Stoked by publicity over-kill and panting fanboy scribblings, the slavering anticipation generated by Ridley Scott’s prequel to/re-boot of the Alien series reached stratospheric levels. No film, however extraordinary, could have hoped to match these over-inflated expectations. Now Prometheus is here, and all these blue-sky fantasies have crashed, Icarus-like, to Earth. There’s no denying that the film delivers on the level of spectacle, but its sieve-like storyline, muddled mythology, deja vu-inducing creature designs and under-fuelled emotion are as empty as an undiscovered cave.
Originally conceived as a prequel to Scott’s 1979 film, Prometheus later mutated into something far more ambitious, a hard-core science fiction film that explored philosophical ideas about the origins of human life. That said, the now 74-year-old Scott acknowledges that it shares “strands of Alien’s DNA”, which means that an awful lot of the themes and imagery will seem over-familiar to fans of the original. The script, written by Jon Spaihts, has been extensively re-worked by Scott and Damon Lindelof, and now concerns a search for what might be called The God Planet.
In the late 21st century, two young archaeologists, crucifix-wearing believer Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and scientific sceptic Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), discover wall paintings in a remote Scottish cave. Like similar paintings found in diverse parts of the world, they feature a pictogram of what they believe to be a star map. This, the pair claim, is the work of alien beings, genetic engineers who – as suggested by Swiss author Erich von Däniken in his mad, speculative book The Chariots of the Gods – may have created human life. Years later, an expedition financed by Weyland Industries, supervised by tight-arsed corporate ‘Ice Queen’ Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and captained by the matter-of-fact Janek (Idris Elba), lands on The God Planet and finds the ‘Space Jockey’ from the original Alien. So the enigma at the heart of the story has now become, in Scott’s own words: “Who was he? Where was he from? What was his mission?”
Thanks to Darius Wolski’s cinematography and Arthur Max’s production design, the scenes inside the futuristic yet utilitarian spaceship and the evocation of the planet’s hostile environment are both spectacular and convincing, although the director’s surprisingly unimaginative use of 3D is a great disappointment. The real problem with Prometheus is that the story is full of planet-sized plot holes and logical inconsistencies, and that nobody – except Noomi Rapace’s naïve, God-fearing Shaw and Michael Fassbender’s effete android, David – exhibits anything resembling sentient human life. The ship’s small crew is made up of disposable ciphers seemingly left over from David Fincher’s Alien3, played by British and American actors who deserved more fleshed-out roles and far better dialogue.
The best one can say about Prometheus is that it will introduce a new generation of cinema-goers, who have grown up with post-Terminator futuristic movies propelled by action, to a science fiction driven by ideas. For die-hard Aliens fans, there is only the opportunity for animated discussions about the nonsensical mythology, the missed opportunities and – since the film will make a fortune at the box-office despite its myriad failings – the inevitable, depressing possibility of yet another sub-standard Alien movie.
Nigel has awarded Prometheus 2 and a half torches of truth.