Dir. Ridley Scott. Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof. Starring Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce. 124 mins.
Having taken a few days to form my opinion of Prometheus, the overwhelming feeling I am left with is that of optimistic emptiness. As with most highly anticipated films of this calibre a certain level of disappointment is almost inevitable, especially when combined with the level of ambiguity and intrigue that has surrounded the build up to Prometheus’s release (avoid the trailers at any cost: they reveal FAR too much). Will we finally find out what/who the infamous ‘space jockey’ is? Is the film really a prequel to Scott’s 1979 masterpiece Alien? The film certainly provides a link to the Alien universe, but it is loose at best. It feels like we’re one (or maybe even two) sequels away from truly connecting to Ridley’s story aboard the ill-fated Nostromo. Many, many questions are raised; few are answered.
Prometheus follows a team of scientists on a mission, funded by Weyland Industries, to discover the origins of mankind in the far corners of space. Chasing clues found during archaeological digs headed by lovers Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall Green), the team board the spaceship ‘Prometheus’ bound for a mysterious planet. The film borders on the cerebral, but due to the frequently terrible script it never quite makes the jump into the mystical, universe-exploring territory that made 2001: A Space Odyssey such a wonderful cinematic experience. Scott’s film is (very) bleak and ambitious, yet it often feels like it doesn’t quite know where to turn, opting for surface-deep characters and a streamlined narrative that glosses over many of the film’s most interesting questions instead of delving further into its austere, extraterrestrial planetary setting; it will feel familiar yet foreign to fans of Scott’s previous sci-fi iterations.
Luckily, Michael Fassbender’s uncanny android, David, is given enough room to develop a truly chilling performance. Without spoiling anything, he is the catalyst for the film’s descent into survival horror, and in many ways the central figure of the film. Reminiscent of Blade Runner’s replicants, 2001’s Hal, and of course Ash (Alien) and Bishop (Aliens), we search for a hint of self-awareness in David’s eyes, never quite seeing what lies behind his cold and calculating stare. He unsettlingly recites lines from classic films, even modelling his own hairstyle on Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. However, missed character opportunities include Guy Pearce’s Peter Weyland (complete with mediocre ‘old man’ make-up); his elderly über-capitalist, desperately and selfishly attempting to escape death, is woefully underused amongst a cast that struggle to provide us with enough character development to warrant investing in them emotionally. Captain Janek (Idris Elba) comes closest to channelling the believability of Scott’s previous sci-fi character efforts; flirting with the domineering Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) despite the scientific magnitude of their situation and surroundings. Ultimately, however, character motivations are rarely clear and frustratingly under-developed. Most of the crew are near write-offs: if they die, you won’t care.
Although I accept that Prometheus asks us to suspend disbelief (it is a sci-fi horror film after all), the plot and script are extremely lazy at points. The crew range from incompetent to oblivious to downright absurd. In Alien, the Nostromo is a cargo ship and its crew essentially everyday space truckers. They are normal people; their small talk and improvised, amateur approach to dealing with the alien presence is what made the film so incredibly believable. In Prometheus, the specially-hired crew of 17 are on a once-in-a-lifetime mission to discover the origins of mankind. Their trip is openly stated to have cost Weyland Industries over one trillion dollars. With this in mind, I refuse to accept the crew’s ridiculous carelessness that provides an easy narrative descent into death and destruction: they frivolously approach alien creatures; they get blind drunk straight after making the greatest scientific discovery of all time, instead of performing endless complex tests and collecting data; characters pronounced dead are approached without much caution when they suddenly come back to life; the crew leave the ship’s deck unmonitored, despite two members stranded in an alien structure (filled with alien corpses) overnight. You can probably guess what happens to them. Furthermore, the crew are only introduced to each other after two years of cryogenic sleep as they drift through space to their destination. Surely a simple handshake, let alone months of orientation, would have taken place before leaving Earth?
Annoying plot holes and cringe-worthy line-delivery aside, the 3D is impressive at points, particularly during the ship’s tech-moments and the latter action sequences (if the trailers haven’t spoilt them for you already). However, action and spectacle fail to fully compensate for the stunted dialogue and temperamental plot throughout the film. In this sense, Prometheus marks Ridley Scott’s very flawed return to the genre. While there are obvious parallels with the original Alien (female heroine, bodily invasion), the film is also reminiscent of Event Horizon and Danny Boyle’s Sunshine; both of which create a much more convincing claustrophobic, terrifying atmosphere. But Prometheus is not just about survival: bigger and broader concerns demand more from the narrative – it just doesn’t explore them very well.
I said that Prometheus left me with a feeling of optimistic emptiness, and by this I mean I am hopeful questions will one day be answered. Elizabeth Shaw’s search for the truths about humanity may not be answered in this film, but one senses the possibilities for narrative satisfaction lie on the horizon. Ultimately, Prometheus is a dirty, great big set-up for a sequel, but in what direction? I long for this somewhat disappointing film to eventually form the first part of a new and interesting saga, but with screenwriter Lindelof’s declaration at Wondercon that any follow-up to Prometheus “will tangentalize even further away from the original Alien”, fans hungry for a satisfying origins story may be left to starve. Only time will tell. Until then, I look forward to a fully fledged director’s cut that hopefully fleshes out the characters and provides some much needed deeper narrative exploration.
Prometheus is showing at City Screen York:
Mon 04 June – 12.15, 18.00
Tues 05 June – 12.15, 18.00
Wed 06 June – 12.15, 18.00
Thurs 07 June – 12.15, 18.00
Mon 04 June – 15.00, 20.30
Tues 05 June – 15.00, 20.30
Wed 06 June – 15.00, 20.30
Thurs 07 June – 15.00, 20.30