The titan Prometheus had his liver pecked out every day by an eagle, though he didn’t have to wait 16 years for The Phantom Menace.
Ridley Scott resumes his own sci-fi career after a similar hiatus with this visually epic extra-terrestrial fable that shares more than DNA with Alien.
Prometheus isn’t an official prequel, Scott has been adamant about that and you can’t blame him when (Aliens and Alien 3 aside) the quality of the follow up movies to his 1979 space-horror has been so variable. But he won’t be able to avoid comparisons and the pressure of anticipation built up by one of the best marketing campaigns in years. Can he deliver? Yes, mostly. Mostly by design that is.
We’re in 2093 and the set-up looks much better than it reads. Scientist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) discovers some 35,000 year old cave paintings in the Isle of Skye which seem to support a theory that mankind has alien forefathers who could be our god-like progenitors. Luckily, she has a corporate paymaster in the form of Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) with a trillion dollars to spend on space exploration and an agenda of his own. So she joins her fellow scientist, Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), assorted crew members, company badass, Vickers (Charlize Theron), Captain Janek (Idris Elba) and the synthetic robot David (Michael Fassbender) on an exploratory trip to planet LV-223 to meet their makers.
Of course, as soon as you see a space crew with various members who aren’t played by famous actors you’re naturally waiting for their eviscerations. You won’t be disappointed. Nor you will be surprised to hear that the plot, even though it has been finessed by Lost script-writer Damon Lindelof, is basically ‘when organisms go bad’. What the production seems to be trying for is an epic fable which goes beyond the space-slasher. At times it gets there but the overall mythology is not as satisfying as the setup. There is your Lost connection folks.
Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty to enjoy and appreciate. The strong female characters, which have long been a feature of Ridley Scott’s catalogue since Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, come out well. Rapace is feisty and her character features in at least one humdinger of a scene. Charlize Theron’s Vickers is underwritten, but she portrays her tough as nails company honcho really well and she looks great; in that her physique is part of her characterisation.
For posterity though, it may well be Michael Fassbender’s David who steals the show. With his blonde rinse and slightly Hal-9000 intonation, he gives David an intensely creepy, original air. We know he is a robot and we know he’s a corporate creature, so followers of all Alien films will already suspect he knows more than his human crew mates and has dark designs. Let’s be honest though: Michael Fassbender has a visual appeal that the camera loves. His aesthetics could have been designed with the rest of the furnishings, cool space-helmets and sleek medical pods; all cheekbones and blue-eyes. Note the direct reference to an actor with similar characteristics (and voice) from the past.
The production design, by Arthur Max and cinematography, by Darius Wolski is as good as you would expect on a Ridley Scott show – and that is very good indeed, you get epic scale and wide-shots, brilliantly lit and realised. Psychoanalysis fans will also ponder the continuing influence of HR Giger with his creature designs that are often described as vaginal – analyse that!
Viewing it on an IMAX screen, I have to confess while the scale was great, I found the 3D slightly fuzzy. The was definite ghosting around titles and certain scenes. Strangely, the 3D effect seemed better on preview footage shown some weeks earlier. The film is visually gob-smacking enough that it may need a non-3D viewing to get the most out of it, especially with plenty of gloomy scenes not helped by the darkening effect of 3D glasses.
In the end how does Prometheus tally up after high expectations? It is a brilliantly designed, epic-feeling movie that has enough going for it to place it above many sequels, reboots and recent blockbusters. It is just a shame it falls short of greatness, with too many generic elements we’ve seen before despite the thrills and visuals along the way.
Coda: the ending hints at another story that could be intriguing.