Seems you can’t turn a figurative corner on the ‘Net without some tiresome prick shoving their own little thoughts on Ridley Scott’s latest in your face. Since when did having a keyboard and an broadband connection automatically make you a film critic? It’s sort of sad, really.
Say, do you want to know what I thought of that new and exciting film Prometheus, currently showing in cinemas? Also, SPOILERS abound. It’s hard to discuss the film whilst dancing around what specifically makes it good or bad. I’ll try not to spoil much, but if you want to go in blind, don’t read past this point.
(Coy little aside: I saw Prometheus in IMAX 3D and I felt it was worth every extra penny. Visually, the film is a stunner and seeing on a gargantuan screen truly enhanced the experience. If you can check it out in IMAX, do so. It’ll blow your eyes out of your arse.)
It’s undeniably an exciting thing to have Sir Ridders return to a genre he has mastered not once, but twice. Okay, maybe saying “mastered” is a bit strong, but both Alien and Blade Runner are stonking classics and, to my mind at least, show how diverse and interesting the sci-fi genre can be. To tell you the truth, I’ve struggled with reviewing Prometheus and have been putting it off for about two weeks now. I liked it, but there were just too many things holding it back for it to be the unmitigated success I wanted it to be. The frustrating thing was, I couldn’t nail down and articulate what most of these problems were which, as you can imagine, is a big problem for a reviewer. As the Facehugger’s out of the bag as to whether or not the film is an Alien prequel, I decided to rewatch Alien to remind myself of the mythos that was being expanded upon. They’re different beasts and it’s not exactly a fair comparison, but, in keeping with one of the major themes in Prometheus, it’s important to know where you came from.
“Big things have small beginnings.”
After finding a common celestial pattern in ancient cave paintings and tablets, a team of scientists, lead by Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and the crew of the starship Prometheus, including android David (Michael Fassbender) travel to the indicated star system to try and discover who created the human race and answer some of humanity’s biggest questions. Naturally, spacetits go up and soon the crew are meeting their makers in the more euphemistic sense. I really dug some the ideas Prometheus plays with. To meet our makers and to have them reject us is a genuinely scary thought. As for the cast, Noomi Rapace was great as the proto-Ripley, Elizabeth Shaw. She wasn’t the tough, action heroine I expected her to be, but she wasn’t a scream queen either. I thought the distractingly beautiful Charlize Theron was great as ice-queen boss, Meredith Vickers, although maybe this says more about me, but I found most of her “evil” decisions to be actually sound, especially (invisotext) her decision to torch Holloway, doing something that no person in the Alien franchise has thought to do- realising that bringing weird alien shit and/or infected crew members onboard your ship is a bad idea. However, the scene-stealer extraordinaire is Michael Fassbender’s David who effortlessly diverts any attention paid to the cast onto him. He’s the logical Bishop kind of android as seen in Aliens and the character we probably spend the most time with. Watching him go around the ship on his own, riding a bike and playing basketball (at the same time!) and especially observing him dying his hair and modifying his speech based on Peter O’Toole’s performance in Lawrence of Arabia is joyful. Prometheus goes for the same slow start that Alien did and it pays off.
Let’s start with the good. There’s a lot to like on display here. The film has truly amazing visuals and the sets and effects are astounding. Ridley Scott is known for creating grounded worlds and locales for his characters to move around in and this film doesn’t sully that reputation. Everything feels real and lived in, however fantastical. The much promoted set of the massive Olmec-style head and strange oozing containers in particular is incredible. Despite it being on every poster and in every trailer, I still felt a chill go up my spine and a bit of terrified urine go down my leg when the crew ill-advisedly entered the chamber. It’s nice that Prometheus keeps some of the Alien themes running too, one of which leads to the best (and most squirm-inducing) scene in the film where Dr. Shaw learns the true meaning of the old adage “be careful what you wish for.” Plus, I loved the designs of the creatures, with genital-obsessed H.R. Giger (apparently pronounced Gee-ger, not as in the radiation measuring thing) being roped in to add to the universe’s roster of terrifying bastards. Plus, there’s some fantastic attention to detail, including the Weyland logo being part of David’s fingerprint in a close-up on the tip of his finger.
As for the bad, well, I wanted it to be scarier than this. Alien
is a masterclass in atmosphere building and ratcheting the tension up ’til you can’t stands no more. After the promising slow and thoughtful David-heavy intro, it soon devolves in the most generic scares possible. The main failing was that fact that I didn’t really care for the crew. Basic horror rules state that in order for a scare to be at all satisfactory, there needs to be an emotional resonance with the characters. Even if you hate their guts and you’re willing the stupid jock douchebag to get stabbed eight ways from Sunday, it’s still an emotional response. You are reacting to the film and, as a result, are more invested in it. Apart from a couple of broadly painted walking stereotypes, Prometheus
didn’t have anything like that. Except for Dr. Shaw (and David, obviously), these people didn’t feel real. To compare it to Alien
once again, the crew of the Nostromo were talking about getting paid and what was for dinner. Everyone in Prometheus
feels like they’re reading from an Alpha course leaflet- constantly asking each other “the big questions”. Yes, the Nostromo was a commercial towing ship and this is a scientific discovery mission and would therefore by inhabited by very different types of people, but still, a bit of humanity would have gone a long way. All of this not helped in the slightest by an intrusively stupid orchestral score that feels the need to underline every jump scare with a string screech and every plot revelation with a echoing, booming drum thud, as if saying: “You get that? Didya see that? Did ya, eh?!”. If the score was a person, it wouldn’t be invited to many parties. Maybe Prometheus
was never the sci-fi horror spectacular I’d built up to be in my head, but it was a letdown all the same.
Prometheus ends up asking more questions than it answers. I’m all for mystery and the fact that they’re keeping some plot things vague at the moment is promising. However, with the high probability of this having a sequel, it would be naïve to think they’re not holding back some things for the second (and possibly third) instalments. There are even questions to be asked of the film itself, like why did they slather Guy Pearce in ageing makeup when they could have simply cast an old man? (Having said that, the viral video Weyland TED talk is superb) Why does Idris Elba have the worst Southern ‘Merican drawl possible when he fucking nailed the Baltimore accent in HBO’s The Wire? I suppose my biggest question is whether the Xenomorph origins needed to be explored at all. Still, no use crying over spilled acid blood. At least they haven’t categorically fucked them up. Yet.
“A king has his reign, and then he dies. It’s inevitable.”
Prometheus is a decent watch. As I said, it’s got incredible visuals and a strong cast. Whilst it may be hitting above its weight in terms of themes and ideas, it’s still bloody entertaining. This isn’t the kick-ass return to form for the Alien series that people like me (read: NERDS) were hoping for, but it’s not the disaster many of us were bracing for either. I know this isn’t saying much, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the Alien Vs. Predator films and one of its biggest successes is rendering those cinematic holocausts uncanonical. It’s a good film, I just wish it hadn’t made so many basic errors. In terms of a rating, it’s like a 3.5 out of 5. Thing is I don’t do half measures here at the ol’ PB and it’s just not quite good enough to be a 4. So, it’s an average 3 star rating with the caveat that it’s better than that may imply. Go and see it if you haven’t already.