IN A YEAR which sees in Avengers Assemble, The Dark Knight Rises and the first instalment of The Hobbit, the tag of most-anticipated movie is going to be a tough one to nab. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, the (possible) prequel to his 1979 sci-fi horror classic Alien, most likely wears that crown, as its release is seen as a big surge in pop culture. Not only are the bedroom space marines freaking out, but it seems that a motley steam is rising off every film fanatic’s sweaty forehead as hype has been reaching a newfound, ridiculous zenith. The wait has most certainly been unbearable, and that wait is over. Was it worth it?
For the most part, yes. As we watch Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her team make their doomed voyage to LV-223 to uncover a tantalising mystery about the origins of humankind, the unparalleled beauty and neck-aching scope of it all is overwhelming – the sheer tone, hues and inherent meaning in each of these opening frames is decadent but icily gentle, shot by Scott in some truly inspired 3D cinematography. The entire thing reeks of a futuristic Greek epic, all mysterious cloaked figures on cliffs and slowly swirling starships above vast planets. Its themes are 2001; its methods are Starship Troopers. Prometheus is a beningly awkward rest-stop somewhere between.
The first act is a labour of slow-building tension and intrigue; Shaw’s discoveries inside the foreboding structure on the surface of LV-223 are arcane, beautiful and above all, ominous. And so the plot builds, and builds, before splintering off a little too much into other areas – it’s as if the film is just gagging to go into depth on multiple points and, as a result, failing to fully engage in any of them. It’s a valiant effort, however, and welcomingly gets across the sentiment behind the big questions that it asks. There are no true scares, like its predecessor – but to ingeminate Scott’s own haunted-house-in-space was never the point. Instead, there’s flat-out sustained tension in a number of scenes, making for some remarkably thrilling sequences so that, even if a hissing Xenomorph jumped into your periphery, you wouldn’t be able to remove your eyes from the ebullient action on-screen. The characters are instantly likeable, and some brief sketching gets a couple of stereotyped characters off to an audience-pleasing start, if not wholly satisfyingly; the important guys, however, get plenty of nuance, and steadily become more real as their mission becomes more, shall we say, complex. The star of the cast, unsurprisingly, is Michel Fassbender playing the ship’s house robot, David. In another deft turn from the increasingly praised actor, Fassdroid is a glorious creation in every aspect; for instance, while David babysits the ship and its cryogenically dormant crew for its two-plus year journey, he watches David Leans’ Lawrence of Arabia, and appears to style a portion of his mannerisms on Peter O’Toole’s eponymous character. It’s giddy, loopy acting and direction at its best. Another example is later on in the film, a frantic scene which is indulgently bloody, deeply unsettling in nature, and completely ludicrous. It’s superb, and is just the the sort of scene-stealing brilliance that shines throughout Prometheus, albeit through many cracks.
Scott also does do an efficient job on the rest of the characters. However, while Rapace was a fantastic casting choice initially, in the finished product she seems slightly terrified of the hugeness of the film. She completely sells glistening-eyed wonderment, but is faintly unconvincing when the alien goop finally hits the fan. Despite this, she’s instantly likeable – and is a worthy addition to hot-blooded heroine in the series next to Ripley.
But by far the most mercurial aspect of the movie is Ridley’s visuals: Prometheus is a eye-caressing cinematic triumph, and will be first contender for Best Visual Effects at the next Oscars. It’s in this area that the movie is almost never compromised, despite a handful of questionable CGI effects here and there. However, the all-serious theological gravity of this visual grace is encumbered by some pedestrian character shots (a close-up would’ve accentuated a couple of moments), but mostly by the screenplay, of which a number of not boring but not necessarily unpredictable plot points drag the starbound scope down to a more earthbound drawl. The enthusiastic mix of these means there’s a jolly lot going on toward the end, but the forward drive of the narrative is unfortunately hampered. When there should be escalation of drama, we instead simply get escalation of things-happening-after-the-other. Nonetheless, for the majority of this thematically inspiring picture, it’s spiritually ravishing and goosebumply – yet burderned. Heavily so, in some parts of the story – Shaw and her partner Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) have their mission to trace our origin on this distant scorched ball overseen by Vickers (Charlize Theron), the typical ‘big bad business’ metanym in the Alien franchise, and the myriad plots of conspiracy that weave around are overwhelming – and Vickers does in fact become underused and rather unimportant by the end. However, some extraordinarily important questions are asked, perhaps the most important – where we come from, who made us. In attempting to answer the biggest questions, it doesn’t answer many of its own.
In the future, this might become known as the ‘troubled’ Ridley Scott flick. What should be appreciated most is the philosophical weight that a blockbuster aspires to. This is a good science fiction film, and with every shortcoming, it makes up for tenfold with something else; one that, once the dust of steely-eyed fanboy disappointment settles, will be appreciated for a thrilling, gorgeous, loopy, enigmatic epic that will have you tingling from its deliberated luridity for the whole, and bemusedly conveyor-belted through the more generic story beats for the sum. (And for the record, this is the third best Alien movie, after the first two of course. It would never have been as good as those, but definitely better than Alien3 and Resurrection. Let’s be glad about that.)
And yet, Prometheus never tries to be like Alien. It’s its own cinematic leviathan, leering its majestic head at a different angle to the franchise that birthed it. The amalgamation of blockbuster sheen and successful sci-fi tropes make for a (mostly) great experience, one which may see the usual director’s cut treatment Scott applies to many of his films for a future release. Once you digest the movie, with all its flair and periodic dimness, you’ll more than likely understand that you did in fact enjoy it, and will possibly wish to travel to LV-223 one more time. Possibly.