Prometheus (2012) ★★★
Dir: Ridley Scott, USA, 123 mins
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Logan Marshall-Green, Idris Elba
Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien franchise after a 30 odd year hiatus has a lot riding on it after a rapid decline since his 1979 classic. Scott’s original, for me, still remains the scariest film ever made, a twist on the teen slasher movies such as Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980) but ratcheted up to severely testing nerve jangling limits with its body horror and claustrophobic, sweaty tension. James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) opted for the all out action blockbuster route and was no less effective in its own ballsy way whilst adding more meat to the creature evolution. David Fincher’s Alien 3 (1992) and Jean Pierre Jeunet’s Alien Resurrection (1997) remain intriguing failures more notable for both directors unique flair melded to a franchise machine compromised with studio interference. No comment needs to be passed on the nadir that represents the Alien vs Predator films.
Mystery has shrouded this film since its announcement with Scott distancing himself from direct prequel links. According to press quotes this was a companion piece with Alien DNA but the focus on terraforming. Nevertheless the well orchestrated trailers and viral campaign hinted that more than one strand of DNA was visible. A cursory knowledge of Greek mythology alone unveils the true hand in the title.
Set in 2089, archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) uncover a star map in the jagged terrain of the Isle of Skye identical to others found at numerous sites around the world. Backed by Weyland industries a team is recruited and set off onboard the ship of the title to the moon LV-223 to unravel the ever green philosophical conundrum of mankind’s origins.
A stunning elegiac opening with a waterfall backdrop sets up the premise beautifully conveying a science fiction grandeur of 2001 (1968) proportions. However, the films rhythm soon settles into Alien homage territory down to plot mechanics and stock characters. This is by no means a negative point as part of the fun to be had is through piecing together the origins of what we have experienced previously. It is aided by great production design, H R Giger back on board for the interior of the artificial structure the crew investigate. The ship itself is a wonder of design but like most prequels looks more advanced than what it supposedly predated. Up until the entry of the structure a growing sense of dread is palpable.
Unfortunately after this stage the film goes off the rails and plot holes appear at an alarming rate. It’s almost as if Scott felt he had to cater for the summer crowd (the final shot exemplifies this) and amped up the action. Character actions lack motivation or, worse, common sense. By jettisoning the taught atmosphere initially set the audience is made to jump through a series of illogical hoops to shoehorn in the origins plot. This central conceit that initially appeared so beguiling in its ambiguity consequently goes off the rails. This comes off like a cut and shut of a film with random action attempting to compensate a watered down horror element (although one scene is particularly squeamish in its execution). A directors cut would be an interesting quantity.
Performance wise Michael Fassbender as the robot David predictably steals the show. Obvious comparisons are with Ian Holm’s Ash but I felt that Fassbender’s portrayal held a closer link to the replicants of Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). David tries to understand what it means to be human, studying his crew mates and their emotional peaks and troughs through a icy, mannered demeanour. This character ultimately succumbs to the leaps of logic mentioned earlier but Fassbender makes the most out of what he has. Rapace is fine as the Ripley surrogate but is never allowed to go through any real transformation. She at least has more to work with than Theron who is purely in the film as a plot decoy. The remainder of the supporting cast is solid enough but do end up as ciphers once matters unravel.
Scott has claimed Prometheus could be the first part of a trilogy of prequels and despite my misgivings an exploration of this new branch of the Alien franchise would be a fascinating prospect. Perhaps this would enable him to elaborate on the potential high brow preoccupations he set himself here but stopped short on. Overall this is classier summer fare than most, atmospheric and as austere as the original to begin with but descending into the ridiculous after the halfway point.