Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Jon Spaihts & Damon Lindelof
Starring Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron & Michael Fassbender
When Prometheus begins and the camera roves across vast beautiful landscapes, there is a promise given to the audience; the promise of Ridley Scott’s (and Alien’s) original cinematic power. The stunning visuals are the first thing one notices, and they are vibrantly consistent throughout. There is always some luscious piece of sci-fi eye candy, from the first glimpse of the ominous stone head, the intricate and organic interiors of The Engineer ship, to the amazingly detailed yet vastly complex star maps and holograms. Colours, images and the sheer fluidity of the effects really do stun and stick in the memory.
But is it enough? A simple google search yields much disdain, even revulsion for Prometheus. I think this stems from the film’s ardent desire to match up to its Oscar-winning relatives. Originally a direct prequel, Scott’s desire to turn in a new direction is commendable, especially after the silliness of the AVP offshoot. Although it is not a direct prequel, it still lives in Alien’s world. For a fan of the original, the film contains some fun (and at times even obvious) echoes and references. Fans will smirk at the revelation of the seemingly superfluous Space Jockey (now the much slicker ‘Engineer’) from Alien’s scene of sinister mystery. Fans will even be aware of strong links from the beginning, as the ship’s details are thrown onscreen in the exact format as the Nostromo’s.
For a non-Alien fan the film therefore may be a little disorientating. The film is apparently its own but the fulcrum upon which it spins is undoubtedly Alien. The final scene, for example, is a brutal, extraterrestrial, biological, gut-ripping slime-fest; a hard xenomorphic slap in the face. For a viewer unaware of the xenomorph’s parasitic characteristic, it definitely adds another bafflement to the pile they are already dealing with.
Movies of course need their twists, their turns, their moments of epiphany. Prometheus however, was too safe, too predictable. It is perhaps a paradigm symptomatic of sci-fi’s well-mined generic quarry. Perhaps too it is also an indication of Scott’s reluctance to let the franchise go. Meredith VIckers, bitch-in-chief of the Prometheus, tells a dying Weyland that a ‘king has his reign, and then he dies. it’s inevitable.’ I could not help but apply this phrase to Prometheus, and perhaps too to the whole sprawling franchise. Perhaps like Weyland, Scott is hanging onto something that should have been buried a long time ago. Not that he couldn’t have possibly created anything that didn’t match up to Alien’s calibre, but there’s that ‘quit while you’re ahead’ attitude which seems to typify many venerated forms of entertainment, especially those with a British source. I can’t excuse Prometheus from its own tiredness.
Another aspect marred by both this tiredness and the desire to fit Alien’s template is the tepid characterisation. A heady mix promises the dynamism and electricity of Alien’s original cast. There’s something about Prometheus’ crew that I can’t quite put my finger on. The cool android with a ulterior motive. The apparently infallible female lead we know will survive. The sacrificial captain. We’ve seen them all before. I think mostly everyone is capable of predicting each character’s course throughout the film. The film’s mesmerizing visuals push these thinly veiled cliches even further offstage. It’s a shame.
On the other hand, Michael Fassbender’s performance is a small saving grace. His acting is marvelously precise. He pulls off the emotionlessness of a machine. He also evokes at the same time a sinister side and an intense fragility, brought about by the human crew’s prejudice against him. These two things are held in balance just under the surface of that emotionlessness. Fassbender pulls off a complex task; he is a man playing a robot who desperately wants to be a man (and a son), simultaneously aware of this painful impossibility.
Prometheus is nice. It’s a good enough romp through space with admittedly beautiful special effects and hypnotic set designs and costumes. Fassbender adds a dimension to the otherwise flat script. There is a sense that the film could’ve been so much more (dare I say) if it was its own completely. Cutting the umbilical that links it to Alien completely may be a shock move for some fans who have been seeking answers since 1979. I think it would open up some entirely fresh new ground in which to play with the film’s central theme. After all, the question of ‘who made us? Why?’ could not be more fascinating. It is one of life’s ultimate questions. But Prometheus is not quite there. It’s nice. I want it to be better, but I can’t deny that it felt like it slid rather languidly out of something rather than burst through the genre’s chest.