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After what feels like a decade of remake/sequel/prequel/reboot confusion and mutterings about ‘sharing the same DNA’, Ridley Scott’s return to the “Alien” franchise, “Prometheus”, finally hits the screens. It’s perhaps not too surprising that the film has remained shrouded in teasing mystery for so long, given the enduring classic status of Scott’s 1979 original and James Cameron’s 1986 follow up “Aliens”, not to mention the relative critical and commercial failure that their many sequels and spin-offs have met with. The big budget production, released in 3D and IMAX, is certainly an ambitious affair, not only attempting to return to the sci-fi monster horror of its predecessor, but featuring a plot which revolves around the origins of the human species.
Set in 2093, the film stars Swedish “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” actress Noomi Rapace in the obligatory female protagonist role as Elizabeth Shaw, a scientist who with her beau (Logan Marshall-Green) uncovers a star map and apparent invitation in ancient cave paintings, and ends up part of a space mission to the remote planet LV-223 in search of humanity’s makers. Needless to say, she and the crew, including Weyland corporate ice queen Vickers (Charlize Theron), captain Janek (Idris Elba) and slightly creepy robot David (Michael Fassbender) discover something far more sinister and potentially world-ending.
It’s best not to say much more about the film’s story, as “Prometheus” is from the first few frames, quite clearly an ideas film and one with intellectual leanings and would-be shattering twists. This in itself is clearly a good thing, especially when compared to the near gleeful stupidity of most Hollywood blockbusters of the summer season. Thankfully, it doesn’t take long for the prequel/reboot debate to become irrelevant, with the mysterious DNA sharing statement quickly making perfect sense, and the film fits very neatly into the franchise mythos and universe, expanding it and presenting new possibilities in a way which all of the sequels have been unable to, almost seeming to want to turn the series into a kind of epic space opera.
Whilst Scott doesn’t quite manage to pull off the whole philosophical angle, the film certainly gets points for trying, and its plot is for the most part engaging and creative, if at times rather wrapped up in its own self-importance and prone to clumsy hammering home of the whole parent/child, creator/creation theme. Still, this all works pretty well, and the veteran director hits his targets for the first two thirds of the film at least, which seems to be building to something shocking and momentous. Sadly, though perhaps inevitably, the film’s earlier semi-Lovecraftian stabs at exploring a dark and nihilistic look at the birth of humanity give way to “Event Horizon” style shenanigans and a wilful refusal to really answer any of its big questions.
The leads are somewhat of a mixed bag, with Rapace doing her best with not to cave in under the weight of Ripley expectations and Theron spending most of her time snarling sexily, with Elba being granted surprisingly scant screen time and given very little to work with. The film’s most memorable and interesting character is undoubtedly Fassbender’s bizarre David, an oddball android who provides a variety of amusing moments. His wacky mannerisms aside, the film is undermined by a humdrum and entirely non-descript supporting cast who though by no means unlikeable are clearly only there to either die or help advance the narrative.
Oddly enough, where “Prometheus” also kind of drops the ball, for some viewers at least, is in that while it packs in some action and b-movie style kicks, it never goes quite far enough to make for the type of all-out thrills that some have been expecting. This having been said, it does feature some excellent large scale set pieces and gruesome moments of body horror, with just about the right amount of mayhem and nastiness needed to keep things moving along, none of which is too over the top or jars with the film’s more thoughtful and talky side. Scott succeeds in generating a fair amount of dread and suspense, with an ominous atmosphere hanging over the proceedings that’s arguably preferable to all out schlock.
Where “Prometheus” really shines is in its amazing visuals and production design, being easily one of the best looking films for some time, especially if caught on an IMAX screen. Combining some inoffensive and unobtrusive use of 3D and stunning natural vistas (something the series has markedly avoided in the past) with huge, gloomy interiors, the film channels the H.R. Giger design spirit with a magnificent and horribly organic look that perfectly complements its themes. The special effects are superb throughout, with some impressively seamless computer work resulting in some truly awesome scenes.
Despite its flaws, “Prometheus” makes for spectacular and mostly enjoyable viewing, offering audiences something which at least makes an attempt to combine grand excitement with grandiose ideas and cerebral ponderings. Though undeniably inferior to “Alien” and “Aliens” and unlikely to please those looking for a gore-packed monster movie, it’s nevertheless a bold and praiseworthy effort, and one which will hopefully manage to achieve enough box office success so as not to persuade Hollywood executives that dumb, generic thoughtlessness is a more profitable option.
Ridley Scott (director) / Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof (screenplay)
CAST: Noomi Rapace … Elizabeth Shaw
Michael Fassbender … David
Charlize Theron … Meredith Vickers
Idris Elba … Janek
Guy Pearce … Peter Weyland
Logan Marshall-Green … Charlie Holloway
Sean Harris … Fifield
Rafe Spall … Millburn
Emun Elliott … Chance
Benedict Wong … Ravel
Kate Dickie … Ford