Visionary director Ridley Scott returns to the genre he helped pioneer over 33 years ago, with the franchise that started it all. I’ll start the review by saying I love the first two Alien films, I even like the final two, that’s how much a fan boy of the series I am. In saying this though I met the announcement of a prequel with much trepidation initially. Prequels have disappointed me greatly over the years, taking much loved films and pissing all over their spirit and memory. In the sci fi world you wont have to scratch your brain to think of at least three that attempted to ruin your memory of classic films (bonus points if all three are the Star Wars prequels). Even with Ridley returning I was worried, up until I saw the short teaser trailer in December last year. Since then a fantastic marketing campaign that titillated and terrified in equal measure put any doubts out of my mind.
Prometheus begins with some fantastic helicopter shots of the Icelandic landscape. The terrain looks so alien even now but this is Earth pre intelligent life. A giant Humanoid creature steps into view beneath the shadow of some unknown mothership. He removes an elixir which begins to breakdown his own body as he falls into a waterfall. The implication that this genetic material is the starting point for mankind. It is this central theme that Prometheus wants to explore. Who are we, where have we come from, why were we created, the human need for answers.
Elisabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) is our entry point into this future world. A scientist who spearheads the search for our makers but yet still holds on to her faith in a higher power. She is joined by her lover Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), an atheist professor who hangs his existence on finding answers. Together they discover ancient markings with striking similarities that point them to the heavens. From the markings they discover a potential location of the ‘Engineers’ (Space Jockeys to you and me) and so our journey begins.
Before too long we are on the good ship Prometheus and introduced to synthetic, David (Michael Fassbender). His execution of David is incredible, combining a child like innocence with a complete lack of empathy for any of the characters. This gives him a malevolence over proceedings as his ambiguous motives become clearer. Fassbender produces a nuanced performance that tows the line between Ian Holm’s sinister Ash, and Lance Henriksen’s heroic Bishop. In my opinion he not only scales the heights of those two above, but comes close to Roy Batty from Blade Runner as the most compelling Android committed to cinema.
Once our Crew is awake things begin to pick up pace and before we know it we entering an alien like structure with Giger type overtones. The sets here are fantastic in their vision, scale and detail. So many other modern directors would have opted to shoot this in green screen and digitally add the backgrounds. Thankfully we are spared the ‘Lucas’ treatment and given a complete feast for the eyes. For me it will take multiple viewings to take in the sheer awe of these set designs and that has to be applauded. Everything from the costumes, the vehicles, the ship, the cinematography, the set pieces etc, have been painstakingly designed to create a rich and believable setting for this film.
I wont go into much further detail on the plot as I feel it is best experienced completely clean from information. Rest assured, there are moments of tension, fear, and body horror in a way only Scott can deliver. If I’m hyper critical there aren’t enough of the quiet moments, moments were the music score is at a minimum, were the camera hones in on the fear, where the camera pans slowly left and right following a torch as it reveals what’s behind a blanket of darkness, only for something unseen to run past. I know its clichéd now, but a reinvention of that ‘calm before the storm’ moment before ramping up the music and framing the camera so we cant see our aggressor was in my mind lacking from the movie. Its the quiet moments in Alien which makes the film so tense and scary, a feeling I felt was lacking during the film.
The one area of tension did come during the Film’s big body horror set piece. Scott’s previous attempt is one of cinemas most recognisable moments and Ridley borrows your fear from that moment to up the stakes and heighten the tension. As a viewer you have a greater fear than the character who is dealing with it as you know where the possibilities could lead. For most females I would assume this would be the one scene that will affect them long after the curtain comes down on the film.
The threats in the film fail to live up to the heights of Gigers original design. Probably in any other franchise they would be considered strong, but inevitably the comparison has been invited due to fact this is same universe. The Space Jockey reveal I felt didn’t live up to my imagination on first seeing them in Alien all those years ago. In saying that the Xenomorph from Alien is one of the greatest monsters ever created. There was something for everyone to fear, Its a vampire, its a werewolf, Its your worst nightmare. From is phallic head all the way through to its invasive pseudo-sexual beginnings it is designed to be feared. Coming up short against such a classic villain is nothing to be ashamed of and there are still enough moments of originality to be admired.
Another criticism I would level at the film would be that most of the crew (Apart from Rapace, Elba, Fassbender and Theron) are poorly fleshed out cannon fodder. Right now I am struggling to remember any of their names or even why they were on the ship. I feel more time spent with them at the start would have made their deaths more impactful and added to the tension. You know they only exist to provide us with creative ways for them to die.
Speaking of which the creative team deserve some kudos here as some of the deaths are fantastic. The first two stand out as visceral and imaginative and had some of the people I was with looking away from the screen in horror. I personally just loved the effects which were really well incorporated throughout.
The ending was a touch anti climatic for me, but a vital bit of fan service at the very end made me completely forget about it. I was gripping my seat once I knew what was coming and was delighted with the result. I wasn’t sure if the ending was designed to leave it open for more sequels or whether we were meant to be happy with this seguing nicely into the original Alien. I suspect box office takings will dictate the next steps for the franchise.
Prometheus is not a perfect film, and probably did itself more harm than good for some with its marketing campaign. If you go into this expecting an Alien film that isn’t what you are going to find. Instead what you are getting is a wonderfully realised Sci Fi experience that more than tips its hat to Alien without wanting to be it. You should see this film, not only because it is a great film, but because Sci-Fi needs a box office hit. If you enjoy these types of movies (Alien, Terminator, The Matrix, Star Wars) go down to your local cinema and spend an hour in Ridley Scott’s company. Not only will you not be disappointed by the visual splendor but you will be saving an easily maligned genre that pushes peoples imaginations to the limit.
4 out 5 Stars