By Marty Mulrooney
Prometheus is a science fiction film directed by iconic English film director and producer Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Gladiator). The film serves as a loose prequel to his 1979 sci-fi horror classic Alien, taking place in the same universe whilst exploring new themes and grander ideas. At the end of the 21st century, a team of scientists travel on the spaceship Prometheus to a distant planet in search of the ‘Engineers’ who created mankind and all life on earth.
When the director of Alien and Blade Runner returns to the genre that arguably defined him, audience expectations skyrocket – it’s inevitable. Prometheus marks Ridley Scott’s long anticipated return to the science fiction genre and it’s crystal clear from the outset that no expense has been spared, no part of his vision compromised. A mysterious opening that hints at the birth of man soon jumps forward to 2089, introducing us to archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green). They discover an ancient cave painting in Scotland, one of many they have found depicted by various cultures around the world, that all have one thing in common – they depict a star map. Or, as Shaw describes it, an invitation.
In 2093, onboard the spaceship Prometheus to undertake a mission funded by Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, appearing in prosthetics and make-up), the deceased founder of the Weyland Corporation, the archaeologists arrive with a team of experts on the moon LV-223. They are awoken from their cryosleep by David (Michael Fassbender), an android designed to be almost indistinguishable from humans. Their goal is to find the so-called ‘Engineers’ who created them, but mission director Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) makes it perfectly clear from the outset that the Weyland Corporation is running the show – direct contact is to be avoided at all costs.
Shaw, Holloway and David are joined by botanist Milburn (Rafe Spall) and geologist Fifield (Sean Harris) as they venture within a nearby maze-like structure. Inside, they discover a towering monolithic statue of a humanoid head, overlooking numerous stone cylinders that contain a dark black liquid. They also discover a huge, decapitated body… but to say more would be to reveal too much. The original Alien depicted a huge, fossilised alien pilot now affectionately referred to by fans as the ‘space-jockey’. It created a memorable and mysterious image that no other director who tackled the franchise seemed to care about or remember – Ridley Scott takes this iconic image, over 30 years later, and runs with it.
Scott commented numerous times prior to its release how Prometheus shares strands of Alien’s DNA but remains very much its own film. As a result, those expecting to see xenomorphs running around will be extremely disappointed. Instead, Prometheus tells an entirely separate story that nonetheless has some concrete links to the original Alien for observant fans – it also comes complete with its own aliens and creatures of menace that, whilst not quite as nightmarish as H. R. Giger’s original designs, still manage to retain some of his dark flavour despite the move from costumes and puppetry to CGI. The story – where we came from and what it is to be human – is in fact more closely aligned with Blade Runner than Alien.
Unfortunately, although the plot itself is fairly engaging, the script often struggles to support it. Characters act stupidly at times to push the story forward and the dialogue is forgettable. As a result, despite some standout performances – particularly from Michael Fassbender as the eerie android David – the characters quickly become forgettable too. Names don’t stick and there isn’t any real sparkle or interplay between the actors. Idris Elba as Janek, the ship’s captain, is a talented actor – his flirtations with Charlize Theron are certainly fun to watch. Yet it seems forced when he suddenly becomes a vessel for exposition during a scene with Noomi Rapace later on.
Thankfully, Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw delivers. She isn’t Ripley, but she doesn’t try to be and this is the key to the success of her character. Speaking flawless English (the Swedish actress originally found fame as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), she endures some truly horrific ordeals and remains standing, albeit shakily, as those around her begin to fall. A scene involving an automated surgery table is undoubtedly the moment where Rapace delivers most, a brief instance of inspiration and shock-horror that is sadly missing from the rest of the film. This one scene is so effective that it betrays all that came before it and all that will follow – on the whole, Prometheus lacks genuine build-up, heart-pounding excitement and sweaty-palmed terror. It looks incredible, the acting is serviceable and the story remains interesting throughout – but it just doesn’t live up to the hype. In all honesty, it never could.
Prometheus isn’t a bad film at all. It certainly surpasses Alien 3, Alien Resurrection and the Alien vs. Predator films. The weight of expectation does drag it down, but those with an open mind – and perhaps newcomers to the universe of Alien – will find much to enjoy. It must be remembered that both Alien and Blade Runner were met by critics with lukewarm receptions upon release – they are now considered classics of the genre. Prometheus answers some questions, poses many more and is obviously positioned to be followed by a sequel. Only time will tell if it ages into a classic or a misstep, but it’s certainly worth watching, if only to see Ridley Scott realising sequences on screen that would have been impossible in 1979. If Prometheus is a failure, then it’s certainly an enjoyable one.
8 OUT OF 10