I had planned to try and actively avoid this review being in the form “Prometheus drives a car like this, but Alien drove a car like that”, but they’re not making it easy.
Ridley Scott’s vague talk of this film having “Alien DNA” seems unnecessary in the light of what is definitively an Alien prequel, and largely follows the story beats of its relative.
Alien is one of my favourite films, and after a long descent through Resurrection to the awful, awful depths of Alien vs. Predator, the prospect of Ridley Scott dusting off his double mouth and giant penis-head and saying “no, THIS is how you do it” was exciting. Could it live up to the weight of expectation? Didn’t have much of a chance, really, but even trying to take it on its own merits, I have to say it was overall pretty disappointing.
The plot of Prometheus is about the search for the aliens that created humankind. Signs are found on Earth that point to a possible planet of origin, and a crew of seventeen are packed in for two years’ hypersleep and shipped off to investigate. They land on the planet (which is briefly identified as LV-233), and begin to explore the structures they find.
Firstly, in IMAX 3D, Prometheus looks amazing. Particularly in large, expansive environments and cavernous structures, of which there are many. I wouldn’t weep if 3D were to quietly go away take its surcharges with it, but here it’s definitely worthwhile.
The early exploration scenes were the kind of thing I was hoping for, the sense of being very far from home, walking into the complete unknown and finding all manner of weird and terrifying things. But from there it gets a scattered and the atmosphere sags. The ship’s crew is too big – more than double the seven in Alien, so there’s not enough time for any of the peripherals to get fleshed out and be anything other than fodder. Of the major characters, Michael Fassbender’s synthetic human David was great, Noomi Rapace successfully displayed the widest range of emotions required of anyone, and I always have time for Idris Elba (someday he’ll get to play a Londoner). Logan Marshall-Green, whom you may recognise as looking a lot like Tom Hardy, annoyed me. He was too loud and fratboy-ish, and looked too much more like a model or movie star than a credible regular human scientist-type person. I haven’t mentioned Charlize Theron because she didn’t do anything.
A big problem I had with the story was that all the major events were cut off from each other, and it seemed like nobody talked about what was going on. Deaths, life-changing things will happen but everyone will just shrug it off and go where the story needs them to. Fans of Lost will be familiar with this, and won’t be surprised to see Damon Lindelof taking half the writing credit.
I’m inclined to exclude Noomi Rapace’s character from that criticism, though, it seemed at times that she was the only one freaking out to an acceptable level and wondering why everyone else was so calm. The film felt like several smaller episodes with a regular climax, so that when the eventual real ending comes, it’s over before the audience have really had a chance to gear up for it, and there’s little to distinguish it from what came before.
There are a lot of structural and plot similarities with Alien, and the more I think about it, the more things I come up with that were major story points in both. Thematically, though, it’s pretty different. Alien was a haunted house in space, Prometheus is aiming for big questions of what it means to be human. But it’s doing it through wondering, if an alien race created us, why did they do it, and what does that mean for our myths and faiths? It’s kind of an odd thing to make your theme, because I’m struggling to find a relevant parallel in reality to latch on to. I suppose it could be about how even if you found out the big answers, they may not be satisfying, as spelled out by robot David’s conversation to the tune of “you guys made me for no particular reason”.
I plan to see Prometheus again, probably soon, to try and separate it from the buildup and hype, but my first impression is distinctly average. It’s definitely ambitious, and it’s good to see some proper credible sci-fi, but it doesn’t have the story or characters to sustain it.
It’s not a good sign that Prometheus raised a lot of questions that I’m not that bothered about getting answers to.