Wednesday, 6 June 2012


2012. Dir: Ridley Scott. Starring: Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba and Logan Marshall-Green. ●●●○○

The levels of anticipation for Ridley Scott's Prometheus have been extraordinary, which does make it very difficult to review. I suppose I should start by saying that if want to see Ridley returning the "Alien" universe, albeit with a film that isn't a sequel or a direct prequel, then you should do so without reading any reviews and without - if at all possible - watching the trailers. That is not to say you should be wary of spoilers (I'm always wary of people who over concern themselves with spoilers, it's an Alien movie people will go to space and most of them will die is the basic plot). I say it because I feel you as an audience member need to have the opportunity to make your own mind up about the film and about the points it's trying to make.

Prometheus itself, named after the mythological anti-hero who stole fire from the Gods, is the exploratory space ship looking for life forms on planet LV-223. Headed by archaeology professors Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green their aim is to identify whether a collection of cave drawings and hieroglyphs that indicate ancient civilisations worshipping at the feet of intergalactic beings point to the creators, the engineers who created mankind. Meanwhile corporate bigwig Charlize Theron is there to keep the expedition under control on behalf of the Weyland Corporation with the able yet sinister support of android Michael Fassbender and oddly laid back ships captain Idris Alba. There's even an extended cameo from Weyland himself, a holographic Guy Pearce with shit on his face (apparently the 80+ actors like Kirk Douglas or Max von Sydow we'd have love to see in this weren't available) pulling strings from the other side of the universe.

There are other crew members - the on-screen exposition tells us of a crew of 17 - but only 6 others have names and not all of those have any sort of character depth. It's like over half of the crew have been plucked from the Star Trek list of doomed minor characters. Not that cannon fodder is a bad thing but it's indicative of the change of tone between Scott initial explorations into space and the much larger canvas he utilises here. In 1979 the major topic of conversation - even after the star beast started to chew on the crew - was the rate of pay and the improvised devices used to stop it. In spite of the occasional nods to it's origins here we have more concern over the bigger picture, and the number of philosophical questions thrown at us is astounding:

If we were created by aliens can there be a God?
Who, then, created them?
What is it to be human?
Do genetics or shared ideas matter more to creating family?
Why do we die?

et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

I like a good philosophical point to a film as much as anyone, long term readers will know how I like to think deeply about certain mattters, but here the reeling off of questions dulled the senses, preventing me from choosing one to fix on and actually engage with. (For the record if anyone wants to discuss those points in the comments I would be delighted to do so)

The intrepid scientists head off to a possible settlement to search for further clues and stumble upon the chamber with the giant head and collection of egg like cylinders as seen in the poster above. In exposing the chamber to the atmosphere a chain reaction is set off and one by one our crew begin to meet their makers either singularly or in larger numbers where expedient for the plot. We get a glimpse of Alien like creatures, parasitic worms and sapphic organisms as well as discovering the identity of the macguffin space jockey from the initial movie.

Noomi Rapace does an excellent job in the lead role, proving there's more to her than a dragon tattoo, with her character's faith and emotional well-being tested through ecstatic pleasure, grief, betrayal and panic. There is one scene in particular where where has to deal with the death of another character then perform an medical procedure on herself to prevent her own death which is both grotesque and a surprisingly well performed set-piece.

Elsewhere the performances are fine, if a little one note, Theron is a bitch with daddy issues, Elba is salty and pragmatic. Many reviewers have praised Fassbender's performance as the android David and whilst technically virtuoso with it's influences of Peter O'Toole as T.E. Lawrence, elements of fey valets and a keen physicality, but personally I was shocked by his emotion which felt inappropriate. There are moments where other characters discuss whether David is more than machine and you can tell he is taking on board what they think and responding to it - taking it on board to use it later. Unlike Ian Holm's malevolent programming Fassbender appears to be choosing his own destiny - he is capable of decision making in a way none of his android counterparts in the franchise were able to do.

Ridley is in his element here, planet building on a massive scale. It was filmed predominantly in Iceland and sound-stages but you buy LV-226's geographical set-up and the organic superstructures that house the chambers. He does a fine job of wringing the tension out of the screenplay, deftly allowing the grand themes to carry us along, although it's worth noting this has none of the sense of impending doom we felt in the original Alien movie. Although I would point out my theory that Scott is only as good a director as the script he's given is not challenged here.

Damon Lindehof is probably responsible for the weakest element with much of the dialogue feeling false and unnecessarily expositionary, far from the naturalism of Dan O'Bannon.

The design of Premtheus is fascinating, more sleek and apparently hi-tech than the Nostromo it shows the importance Weyland industries places on the mission's success.

I really don't trust the biology of the film. I struggle with understanding how certain creatures can grow at such incredible rates without taking in any food (this always struck me as the weak link in the Alien life cycle) and if we are created from the DNA of alien lifeforms how come our DNA strands is so similar to other creatures on Earth, evolution is given a brief mention but batted aside by the faithful. There are also many more questions than answers in this episode, what is the effect of the infection on the brain, how does the space jockey breath, what is David motivation and whilst I agree a good film leaves you with questions there seem to be too many here. I am also reminded of the old joke about a man ran over by a train who was asked why he didn't run up the embankment to escape and replied "If I couldn't outrun it on the flat how could I outrun it going uphill?" You will have to watch until the end to get that.

Overall I can recommend the spectacle of Prometheus and would even go as far as saying it should be seen in cinemas, but I won't pretend it's a great film and I expect they're be much better sci-fi's and blockbusters in the coming months.

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