Ridley Scott’s first science fiction film in thirty years is apparently (according to a coy Scott) a film that that isn’t an Alien prequel, but it does share “strands of Alien’s DNA”. Well, actually it is an Alien prequel. It may not be a film that leads directly into Scott’s 1979 film, but that’s like saying that The Revenge of The Sith isn’t a prequel to Star Wars, just because it doesn’t feature Han Solo.
Prometheus begins with the birth of mankind, in an over-blown prologue which sets the tone for things to come. We then cut to Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green) who discover a map left by “Engineers” (in a Scottish cave no less) which leads them to the planet LV-223. The duo tap Guy Pearce’s Peter Weyland for a trillion dollars and take-off in search of the secrets to humanity. Onboard Prometheus (it’s the name of the ship) we meet David (Michael Fassbender) an android obsessed with Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence of Arabia. The team of scientists awaken from stasis where we are introduced to the only other characters that matter-Charlize Theron’s, Vickers, a hardnosed company woman and Idris Elba’s, Janek, the captain of the Prometheus, who shows us that blue-collar workers still exist in a bright shiny future. The crew uncover a structure where they find a team of dead “Engineers” (tall, bald and muscle-bound humanoids) and a cargo-hold of vases filled with black gloop. Soon, alien life-forms are putting the crew of the Prometheus in danger, killing them one by one. You must know the drill by now.
The script for Prometheus by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof purportedly deals with some weighty themes, something which isn’t particularly evident from the final product of the film. Sure, it raises questions about where we come from, but it doesn’t answer them – except in a few lines of rushed exposition which tell the audience something that they’ve pretty much already known for thirty years-that the Alien (or its parallel sister hybrid) is some sort of weapon. The story of the “Engineers” isn’t a particularly exciting one. I keep using the term “Engineer”, but Alien fans will know them as the “Space Jockey”, and while Prometheus doesn’t take place on the same planet as Alien (here it’s LV-223, while in Alien Sigourney Weaver and co. arrive on LV-426) a similar fate seems to have befallen two sets of “Space Jockeys”. Talk about incompetent workers.
The main problem with Prometheus is that it is so similar to Alien that you can’t help but compare the two films. People will argue that they’re not the same (chalk and cheese and all that), but I disagree. The film is just a new riff on the Alien-style science fiction monster movie. If it wasn’t filled with “Alien DNA” and directed by Ridley Scott then it would just be perceived as yet another Alien-clone. The Ridley Scott who made Alien knew that he was making a B-movie monster movie, while the Scott behind Prometheus (and those working for him) seems to believe that he’s making something grander – a 2001: A Space Odyssey style science fiction epic. However, under the sheen of a $150 million budget, the film is still a monster movie, albeit one with few scares and little originality.
The characters are wafer thin too; Rapace’s Shaw is given such a cack-handed back-story that it has to be shown to us in flashback; Theron’s Vickers has a last act twist that is totally redundant and adds nothing to the film, while the other characters are so unlikeable that you don’t have any sympathy whether they live or die. Except of course, Michael Fassbender. The Irish star is the best thing here, adding nuance to his role as David, and he brings humanity to the role, something that the other “human” characters fail to achieve. He’s the centre of the movie and the two minute sequence where he effectively recreates moments from Moon is the best part of the movie, a shame that it then descends into the usual science fiction clichés.
Scott tries to top John Hurt’s iconic “birthing” scene by giving one of the characters DIY abdominal surgery, a move which then goes on to imply that they have superhuman healing in the latter stages of the movie. Yes, it’s got tension, but it is one suspension of disbelief too far when this character is running about like a triathlete.
Special notice must also be given to Guy Pearce’s ludicrous (and wholly unnecessary) ageing make-up. There must be actors in their 60’s or 70’s who could play the role, without copious amounts of poorly applied latex. Presumably Anthony Hopkins was too busy, or the potential sequel will see Pearce take a larger (and more physical role). Speaking of a sequel, the film is set up for the continuing adventures of Noomi Rapace and portions of Michael Fassbender, in a nauseatingly contrived climax that steals lines and images from Peter Jackson’s early schlock masterpiece Bad Taste. And don’t even get me started on the final shot which shows us in an explicit nature that Prometheus is indeed an Alien prequel.
A failure on nearly every level – Prometheus is to the Alien franchise what The Phantom Menace was to Star Wars, only without the added bonus of lightsaber battles. It’s not quite a franchise low (Alien: Resurrection holds that honour) but it is pretty dismal. Actually change that to incredibly dismal.