Sunday, 3 June 2012

Prometheus Review

For those who have followed my film-writing since the earlier days of You Killed the Car, my urgent need to see Ridley Scott’s return to science fiction after three full decades should come as no surprise – particularly given that the film purports to answer questions dating all the way back to Scott’s original sci-fi masterpiece, Alien. The related essays Growing up with a Facehugger and Growing up with Formic Acid were two of the more ambitious analyses undertaken in that site’s time, and quite clearly point to a...minor obsession with the underlying themes of the Alien franchise and how they have been re-interpreted over time. Scott’s desire to address questions left unanswered in the film’s sequels filled me with hope for a return to the more focused thesis of the original film, along with a (sorely needed) kick-start for hard sci-fi in contemporary cinema. And whilst Prometheus does a sterling job at aiding the latter, with regard to the central Alien mythos, it doesn’t bring a whole lot new to the table.

If Alien twists the concept of procreation and parenthood to its limits, as a prequel, Prometheus fittingly looks to the source of life, addressing the ultimate act of creation. The film’s opening (and most arresting) sequence quite literally concerns itself with the beginning of mankind, an act of sacrifice that starts to be unearthed some millennia later by archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green). Believing that they have discovered a map to our true origin point, the pair manage to secure funding for an interstellar mission from Weyland Corp, heading out for the distant moon LV-223. Accompanying them on their mission are Weyland suit Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), Prometheus ship captain Janek (Idris Elba), and the Corp’s technological marvel David (Michael Fassbender) – an android. As the crew’s mission to discover our ‘Engineers’ and their fate continues, they happen upon a rather more sinister plot that threatens all of their lives, and calls into question the true value of humanity in the eyes of our gods.

Prometheus, like all good science fiction films, uses its outlandish settings and mythology to posit the big questions of life and humanity. Unfortunately, having laid them out on the table, it doesn’t really do a whole lot with them. Like the subjects of its plot, Prometheus struggles to define itself against its source-material even as it clearly panders to it in some sort of slobbering awe. The film presents a number of ‘father-child’ relationships that build nicely on the more savage paternal nightmare of Alien – man and the Engineers, David and creator Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), but seems confused as to what it is actually trying to say (when indeed it bothers to say anything beyond its initial posturing), something of a common downfall in the writing of scriptist Damen Lindelof (Lost). Meanwhile, the film’s attempts to present its own mythology that can exist as a self-sufficient parallel to the Alien storyline wastes screen time and forces a number of plot inconsistencies to develop for the sake of the final ‘pay-off’. Without giving too much away, if Scott had simply had the balls to put this film out as a true, linear prequel, a lot of bullshit in the script could have been avoided and we’d be looking at a potential classic. Alas.

For it is indeed a rather idiotic script that lets down an otherwise superb production, clear proof that Scott still deserves to be seen as a heavy-hitter in the directorial department. With its gorgeous cinematography, and an art direction that manages to complement the original’s Heavy Metal influences as much as its debt to Giger, the film creates the perfect playground for its key players to excel within. Rapace and Theron provide a great dynamic as two opposing female characters struggling with motherhood and childhood alternately, but it is Fassbender’s take as David that steals the show. Confused motives aside, David is a spell-binding creation whose child-like nature rings true in both its innocence and self-centred malevolence. The film’s development of the Space Jockey, or Engineer, is similarly inspired, drawing upon the Renaissance ideal of man to breathe life into the far more iconic ‘David’ of marble. It’s a shame that such an ideal is later reduced to a simple wall of strength to fit with the film’s far more conventional second half. 

Trailers for Prometheus suggest that material dealing more explicitly with the film’s subject matter of faith and the link between creator and child were left on the cutting room floor, and one wonders whether a more satisfying take on the story may be unearthed some years down the line. It certainly wouldn’t be a first for Scott. That said, in every other department Prometheus excels, and whilst it might not be the true end-point to the Alien franchise that you’re looking for, it’s an endearing effort that lingers long after viewing.