According to Greek myth, Prometheus was the Titan who stole fire from Olympus and gave it to mankind; Zeus punished him by chaining him to a rock where an eagle gnawed at his liver until he was rescued by Hercules. Hmm. A fitting title then, for a film which suggests that human life on Earth was "seeded" by a race of engineers from a distant planet. That might be a spoiler (sorry) but I doubt it, such is the volume of hype that has surrounded this film. Understandably so, of course - after all, this is Sir Ridley Scott's return to the genre he redefined with Alien (regular readers will know I love that film). A return, no less, to the world of Alien itself... Exciting stuff. But is the film any good?
In short, yes. But is it great, like Alien? No, not really, and that's a shame because it could have been - a lot of key ingredients are there: the idea that humans were "engineered", whilst not new, has plenty of scope; the cast is excellent; Scott directs and produces; cinematography is sweeping and impressive (especially in the opening sequence); CGI is rendered flawlessly yet with uncommon subtlely; and the 3D I chose to view the film in (after considerable debate) was the best I've seen, giving real perspective without, ironically, being too in-your-face. Oh, and I loved (what I perceived to be) the parallels with 2001 - archaeological evidence found suggesting a interplanetary creator, a ship being dispatched to find that creator with the crew (oblivious to the mission) in suspended animation, a murderous or at least deranged machine. Even the widescreen vistas of the opening sequence. Oh, and the ship's computer uttering the line "Good morning David." A little less formal and you'd have a perfect match. But I digress. The film has plenty going for it, yet somehow still manages to miss the target I had build up for it in my fanboy mind.
So what went wrong?
Well, there are plenty of issues, so to distract from the fact that I'm about to be a bit negative about a film I still liked, it's time to include a gratuitous shot of the lovely Charlize Theron... Now, back to those issues. Sorry, but I feel bulletpoints coming on.
- There's a lot of excessive and blatant signposting early on. As in, "Oh, you just happen to have this machine that can do any kind of surgery, and oh, you just happen to have your own quarters which can detach as a standalone craft… I wonder if either of those will be needed later?" That kind of thing. I know such technicalities can be hard to "show, not tell" but it feels like they hardly even tried.
- There are a few expository plot leaps of faith too, notably when the captain (Idris Elba) of Prometheus plucks the realisation that the planet was the engineer’s weapons base seemingly from the air. A friend of mine calls this the Resolution Of Everything, and makes the excellent point that this doesn't work because the captain's character hasn't been developed enough for us to trust such innate insight.
- Why does David, the android played by Michael Fassbender, deliberately infect Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green)? This is never really explained, at least not to my satisfaction.
- Why can't Fifield (Sean Harris) and Milburn (Rafe Spall) find their way out of the engineer's base when their colleagues do so easily, and quickly?
- Why is old man Weyland, who is clearly meant to be a centegenarian, played by Guy Pearce (currently 44)? Make-up is great but Weyland still looked like a young guy wearing a lot of greasepaint. Are there no screen-friendly old actors any more?
- Where does Meredith Vickers (Theron) disappear to for the middle third of the film?
- Where were the original shock moments? The oral impregnation from Alien is repeated, the emergence from stomach is repeated (albeit with a twist). But where's something new?
Don't get me wrong, as I've already said there's lots to enjoy in Prometheus. I enjoyed Prometheus, very much. Michael Fassbender, excellent as android David, steals the acting plaudits. Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron, between them, provide the "strong woman" characteristics that the long shadow of Ripley demands. But the whole thing just feels like it's been tinkered with, re-edited and cut about, with a touch more of this and a dash less of that - in short, that it's been hacked about in response to feedback from preliminary test screenings and consumer surveys. On the plus side, this gives hope that in years to come there'll be a Prometheus Director's Cut - Scott has plenty of previous convictions for that, after all. And it's a film crying out for a sequel - there are too many unanswered questions in this one. Another mate of mine reckons Dr Shaw will turn out to be Ripley's mother, by the way, and wouldn't that be a neat twist?
So in conclusion it's good - I'd still recommend you go and see it - but not great. And whilst I enjoyed it, I can't see myself watching it in full every single time it's shown on television in years to come, something I still do with Alien, 33 years after its release. And that probably tells you all you need to know.
Prometheus is currently on general release, and will be available to buy soon enough.