Since its inception Ridley Scott’s first foray into science fiction in 30 years has been shrouded in mystery, with conflicting reports claiming how much Prometheus was linked to Alien (1979) its status as a prequel was confounded over with every announcement studied by eager fans. When the film’s advertising campaign began, more and more was revealed about the plot and its ties with the Alien franchise made concrete with overelaborate 3 minute trailers full of expository monologues. What first started as a genius piece of marketing stirring insurmountable hype soon became over-revealing and unnecessary. The anticipation for Sir Ridley Scott returning to the genre he helped defined and excelled in was most extraordinary, perhaps Prometheus could never live up to the hype. In retrospect the film’s approach to marketing becomes apparent, operating as a crutch and padding to aid a film struggling to stand by itself. It’s a visually astonishing experience, full of suspense and wonder, but ultimately lacking though far from a failure.
A crew on board a ship financed by the Weyland company travel to a distant galaxy thought to hold the key to mankind’s origin. Cave paintings dating back a whole millennia before mankind was thought to exist are discovered by Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green, they’re subsequently whisked off for their expertise to join the ship Prometheus in a bid to find those responsible for human life.
Britain’s own Idris Elba is Prometheus’ captain though Charlize Theron (doing her best Nurse Ratched impression) makes it clear she’s in charge of operations. The crew of 17 are only partially defined in character with some poorly constructed attempts in the script to get them talking, most are forgettable with their lines falling flat and shamefully cliched. One man who doesn’t blend into the gorgeous set design however is Michael Fassbender as the ship’s replicant droid David; he riffs off of previous performances from Ian Holmes and Lance Henriksen adding his own unique spin making David a very intriguing man. The most engrossing character in this piece isn’t human at all but a droid just as keen to unlock the mysteries of his existence.
As expected from Ridley Scott the visuals and set design are unrivalled with even the grandest of CGI wide shots being awe-inspiring instead of distractingly full of itself. As the ship lands to investigate the alien hub in which the answers of all life could reside we enter familiar territory and boy does Scott know how to light these scenes. As we follow another group of suited explorers full of naivety we’re right back in 1979 when the Nostromo first intercepted that apparent SOS signal. This time we’re granted more time in the eerie haunted house of a ship, the suspense is built as the mysteries are impossible to decipher, we just have to wait and see what’s in store, left scared but wanting more just like those in the film. Bit by bit we piece together the purpose of the strange being from Alien, the creature in the chair since labelled ‘The Space Jockey’. Once in the horror arena the Prometheus fires on all cylinders hitting every target, in a terrifying moment of body horror an infected Noomi Rapace desperately performs an operation on herself, claustrophobic and nightmare inducing this is where Prometheus succeeds most and with upmost tenacity. It’s let down however when Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof’s script ventures into higher existential plains, levels it can’t do justice, merely coming off as conceited attempts at profundity. At this point the film sags and feels desperately uninspired, as it lumbers clumsily towards an ending it ill-advisedly passes the finish-line at a satisfactory juncture going further towards an illogical underwhelming cut-off point, sacrificing all comprehension in the process.
With ideas above its station Prometheus would have been strengthened had it played the game straight and simple, as a horror piece it conquers and reminds of how Ridley Scott was born for stories of this scope and grandeur, to an extent its great to have him back. Whereas Alien and Blade Runner (1982) are two of the finest examples of science fiction, perfect films that exercised style and substance to great effect it’s therefore unfortunate that despite a relatively promising start Prometheus is mere window dressing in comparison.