June 1, 2012 1 Comment
Having discovered a recurring motif in works from ancient, unrelated civilisations spread all over the planet (Egyptian, Mesopotamian and, in a sound-bite present in the trailer but absent from the film, cave paintings from France), Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) interprets her findings as an interplanetary invitation and, with funding from the Wayland Corporation, charts a course for the corresponding star system in search for answers. Along with fellow crew members Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green), Janek (Idris Elba), Milburn (Rafe Spall), David (Michael Fassbender) and corporate representative Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), Shaw finds herself fighting to protect – rather than enlighten – the rest of the human race.
Originally announced as a prequel to his claustrophobic 1979 classic, Alien, director Ridley Scott has spent much of the intervening years denying that this is in fact the case, having worked with Lost’s Damon Lindelof to deviate from the original script. Revealing that despite some common ground and a wider shared universe Prometheus would in fact be very much its own beast, Scott was nevertheless hounded by questions pertaining to just what these commonalities might be.
There are moments throughout the resultant film in which you can’t help but wonder how much was reinstated as a response to fanboy furore, for there is somewhat of an identity crisis at the heart – or is that chest cavity – of Prometheus, as it battles to remain independent of the extant series whilst simultaneously anchoring itself irrefutably to what has come before. It’s a shame, really; because Prometheus is at its best when it is exploring new territory, pandering to no-one but Scott’s new, revised mission statement.
The problem with any movie hyped to this level is that it starts to become more than just a film. Through aggressive marketing that targeted existing fans and a series of viral campaigns that sought to introduce certain characters, many viewers had arranged the released footage into their own, preferred version of the movie long before it was due for release in cinemas. From its breathtaking opening moments – showcasing epic, sprawling vistas and churning, rampaging rivers – Scott has his audience on the back foot, asking questions when many believed that he would in fact be answering them. After all, he is not out to tell your story, he’s out to tell his.
While precedent might tip Noomie Rapace as the film’s likely lead, her remarkable survivor instincts no doubt putting her in good stead to impress as the film’s heroine, Prometheus finds a natural centre in Michael Fassbender’s ambiguous android. A butler-come-translator in the vein of C3P0, David is microcosmic of Ridley Scott’s search for answers: a daring, fearless pioneer of dubious motivation. It’s an extraordinary performance, and one that elevates every scene he’s in. He embodies the film’s clinical approach to exploration, its disinterest in such trivialities as atmosphere and emotional resonance. In Prometheus it’s not that no-one can hear you scream, it’s just that they’re not interested. After all, Scott’s been there, done that – and so have we.
Not that Shaw is unworthy of our consideration. Rapace stands strong in the face of adversary, overcoming an unnecessary British accent and paper-thin characterisation to find something worth pursuing in her intrepid archaeologist. Moreover, she is responsible for one of the film’s most memorable scenes, delivering on the promise of body horror as she fights tooth and laser to save her own life. Around her, the rest of the crew fade in and out of focus, delivering their lines and serving the plot to the best of their abilities. Considering just how good Scott’s assembled cast is, it’s to Prometheus unfortunate detriment that they are not utilised to greater effect. Theron suffers most, largely thanks to the (sadly unrealised) promise with which she imbues Meredith Vickers in the few scenes where she is actually given something to do.
In many ways Prometheus is too short: Within minutes we are en route to some distant moon, our introductions either rushed in a remote Scottish cave or awkwardly exposited through a suspect bout of neuro-vision. Moments later we’ve landed, deployed upon the surface and are making our first pass through the various channels and chambers of a foreign structure. As our heroes alternate between the corridors of Prometheus and those of the mysterious catacombs, it’s almost impossible to immerse yourself in either environment, the visual and narrative repetition doing little for the film’s pace. This is truest in the final moments, in which characters we are only beginning to care for are eliminated with little pause for comment or closure. There is no breathing space, and in a film as open and airy as Prometheus that is a real problem.
If anything might have been sacrificed in order to facilitate better characterisation or more narrative detail, the ties to Alien would have ideally been the first to go. While certain design similarities and a particularly evocative xenomorphic carving might be harmless touches, the inclusion of Peter Weyland, an initial outbreak that goes largely unremarked upon and a particularly clunking final reveal do little but jeopardise the film’s individuality and integrity, while playing havoc with established canon. Prometheus only serves to complicate the already convoluted alien life-cycle, dilute the works of H. R. Giger with uninspired imitations, every concession to the extant franchise feeling forced, flippant and ultimately unnecessary.
Prometheus, while flawed, is nevertheless an ambitious and astonishing undertaking, one that threatens to fly in the face of everything that has come before. And why not, Alien may have sprouted a celebrated science fiction series but it was always just one of many possible continuations of the original story. Scott is to be commended for telling the story that has plagued him since 1979, ignoring the derivative works of others in favour of a broader, less conventional canvas on which to explore new avenues. As scatter-shot, infuriating and poorly written as it is, Prometheus excites a new and by no means less consuming thirst for knowledge that could well breed a following and franchise of its own.
There are questions to be asked, about the new mythology and the enigmatic ending, but this is hardly the time or the place. Through repeated viewing, further analysis and the dissipation of initial disappointments, I have no doubt that Prometheus will reveal itself to be an exciting, reinvigorating and enduring science fiction movie in its own right. With new seeds planted, and germination already in progress, we can only speculate as to from where they might next burst.