I’m not a fan of the Alien films, nor am I particularly fond of their director, the venerable Sir Ridley Scott, knight of the realm and director of the eclectic likes of Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise and G.I. Jane (although one must admit to holding something of a candle for his recent Robin Hood project, as unusual as it was). I’ve been vocally critical of the overt and testing marketing campaign for his latest film too, with new trailers and featurettes popping up on a near daily basis for the past few months, and refused to partake in such cynical ploys as referring to official studio-sanctioned twitter #tags whenever referring to the film. So, it’s with perhaps the greatest of surprises that Prometheus really impresses, in spite of a number of problems.
It’s appropriate that one of the first things we see on screen is a reference to Frank Herbert’s Dune (via the title card of one of the production companies, Dune Entertainment). It’s doubly apt that the opening bars of Marc Streitenfeld’s score recalls the iconic theme tune to Star Trek – The Motion Picture by Jerry Goldsmith, as Prometheus is a feature more closely tied in tone to those two films than anything that’s previously been put out under the Alien franchise prefix. An opening prologue, which brings to mind the cosmic epiphany of Terrence Malick’s Tree Of Life (a film that makes for a surprisingly apt companion to the Scott movie, given both are essentially musings on the birth and death of life, and where we came from and where we wind up) is beautifully executed, and makes for an awe-inspiring introduction in to the world Scott is presenting. The alien planet of LV-223 convinces for the most part actually, with a legitimate sense of wonder accompanying many of its revelations.
The film itself tells of a mission to the aforementioned alien planet of LV-223 (and not, notably, the alien planet of LV-426), in which a merry and diverse band of scientist-types head out to try and uncover the meaning of existence. With predictable results. Chaos ensues, as our protagonists begin to uncover the truth about the origins of mankind.
The love story at the heart of Prometheus has echoes of The Bride Of Frankenstein, with a conventional love story being the emotional barometer as everything descends in to chaos. The scripting is flawed, but it’s difficult to be especially critical about that aspect given that Prometheus is primarily a visual work, with the underlying structure little more than an outline for some pretty interesting and at times outright bonkers ideas. Lear and Darwinism form part of the films framework, with grand notions and dramatic tragedy. Nazism pops up too, with the “perfect” android of David, complete with blonde hair, blue eyes and the Weyland logo bringing to mind the Nazi eagle swastika badge, and talk of holocaust to boot. A self-administered cyber abortion makes for an interesting thing to see in a summer movie too.
The second act of the film is problematic though, with the film essentially falling in to a lull for a period of time. A subplot lamenting one characters inability to have children feels shoe-horned in and heavy-handed and included solely to maintain the series’ pregnancy subtext, while some awful stoner humour raises its head too. As mentioned before, the script does have problems, plot-holes and unanswered questions, but that wasn’t too much of an issue for us (what can I say, I’m a fan of Lost). One thing that did baffle though was the placement of an artificially aged Guy Pearce in the film. There’s absolutely no need for Pearce and his dodgy prosthetics to be in there, given that he only appears as an old man, although one might presume that the younger Pearce featured in footage that didn’t make the final cut of the film (while Scott claims this cut of the film is his “directors cut” one cant help but imagine that an extended edition DVD will eventually see the light of day). The cast in general is largely unlikeable, although Michael Fassbender is great and Noomi Rapace isn’t too bad either. The rest of the gang are just type-vessels though, and invisible if anything. What is really unusual about Prometheus is that many of its parts are actually quite flawed; yet somehow it all seems to merge together to great effect.
As an Alien property it doesn’t make much sense. Any connections to the 1979 film feel tacked on and almost inappropriate (in a way it feels like Scott has used the Alien brand name as an excuse to make a really interesting, weird science fiction film). As a piece of science-fiction Prometheus has much more in common with Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind or Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy than any film with an Alien title. There are a number of visual connectives to the earlier film, but these serve little more than to confuse, and while it’s somewhat apt that a film about DNA can be best summed up as sharing that particular nucleic acid with it’s mooted counterpart, its not a particularly satisfying connection.
Alas, one would rather see a filmmaker like Ridley Scott, the archetypical workman auteur try his hand at something ambitious like this than Alien 1.5, which is seemingly what many had hoped for and expected. The Prometheus approach certainly beats the typical merchandise driven, happy meal hawking summer flick, and ought to be applauded for doing so.