Okay, I think most people are gonna hate this film. It's basically the most expensive arthouse film ever realised. It struggles with its mainstreamness. When there IS a big, bombastic, explosionfest sequence, it feels out of place, off-kilter, put in there purposely to jazz up what is really a film of slow, frosty consideration. And awe...
I had this whole Preamble about how with this film Ridley Scott had the opportunity to become the greatest British film-maker of all time, overtaking 'Lawrence of Arabia' grandee stalwart Sir David Lean. Look he hasn't achieved that. It looks like 'Prometheus' is going to fall into the 'flawed' category for a lot of people. It's a thinker. It's a big-ass, doomy, terrifying, icy monster. And I think it is absolutely fantastic.
It's definitely not ‘Aliens’. As Ridley Scott watched the various sequels made of his ground-breaking masterpiece 'Alien' (which introduced horror into science fiction for the first time), he could not understand why none of his followers were interested in the ORIGINS of the mysterious and deadly ship whose distress signal Ripley and the crew of the Nostromo so regrettably responded to on LV426. 'Who's the big guy?' in the driver's seat, and how did he get there?
That is the question that now, 32 years later, the elder Scott and barking mad Swiss concept artist HR Giger, the team whose sublimely dark futuristic vision has since changed the world of cinema, set out to answer.
And only they are qualified to. No-one else could have made this movie.
But ‘Prometheus’ is an entirely different beast from any of its predecessors. If ‘Alien’ was Arnie's Terminator, ‘Prometheus’ is the T1000. It is a cerebral, philosophical, expressionistic, liquid, thoughtful, melancholy, granite-faced, cold-blooded calculation opus that seriously and dispassionately considers mankind’s place in the universe and engages with timeless, heavyweight philosophical concepts of morality, nature and, in particular, creation.
At least it's as thoughtful as a movie with badass spaceships and hardcore alien action sequences can actually be.
This is the kind of movie that grad students will already be writing final thesis papers on.
It's a brain-crunching, literate, intellectual thesis in itself, and it's one of those movies that has various and serious cultural parentage. Which you can approach from a number of different interpretations and someone could get really pretentious about if they really wanted to. I do. So sorry about that, but it's gonna happen.
Cultural thread 1:
It is universally accepted that 'Aliens' is a metaphor for the Vietnam war. 'Alien' also has a sizeable aspect of that as well, with the whole series carrying a major subtext of Anglo-Saxon imperialism coming unstuck and getting its comeuppance in the dark, undreamt of corners of the empire. Its macho, masculine, over-confident culture being bushwhacked mainly by femininity and fertility. (See also ‘Avatar’ for James Cameron's continued variations on this theme).
So, if ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens’ were about the 'American Empire', this is the prequel, set 33 years before, and is about an earlier era with an entirely different style: the British Empire.
Right from the start, the culture of 'Prometheus' is a world away from the workmanlike Nostromo crew or the balls-to-the-wall testosterone junkies of the sequel. We are immediately in the rarified, class-conscious, mannered, effete and 'high-minded' atmos of the English elite, controlled by buttoned-up, repressed, icy teutons like the 'emotionless' cyborg David - Michael Fassbender. Who indeed is ironically taking time out to study Lean’s imperial epic 'Lawrence of Arabia' when we first meet him.
So let's talk about Mike. Man, he DOMINATES this film. Channelling the young Laurence Olivier (google the picture, the likeness is frightening - biopic please!) Fassbender's David is the standout role of an already incendiary acting career. He is mesmeric and riveting as the robot whose character flaw and tragedy is the longing for emotion itself.
Then there's Charlize Theron, who is now indisputably the go-to actor for any role that requires being a hottie AND an acting heavyweight at the same time.
These two stroll about the controlled atmosphere of the Prometheus lording it over the other crew-members and thinking they are better than everybody.
David is the archetypical Victorian English empire builder, straight out of Joseph Conrad (whose book gave the Nostromo its name). Cold, efficient, schooled and disciplined to the Nth degree and utterly merciless in expanding the Empire into new frontiers no matter how many of his lower class colleagues it takes as cannon fodder to get there. He is subject only to the dictates of his class. It is an acting portrait of genius.
And the imbecility of this Patrician folly of superiority is brought fully to life when these calculating planners of the Prometheus' mission come into contact with members of a yet higher 'class'.
Cultural thread 2:
1968. Barking mad Swiss (no connection) hotel manager Erich von Däniken writes a book called ‘Chariots of the Gods’. In it he purports to explain many mysteries of ancient archaeology by the theory that humankind’s earliest development and civilization was caused by extra-planetary visitors who are indeed the originals of the ‘Gods’ spoken of in all human mythologies around the world. This explains the big super-straight lines that run for miles at Nazca in Peru (runways obviously – they just happen to be shaped like animals) and that is how the Pyramids of Egypt match those in South America, and why the Egyptians built the pyramids at the beginning of their history, not the end as you might expect (i.e. they got worse at building not better). Cue an entire industry of post-Däniken authors with similar theories (Zacharia Sitchin, Graham Hancock), each out-doing the next in describing the cool superbeing Aliens who came along and either created us or helped us along before driving off in their massive ships leaving humans to struggle in their primieval language to describe exactly what happened.
