Director: Ridley Scott
In Greek mythology, Prometheus was the man who stole the gift of fire from the gods in an attempt to bring man closer to their level. Zeus then punished him horribly for his treachery. By attempting to shed some light on the backstory of the Alien franchise, Ridley Scott is potentially playing with fire. He could get away with it, or he could incur the wrath of something more judgmental than the Greek gods: the fans. Not even The Dark Knight Rises has had as much hype about it as Prometheus. It is blessed and/or cursed by its association to Alien, a highpoint to which so few films manage to compare. Before it starts, Prometheus appears to be embarking on a fool’s errand.
Two big questions surround Prometheus. Firstly, is it really a prequel to Alien? Well, there is a definite connection. The story being told here revolves around the ‘Space Jockey’, the scaled elephantine creature first glimpsed by John Hurt on an extraterrestrial ship before he gets the universe’s worst bout of indigestion. Before we get to him/it, we join a mission to a distant planet funded by Weyland Industries, second only to Cyberdyne Systems in their scientific ambition and trustworthiness. On board the spacecraft Prometheus are a team investigating a possible link to early human civilization and this planet, headed by Doctors Shaw (Noomi Rapace and a cute accent) and Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green). Also on board are captain Janek (Idris Elba), company rep Vickers (Charlize Theron), android assistant David (Michael Fassbener) and an array of crew members all primed for shredding at the hands/mandibles of whatever they encounter. Once they arrive at their destination, it’s not long before things take a turn for the gooey, and we’re treated to scenes that ape clips from the original without making much of an impression on their own terms.
So, here’s question two: is it a story worth telling? Reflecting on both Alien and Aliens, one of the most striking things about both films is the simplicity of their stories. They can basically be summed up as “Thing attacks people in space”, followed by “Lots of things attack people in space”. Prometheus starts at philosophical meanderings on the origins of humankind, and only gets more complicated until things start attacking and all pretense goes out the airlock. Screenwriters Damon Lindelof (the poorly conceived Cowboys and Aliens) and Jon Spaihts (the abysmal The Darkest Hour) tack on way too much to this story. There’s enough going on here for two scripts, and squashing it all into just over two hours means the story feels rushed and unwieldy, with not a whole lot of scares on offer. It starts off with noble ambitions and just gets sillier as it goes on. Granted, not even Joss Whedon (He wrote Alien: Resurrection) could hack this franchise, but the lesson here is: less is more. There’s simply too much going on here and, come the end, fans may well be yearning for Sigourney Weaver to show up in the powerloader from Aliens and blast it into space. It doesn’t inflict anything like Resurrection’s newborn upon you (Well, not quite), but when one of only two developed characters is a robot, there’s clearly a problem.
All this said, for a poor story, it’s very well told. Ridley Scott returns to sci-fi for the first time in 30 years (Blade Runner being his last foray into the genre) to create an undeniably breathtaking visual treat. Darius Wolski’s cinematography is stunning, and the landscapes, both real and CGI look astounding. The Giger-informed sets are perfection, and Marc Streitenfeld’s score is appropriately triumphant. Meanwhile, the cast do their best with the slim characterizations the script gives them. Like in X-Men: First Class, Fassbender’s potentially duplicitous character steal the show with an eerie ease, looking and sounding like a cross between Peter O’Toole and Bowie pre-Ziggy Stardust. However, it’s not hard to steal a film when, once you get beyond the visuals, there’s not a whole lot left to steal.
Once the initial bluster and the slick trappings give way, Prometheus is not a very good film, pure and simple. It’s not for want of trying, though, and Scott and his cast exonerate themselves in fine style. They’re just let down by a portentous, silly script and some poor dialogue. Scott maintained he’d only return to the Alien franchise with the right script. Surely he can’t have meant this one.