One gave us fire, the other Alien. Prepare to be let down

THERE’S been endless buzz about this film for well over a year. For the real fanboys, Avengers and Dark Knight Rises are playing second fiddle to Prometheus in terms of this year’s most anticipated movies. This film, after all, marks the momentous return of a master to his most enduring creation. In 1979, Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Gladiator) took a B-grade ‘haunted house in space’ script by scribes Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusset and surprised moviegoers with an A-grade masterpiece. Alien created an entire mythos and spawned numerous sequels. That film was all about stillness, interspersed with spikes of brutal violence and gruesome horror. The characters were real and recognisable. They smoked, swore and wore leather jackets. The tech was familiar, held together by screws and bolts. Blue collar workers in space. It was an original vision of our space-faring future. So, when I first saw the trailers for Prometheus, a ‘not really but sort of’ prequel to Alien, I had my reservations. In this film, the characters appeared to wear mostly spandex and much of the tech looks like it was conceived by Steve Jobs.

Charlie (Marshall-Green) and Elizabeth (Rapace) are partners in archeology and love. The film begins at the close of this century with their discovery of a 35,000-year-old cave painting in Scotland that, in conjunction with much of their research, leads them to a distant planet. Funded by the shady Weyland corporation (familiar to fans of the franchise) a mission is undertaken to find an alien race whom we’re led to believe are the progenitors of humanity. Their ship Prometheus sets down next to an underground network of caves and tunnels. Here, with a team of geologists and biologists they search for answers to man’s biggest questions. The corporation though, and the ship’s resident android, may have other plans …

The opening scenes of an alien apparently spreading its DNA into the Earth’s oceans and the aforementioned couple’s discovery of said painting in Scotland give an unexpected tone: there’s a smattering of CGI, some holding hands and a swelling score that’s almost as earnest as Titanic. It doesn’t feel related to Alien. Once the drama switches to space though, we’re thankfully in more familiar territory. An early canteen scene echoing the original film puts us on course.

Much of the film's brilliant, if overdone, viral marketing has featured Michael Fassbender as David 8, the ship's android. The Alien films have always featured an android to varying effect, offsetting the alien horror with more philosophical posturing over what it means to be human. To that end, Prometheus is no exception and Fassbender is spellbinding in the role. Amongst a criminally underused cast, he at least is given something to do – and every scene he’s in benefits greatly from his presence. Swedish born Rapace as Doctor Elisabeth Shaw, currently doing Hollywood rounds off the back of her success as the original Lisbeth Salander (in the Dragon Tattoo trilogy) has managed to carve a credible performance here despite some ropey dialogue and the woeful lack of chemistry with her on-screen lover (Logan Marshall-Green).   

There are some decent moments of horror and tension. There are also planet-sized plot holes and moments of ham-fisted stupidity. With the recent announcement that Ridley is returning to that other sci-fi masterpiece of his, Blade Runner, there’s a sense that in his twilight years he’s riding the coattails of his past successes. On this evidence he runs the risk of spinning his cinematic gold into straw. In a film that does such a poor job of asking the big questions, we’re left not caring about the answers.

Dir: Ridley Scott; US sci-fi, 2012, 126 mins; Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Logan Marshall-Green
Premiered May 31
Playing nationwide

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