Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Prometheus [Review]

If you are reading this review, chances are you may not have yet seen Prometheus. If this is the case, allow me to offer you one piece of advice that should come before any other judgements I make of the film’s calibre: to heed Ridley Scott’s adamant stance that the film merely shares ‘strands of Alien DNA’. This is not Alien. This is not a remake, nor a reboot.

Is it a prequel? That depends on your point of view. I feel the answer would perhaps give away too much, so I’ll leave that to you to decide. Certainly, links are abundant between the two – but do not expect, therefore, to go into the cinema to watch Alien with a different cast. I say again: this is not Alien. Having skimmed several reviews already published, the most definitive conclusion I can garner from the majority is that they were disappointed that, yep, it wasn’t Alien. Skewed expectations will only lead to disappointment, dear readers, so before I continue with this review, I must stress that you should put aside any instinct to instantly compare Prometheus with its forecursor.

I use the term forecursor (one which I may or may not have made up) as there are, admittedly, multiple indications which would point to this being an obvious prequel right from the off - Ridley Scott’s return to his cinematic universe rewinds things by around 35 years, and strikes key parallels with his 1979 classic: here leading lady Noomi Rapace takes a 17-strong crew aboard the ship Prometheus (this won’t exactly be winning any ‘most original film title’ awards anytime soon, but then again neither would Alien) to a world of menace, thrills, mystery and, yes, horror. Sound familiar?

But, again, don’t let that taint your expectations. Let’s say you go in blind, having never seen Alien. You’d be better placed for watching this one. Can’t/don’t want to unsee the marvellously tense masterpiece that was Ridley Scott’s second foray into filmmaking? Just pretend this is a different director, different universe; different everything. If you’re simply looking for answers to the questions raised by Alien, you won’t find them all here: Prometheus does more to add to the mystery than solve it, but a touch of ambiguity isn’t amiss. Not everything needs a clear cut answer.

Which is, predictably, a theme you’d expect with such colossal questions asked as those in Prometheus. Rapace plays Dr Elizabeth Shaw, who’s managed to persuade wealthy investor Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) to send her and a crew to a distant planet, in order to meet the ‘engineers’ of the human race – our creators, if you will. Of course, what she finds isn’t what she expects – to a certain degree – and things quickly turn catastrophic.

Visually, Prometheus is breathtaking. Even the 3D works: in particular, the majestic opening vistas and a storm spring to mind. As sci-fi, this is a masterpiece of filmmaking; the world is immersive, the tropes of the genre present but meticulous and smart – even if they do boil down to purely prototypical characters (here’s looking at you, Idris Elba) – and has the prerequisite touch of comedy (though Rafe Spall’s presence pushes it slightly too far). Rapace is thrust eagerly into the limelight as leading lady, and she does a wonderful job (with a sterling Brit accent), though Michael Fassbender steals it as bot David - not only from his masterful capabilities in the role, but from his character perhaps being the film's most complex (and intriguing). David's motives are not clear-cut, though could maybe boil down to curiosity; at any rate, his actions provide a few well-devised twists and turns in the screenplay.

More exemplified in Prometheus than its similarities with Alien are its differences. Where Alien was claustrophobic and cramped, Prometheus breathes in the majesty of its open spaces. Everything from the cavernous ruins of the planet which the crew have slept in cryo stasis for two years to reach, to the hallways of the very ship on which they travel, feels much more open than Ridley Scott's other cinematic venture in the Alien universe. Indeed, where Alien is the Texas Chainsaw Massacre of science fiction (as described by Scott himself), Prometheus is, at heart, a true sci-fi: incurring vast landscapes, religious themes and advanced technology.

Sadly, the one particular jarring point of Prometheus is that it probably wouldn’t know how to answer itself even if it wanted to. With a 124 minute runtime, this is perfect blockbuster length: but an extra twenty minutes might have actually benefited this one. Prometheus’ plot strands are numerous, as are the characters, and thus we’re given barely any time to absorb it all. Case in point with the latter example; it’s no spoiler to tell you that a few of them along the way are going to cork it, but when they do we have little sympathy. Of the 17-strong crew, we’ll come to know maybe six or seven at best. The rest are faceless cannon fodder: something a film like this can easily do without.

All through the first 90 minutes, I could only help but feel a terrible sense of dread that the film’s conclusion could not possibly live up to or deliver on the grand themes laid out by its first two acts. And indeed, the third act pretty much leaves things back at square one, with very few answers. Prometheus’ problem is that it raises too many questions to possibly answer; instead of being self-contained, it’s opened more doors than it could possibly hope to close in one film, and as such we’re left wanting more. We don’t need all the answers, but Prometheus barely gives us any.

So where next? The aforementioned world of menace, thrills, mystery and horror of Prometheus is not the same as that visited in Alien – so in any case this is not a direct prequel, however you interpret it; instead, perhaps it’s better to think of this as The Phantom Menace to A New Hope, and so Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith are still needed to fill in the gaps. Which is to say, Prometheus II and III. And personally, I can’t wait.


Dir: Ridley Scott
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green, Guy Pearce, Rafe Spall, Idris Elba
20th Century Fox, 124 mins, 01/06/12

Synopsis: The year is 2093. A pair of scientists have discovered a link between ancient civilizations that leads to a certain point in space: a moon by the name of LV-223, where Dr Elizabeth Shaw and her colleague hope to find the secrets to the beginnings of life on Earth...


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