Well, Prometheus has a big-ass chunk of Von Däniken in it, and essentially it brings those theories to the screen for the first time as far as I’m aware (if you don’t count ‘Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull’, and we don’t) and gives it pretty much the Rolls Royce treatment.
Everything in ‘Prometheus’ looks great. It’s a constant succession of sublimely pristine surfaces and textures, more concerned with the journey than the destination. So many carefully interweaving and delicately defined elements and substances. Compelling, impressively plausible characters, great, finely-tuned sublots, taught, fascinating intrigues, power dynamics and smoothly-concealed rivalries, as the movie slowly and masterfully unrolls what exactly we are all doing here.
This feels like a personal film for Ridley, maybe even his magnum opus. He’s from the north of England, and you don’t get much sunshine up there. So everything in this vision of the future is always cold, dark, brooding and overcast (check the weather in Alien 1!)
There’s a bunch of post-modern flirtings with ideas from the first movies. Like the crew’s interaction upon first waking up from the hibernation pods. Like the idiot who sees a weird-looking alien and just has to stick his face in it. But somehow it didn’t really bother me. It was like ‘Prometheus’ was referencing its progenitors before moving on.
The criticism will inevitably be that there is not enough story development. I was so mesmerised by the endless, gorgeous vistas of this stylishly doomy and minimalist fantasy futurescape, rendered in some of the best 3D yet (probably only ‘Avatar’ is better) that I didn’t notice. The relaxed pace was not a problem. This movie is like a meditation. Like BBC World doing a doco on deep space probe teams.
I guess you could say there’s an awful lot of ‘set-up’, and not so much payoff. That this perfectionist’s assemblage of all-time incredible sci-fi elements just spends too much time enjoying having assembled them and then doesn’t really actually DO enough with them.
Look, it’s not ‘Transformers’. Go in expecting something more like ‘Dune’ or ‘Event Horizon’ and you will be pleasantly surprised, if not totally blown away. This movie is the anti-‘John Carter’. Surprisingly not too dissimilar interplanetary transit plotlines, but there are no silly aliens on the moody, rocky flatlands that Prometheus ominously touches down on. No red people, no big green dudes with four arms. No newly-discovered superpowers and DEFINITELY no stretching of the laws of physics. Only merciless and coldy brutal inter-species death, destruction and manipulation. No, its NOT a laugh a minute, and probably not a date movie either.
What it is is the best sci-fi so far this decade, and Ridley Scott’s greatest film since ‘Blade Runner’ - the third best of his career. It’s a trans-genetic, synthetic Alien monstrosity. It’s a hugely-powered, humming, epic ship of gloomy discovery. A sweeping, breathtaking and very dark journey of the kind of old-school sci-fi imagination that comes from obscure seventies paperbacks.
Yes it doesn’t really hurry to get anywhere, but my only faults with the film are really that it cuts TOO fast through the build-up. This movie has visuals that will knock your socks off. Huge, impressionistic panoramas of alien landscapes and massive machinery that you just want to stare at for about five minutes, are snatched away before we’ve barely seen them.
And here’s my one big bitch: putting it here because for me it doesn’t ruin the film (although Director’s Cut please Sir Ridders?) The movie needs to end on the shot of the ship. That is sublime. Then there’s a pause. Then there’s another sequence, which is kind of a cheesy nod to fans of the series, you’ll see what I mean. That would be way better as a post-credits sequence where its tongue-in-cheek sense of humour doesn’t detract from the immortal and transcendent tragedy of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw’s final words. Ending on those would have been close to perfection.
Speaking of which, let’s talk Noomi Rapace. I would never have recognised her from the original ‘Girl with the Drag Tat’. Wow it seems like BOTH actresses who played Lisbeth Salander are simultaneously the most amazing young actress in the entire world. It’s confusing. She is the star of this film. Wasn’t really aware of that before I went in, but she is Prometheus’ Ripley. It’s not as big a role, as this is much more of an ensemble, arty-style set-up than the originals, but it is her journey we are on. She is astonishing, a delicate flame in the raging storm of deep space.
The acting in Prometheus by everyone is utterly incredible, jaw-dropping even. Not a single cast member is less than tortuously believable and brilliant in their role, and every role is of course, as in a finely balanced and top-of-the-line engine, completely essential. Big shout goes out to Sean Harris as memorable crew member Fifield.
There is, arguably, a bit of a lack of resolution. You do kind of leave the movie still not really knowing the answers you went in for in the first place. But I shall live in hope that this is not the end of the story, that there is more to come.
What more do you want? It’s an Aliens movie. It’s bodies, it’s giving birth, it’s disgusting genetic weirdness, its big ships and it’s dark, cold, lonely space where no-one can hear you scream.
Ridley Scott belongs in Science Fiction, the genre he helped revolutionise. Frankly if I was a Studio, after this I wouldn’t accept anything else from him from now on. He is attached to an adaption of Joe Haldeman’s ‘The Forever War’. Yes please! But even more so Sir Ridley, please waste no time and immediately begin production on ‘Prometheus II: Homeworld of the Gods’!!