A decent science fiction film, weighed down by expectation. Disappointing, but not a disaster.
Prometheus is easily one of the most anticipated films of the year, heralding the return of Ridley Scott to the sci-fi genre he had been so successful in with both Blade Runner and his seminal Alien. Pitched as sharing the same “DNA” as the 1979 classic, the film was soon revealed to be a prequel to the beloved series. A relentless, aggressive marketing campaign insisted on heavy spoilers, and threatened to derail the film from the word go, but ultimately Prometheus struggles with far bigger flaws than this.
Set in the year 2093, we follow a scientific expedition, dispatched by billionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and led by Doctors Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green). Their mission is to make contact with ancient aliens who have left clues in cave paintings on Earth, and accompanied by android David (Michael Fassbender), the crew of the science ship Prometheus touch down on a distant moon to attempt to make contact.
It’s easy to say that Prometheus is a disappointment, especially given the amount of hype that has been thrust at us over the last year or so, but the real shame is that this film is simply flawed from the ground up. Fingers have to be pointed at the script, by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, which provides a very shaky foundation on which the director and cast must work. There are fundamental problems with the script, which includes bizarre, pointless half-twists with no relevance to the story, and in true Lindelof style, answers questions with yet more questions, in the most frustrating manner possible. Eschewing characters (the line “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to make money” nearly drew an audible groan) in favour of positing grandiose questions about creation, Prometheus takes an intriguing angle, but fails to use it intelligently enough to be a total success. Themes of this magnitude could have been explored so much more effectively by fleshing out the characters beyond two leads (Rapace and Fassbender) a decent supporting role (Idris Elba as the ship’s captain), and an assortment of glorified redshirts, but the lack of characterization here gives way to shoddy dialogue, and shameful exposition that just hurries the story along, rather than taking the ideas anywhere.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking on the lofty ideas that Prometheus does, but the pacing of this film is simply all wrong for it. The whole thing shoots along at such a speed that we are barely introduced to any characters, and is far too impatient for its own good – another 30-40 minutes would not have been unwelcome, as so much of the buildup feels rushed. Early on, it does show hints of the tension that made the original Alien great, but the action flits between the two settings of the ship and the alien structure so often that it struggles to really build on it. It’s a real shame, because both of these settings are excellent – the sci-fi stylings of the Prometheus are first-class, taking inspiration from the work of Ron Cobb, whose excellent work on the original Alien never quite made the headlines that H.R Giger’s did. The Giger-inspired interiors the crew encounter when exploring are also superb, rooting the film clearly in the world of the original film.
But herein lies the problem – Prometheus is a wonderfully designed, visually spectacular piece of science fiction, massively troubled under the weight of expectation. The film does itself no favours in this regard, nailing its Alien colours to the mast frequently, and positioning itself very clearly as an entry in that franchise. There are two standout scenes in the film which capture the spirit of the franchise perfectly – the initial exploration of the mysterious structure, and a memorable solo sequence featuring Rapace and a medi-pod that really nails the claustrophobic terror we were hoping for. Apart from these, however, the film really does just feel like somebody else attempting to remake Scott’s Alien. In insisting on positioning itself against the earlier film, it does pay service to the fans by briefly addressing some of the established tropes – a few flashes of psychosexual themes are provided, and the character of David gives a great angle on the returning idea of creations and creators. Unfortunately, the hardcore fans will be lost by the third act, which devolves into events which I suspect some may have a hard time accepting as canon.
David is the bright spark of the entire movie, with Fassbender’s studied performance making him the most interesting character on display. A few early exchanges hint at the relationship between androids and humans to great effect, and his is truly the most compelling story here. Rapace makes a good lead, encapsulating the themes of the film neatly in her scientist/ believer role, handling the quieter moments and intense physical scenes with equal aplomb. Elba gives a strong supporting turn as the captain Janek, and Charlize Theron livens up scenes as an icy corporate suit, whose character or motivations are sadly never fully explored.
It is important to say that there is a lot to like about Prometheus – it never once gets boring, and thematically at least is a logical continuation of the franchise. The visuals deserve praise, looking absolutely spectacular at times, drawing on a superbly designed universe and throwing up some truly memorable settings. The 3D work is effective enough, although it becomes a tradeoff against the usual brightness loss, which occasionally hampers what is intentionally dark cinematography.
Prometheus, then, is an enjoyable enough sci-fi movie, which sadly cracks under the pressure of its associations. Addressing questions that were really better left unanswered, it is a real shame that the script couldn’t give a solid narrative base for the outstanding production design. A disappointment, then, but not a complete disaster, Prometheus was always going to have a hard time being the film it, and we, wanted to be.