you under the chin? Oh dear, you don't seem to have a chin." I don't need to tell you that this is a bad idea (but I have anyway).
Numerous silly moments and clueless bits of dialogue are scattered throughout. One of my favorites was a conversation with the ship's captain near the end of the film. Captain Janek (Idris Elba) is randomly asked by Elizabeth why he has come all this way - basically what is your motivation for being on this trip Captain? And he tells her in no uncertain terms that he is there to protect the Earth from whatever is on the planet that may be a threat to mankind. At that point you're in no doubt that quite soon the Captain will be involved in an incident where he has to protect the Earth from creatures on this world. That scene has clearly been added to explain the final climax of the film and doesn't ring true in the slightest.
Another earlier scene where Charlie suddenly goes off on a drunken bender after they discover that humanity's "engineers" appear to be long dead is equally silly. After exploring the first of perhaps ten giant ancient structures, he's already given up and turned to the bottle to drown his sorrows. This from a guy who was ecstatic after he discovered a simple cave painting three years before. Even after they find an alien fossil head and have an entire planet to explore he's no longer interested? Why not? Was the script paired back so severely that the details that explain his actions never made it into the final edit? Or were Ridley and his writers just attempting to add some extra drama even if it made little or no sense to the characters or story?
There is nothing wrong with the acting though. Michael Fassbender (can he do no wrong?) is fantastic as the smooth talking android David. Looking a bit like David Bowie and modelling himself on Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, David's quirky humour and odd manner create the film's best moments. Like all the characters though, there's not enough story to go around and little time for sensible character development.
Prometheus is a visually breathtaking space opera which has all the key science fiction thriller ingredients, but there's not enough mixed in there to raise it above the average and ordinary. The actors and special effects are breathtaking (especially the final battle between the tentacled weapon creature and the superior human engineer) but screenwriters Jon Spaihts and David Linderlof (of Lost fame) have turned in a routine, B-Grade telegraphed script and Scott's visuals and Fassbender's David are not enough to make up for what's missing.
I hope Scott's upcoming Blade Runner sequel is better.
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