Ridley Scott’s much-hyped ‘Alien’ prequel 'Prometheus' is beautifully shot, occasionally thrilling and features some superb performances. But it’s also a mess.
Fans quivered with excitement when Scott - who helped revolutionize sci-fi with the 1979 ‘Alien’ – signed up to breathe fresh life into a franchise that had gone to the dogs thanks to the exploitative ‘Alien vs. Predator' films (‘Pred-aliens’ anyone?).
[Related story: Ridley Scott had to 'rescue' Alien]
[Related video: The UFO-inspired origins of Prometheus]
His fresh foray into the universe is a prequel and set well before the events of ‘Alien’.
(Warning: very mild spoilers below)
Archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw (the brilliantly cast Noomi Rapace) heads up the crew of the good ship Prometheus, dispatched by the sinister Weyland Corporation to follow a mysterious ‘star map’ left on earth by an ancient alien culture. She is joined by (amongst others) boyfriend Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), icy exec Charlize Theron, accordion playing captain Janek (Idris Elba) and the obligatory humanoid robot David (Michael Fassbender).
As you’d expect, things go horribly wrong for the crew. They find aliens all right, but not the ones they expected.
So far, so familiar right? ‘Prometheus’ differs from its forebears in a number of important ways though. Unlike the crew of the Nostromo, who were trapped in the vessel for almost the entire film, the characters in ‘Prometheus’ make regular excursions from the ship, which struck us as rather daft. The gnawing claustrophobia of the original is lacking and, for the most part, so are the scares.
[Related gallery: The evolution of the movie alien]
[Related video: Prometheus trailer]
There are two stand-out moments of genuine horror; a ‘do-it-yourself’ caesarean section, and a sequence with a melting helmet. Otherwise ‘Prometheus’ is curiously undramatic; action set pieces come and go, characters are bumped off with regularity and there’s some deliciously gruesome body horror near the end – but this feels like a film stuck between the ‘horror’ and ‘thriller’ genres.
The bonkers plot, which attempts to explain the complex xenomorph life-cycle, also didn’t really make sense, at least after one viewing. ‘Prometheus’ also explores larger philosophical questions – where did we come from, is it right to create life, should we search for what’s out there in the stars? Admirably the film stays with these themes right up until the end amidst the blood and the slime, but by doing so again muddies the tone.
The issues with the script are forgotten when Fassbender’s David is onscreen. He’s getting rave reviews for his performance as the vaguely creepy android butler and he steals every scene he’s in, despite an almost unwavering expression (a murderous smirk) throughout. From reciting Peter O’Toole’s lines from ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ to his disembodied antics in the finale, he’s electric… if you’ll excuse the pun.
Noomi Rapace, kind of in a Sigourney Weaver role, is the much-needed emotional heart of ‘Prometheus’ and ably switches from dewy-eyed optimist to hardened survivor by the end. The rest of the crew however, especially the underused Idris Elba, fail to make an impression.
It’s a shame expectations for ‘Prometheus’ are so high. There’s sporadic thrills, stand-out action sequences and some head-scratching themes to mull over here, plus the visuals are majestic. But this is a curiously uninvolving experience and - like the victim of a chestburster - you’ll feel empty inside when the credits roll.