Prometheus (2012,USA) **WARNING – CONTAINS SPOILERS**
Director: Ridley Scott Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pierce, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green
In case the message hasn’t gotten through, I’ll say it again. The following review (or rather, extension to my spoiler-free review) contains spoilers for the plot and execution of Prometheus and as such as I advise anyone who has yet to see the film not to read it. Given the lengths I went to in order to avoid prior knowledge of the film of any kind it would by hypocritical of me to release spoilers to the world without fair warning. I cannot stress enough, if you do not want to be exposed to Prometheus spoilers, STOP READING THIS NOW. Of course if you have already seen it or are of a disposition where you don’t mind or actively enjoy spoilers then be my guest and carry on.
I’ve already mentioned that the film is not a perfect, neat fit within the existing Alien canon. For me, the biggest promise from a prequel was the prospect of finding out more about the Space Jockey, the giant navigator of the alien ship where humans first encounter the dreaded Alien that would haunt Ellen Ripley for four films. This question is resolutely answered in Prometheus (although in doing so, it raises its own questions regarding their origins and motivations) with a plot that sees humanity trace its own origins into deep space, funded by the sinister Weyland Corporation (what, no Yutani yet?) on the pretext of desiring to learn about the origins of mankind but as always with The Company, working to its own, more selfish, agenda.
As you might expect, the scientific expedition to a planet mapped out by the “Engineers” in ancient cave paintings on Earth (aka Space Jockeys) ends in disaster when the team encounter another life form, a life form that proves to be deadly and is the obvious antecedent of the aliens fans have come to know and love.
So how well does it work as a set up to Alien? Well. It’s not really a direct prequel at all. In another incarnation it might have told the story of what happened to the ill fated pilot of the ship that Ripley and the rest of the crew of the Nostromo encounter on LV-426 but very early on it’s established that the Prometheus is stopping off on a completely different planet, LV-226. This no doubt released Scott to tell the story he wanted without having to slavishly set up the specifics that lead to the events of the first film (which would appear to occur roughly thirty years after the events in Prometheus). I would imagine this will be a divisive factor among fans. I personally welcome it as an opportunity to bring something new to the story, a different perspective and a different dynamic to the implant/chest burst/stalk format that pretty much defines the original anthology (not saying that’s a bad thing, just that here’s the chance to do something different) but I can see how some people may be disappointed by the deviation from the iconic alien design of the original movies.
There is a singular nod towards the progression of the alien life forms into the creatures we know and love but if I’m being honest it feels almost tagged on at the end in order to give a leg up to those in the audience who lack the imagination to make the connection themselves or perhaps as some sort of dispensation made to fans who may be disappointed by the lack of instantly recognisable creatures on show. That said, there is something of a leap between the lifeforms on show here and the facehugger eggs of Alien which isn’t really explained at all, although I’m quite sure it would be easy to rationalise away in some theoretical form. If there is a problem with the film, this might be it – the tendency to leave situations hanging in such a way where they feel a bit unconvincing but can be rationalised away with a bit of hopeful argument.
Take, for example, Shaw’s (Rapace) auto-doc surgery to remove an unwelcome guest in her body. It’s an invasive and bloody procedure (rather well constructed for the film as it happens) which results in a massive laceration across the abdomen which gets stapled shut. Now you can make all the arguments you want about how there was probable nano-tech working away on the inside and how pumped full of pain killers and adrenaline she was but to go from that to bounding around the ship/planet with the occasional bout of pain is unconvincing, the reality of such operations being almost total incapacity thanks to the core muscles being severed. Ok, it’s a science fiction film and you could argue that there are many other things I should take more exception to, but it’s these sort of details that break the illusion for me and force me to convince myself of ways to justify it which to be honest should really be the responsibility of the filmmaker not the audience.
Thematically speaking it does more than enough in my opinion to outweigh such shortcomings. Most significantly for me, there is a powerand overriding cynicism that seems to suggest we have outlived our usefulness as a species, that human culture has little more to offer the universe to the point that even our creators see us as venal creatures that must be eradicated, some kind of failed experiment. Add to this the idea that with godlike arrogance will come our own undoing (what with the Engineers being undone by their own weapons of mass destruction) and you get a darkly pessimistic take on the meaning of life. Perhaps in this instance our creators made us a little too well in their own image.
So I guess it’s a bit of a mixed bag as a film. If you can forgive it its shortcomings (which I found quite easy to do) it proves to be a worthy addition to the Alien universe (I’m sure wiping out huge chunks of the “expanded universe” in the process) which raises as many questions as it answers and leaves plenty of room for more stories yet to be told. Does it live up to the hype? I’ve got no idea – I avoided it all, but I think it managed to live up to my carefully managed expectations and certainly got me thinking about the Alien saga from a different angle for which I’m grateful given my over-familiarity with the original films.