Prometheus has managed to cultivate that kind of legendary cult following that movie studios dream of. During the lead up to its release, fans have been blogging, twittering, guessing and criticising, eating up all the manufactured pieces of viral marketing as they go. But as I watched Prometheus, I found it rather easy to forget all the furious money-driven buzz about it. It stands up in its own right as a curious, philosophical, strangely beautiful science fiction film.
There are major disagreements about whether or not Prometheus is a prequel to the 1979 film Alien. Ridley Scott, the director of the first and, in my opinion, the best, film in the Alien series, has returned to helm this project. Many people – critics and fans – are referring to Prometheus as a prequel to the series, but today, in an interview on BBC Radio 5, Scott said the film is ‘absolutely not’ a prequel. People will no doubt be debating this point for years to come. Audience members who have not seen any of the previous Alien pictures will not be at too much of a disadvantage (although they won’t get the joy of noticing the nods to the films that this is ‘absolutely not’ a prequel to).
Prometheus is very different in tone and style to Alien, but there is still a palpable sense of awe and wonder that is reminiscent of that film. Scott opens the film with a strange sequence that I will not attempt to explain in case I spoil its strange, powerful effect. What I can give is a basic outline of the plot. A crew of scientists and archaeologists travel to another planet. These include Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green), partners in both work and romance. They have hopes of discovering the creators of mankind.
The rest of the human members of crew are a rather forgettable bunch (save for Charlize Theron as the stern face of the corporation sponsoring the expedition). The most interesting member of the crew is not a human, but a robot, played by Michael Fassbender. David is an android with a posh voice and blonde hair. He is more than a little menacing. The role will be understandably compared to Ian Holm’s character in Alien, although the two performances are very different. There is something oddly beguiling – maybe, if I dare be so crass, downright sexy – about Fassbender’s android.
When their spaceship (named ‘Prometheus’) arrives at their destination, the explorers discover more than they bargained for. This leads to creature effects that will have you writhing in your seat, as well as a scene of hurried surgery that is genuinely disturbing.
In terms of visual style, the film is a work of art. Scott and his cinematographer Dariusz Wolski give the film a look that is evocative of some of the darker, more mysterious landscape paintings of the Barbizon movement. Greens and greys combine to make a mystical, unforgettable atmosphere.
The thing that lets the film down is the script. It isn’t brilliant. It’s not Avatar-bad, but there are lines that sound a little James Cameron-esque. Characters state the obvious too often or explain what they are doing while they are doing it and explain what is happening while it is happening. It isn’t helpful, it’s just annoying.
But although the screenplay could do with a good edit, there is much to relish here. With Alien, Scott made a magnificent masterpiece – a horror film that really demonstrated the power of suspense. This work has more scope when it comes to the big questions about life, the universe, and everything, but less of the never-shredding tension. There are frightening scenes, but it feels like Scott is trying to have a calmer, more philosophical conversation with his audience. As the film ends, it is clear this conversation is far from over. Prometheus is imperfect, but it is still an intriguing, dazzling piece of filmmaking, and one of the most interesting science fiction movie cinema has seen in a long while.
Prometheus (2012), directed by Ridley Scott, is distributed in the UK by Twentieth Century Fox, Certificate 15.