Plot: The ship Prometheus lands on planet LV-223 in search of the answers to many of humanity’s biggest questions. What they find however, is something much more sinister; a secret alien race that threatens not only the members of Prometheus’ crew, but our entire world.
Thoughts: In 1979, Ridley Scott released his break-through sci-fi/horror masterpiece Alien; a moody and tension-ridden attack on the senses. Built upon the basis of a single crew encountering a single alien life force, the film became an almost instant classic, a landmark of science fiction cinema featuring some of the most memorable and terrifying scenes ever committed to celluloid. Scott followed this with the equally successful and legendary Blade Runner, another sci-fi tale on a bigger scale. Jump forward 30 years and this same man has seen his career dive and his respect dwindle, but could a return to the genre that proved his excellence initially be a way back to the top?
Prometheus was first noted as a prequel to Alien, before being taken down a notch to simply “sharing much of the same DNA” as Scott’s early masterwork. Whether this was noted simply to secure the masses of funding required will never be told, but what is clear is that there is a stable connection to the original Alien film here. But not in terms of quality.
With Prometheus, Scott takes the original premise of Alien and expands his horizons greatly, not only tripling the crew but also the set-sizes and the budget. It’s a large-scale, fantastically envisioned science fiction film through and through. Clunky cooling decks are replaced with plush open bridges, claustrophobic air vents are swapped for giant loading bays and the dank enclosing caverns are blown into gigantic tombs. True, this generates a great deal more scope for tremendous action-heavy set-pieces, but in doing so ultimately loses any sense of consistent fear or creeping closeness.
Instead of revving up the tension and stalking our well-groomed characters through their hellish journey, Scott attempts to widen his purview and answer enormous questions concerning the genesis of human life. Although an interesting direction to take, it falls flat by the simple fact that he just can’t decide where he’s going with it. Former Lost scribe Damon Lindelof bats the action back and forth between 2 rather tiring locations, attempting to question humanity and at the same time, play homage to Scott’s earlier masterpiece, creating an unforgiving mess as neither are handled particularly well.
The action sequences, although often shocking and at least once, disturbing, happen suddenly and without tension, creating short sharp scares but too infrequently to strike any lingering fear. The twisting plot takes many different turns, many often predictably dull and underwhelming and many others not leading anywhere at all. Random events occur, they dazzle, but they have no lasting effect on the tale as a whole, leaving a disappointing and underwhelming taste in the mouth.
Despite its plot-based flaws, Prometheus is very much a movie with style, utilising the latest technology to create a truly immersive and beautifully conceptualized future world. The 3D is handled with expert precision, not always being entirely necessary but lending a hand to the sheer scale and spectacle of the piece. Scott takes advantage of every new gadget the genre has to offer, not always finding the correct tone however. The film’s main antagonists, a collection of unknown alien life-forms, often appear un-menacing; their uncreative and rather bald exteriors never seeming to ignite the much needed flame of fear which Scott longs for so much.
The cast making up the crew of the good ship Prometheus are by far the most praise-worthy aspect of the film. Michael Fassbender truly steals the show as android David, an entire hidden world of broken feelings surfacing with the slightest hint of creepy to ensure his role is played to perfection. Idris Elba chews every bit of scenery in touching distance as Captain Janek and the delightful Rafe Spall holds his own rather marvelously amongst the Hollywood crowd.
Much of Scott’s direction appears however to be geared towards Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw, his Ripley-substitute and main protagonist. Although feisty and perfectly capable of carrying the story alone, Rapace buckles under the weight of the superior talent around her; her performance perfectly suited for the character, but lacking any explosive or intriguing traits. But the most disabling misuse of the film comes from the role of the really rather talented Guy Pearce. A well established leading man, Pearce finds himself relegated to an extended cameo as Peter Weyland, the aging and greedy ship owner. Unfortunately, instead of utilising Pearce’s flexible range, Scott cakes him in poorly conceived old-man prosthetics leading to a few almost laughable exchanges and reducing the menace of the picture even further.
Overall, Prometheus is a disappointing case of style over substance. Ridley Scott attempts to recreate the bone-chilling tension of his early classic Alien but on a larger scale, failing to capture any sense of dread or logical understanding of events. The plot slops from one occurrence to the next and with simply too many characters to hold on to, the film collapses under the weight of Scott and Lindelof’s mistakes. Visually mesmerizing but lacking the intelligent and affecting execution it deserves.