The Review: It’s been thirty-three years since Sir Ridley Scott first announced himself to the world at large with Alien. Inspired by the epic sweep of Star Wars and the potential that such images and ideas had in the cinema, he took a small crew into space, ripped them to shreds and terrified audiences everywhere. During that thirty-three years, we have come to find ourselves living in a world of sequels, where seemingly no story is ever truly concluded, and so the thought of Scott returning to that world, in which many others had played with different ideas but only James Cameron had received similar acclaim for, excited audiences the world over. The potential of another Alien film like Alien seemed too good to pass up, a chance for a further exploration of the world, and one which had many unanswered questions, not least what else was on LV-426 when the crew of the Nostromo set down on company orders. In the months preceding the release of Prometheus, excitement reached fever pitch, then rapidly turned to angst; the trailer seemed to deliver enough Alien related goodness, but when discussion even turned to the classification that the film would receive, with seemingly nothing less than a 15 / R rating satisfying the fans, all watching previous Alien movies in anticipation, could anything ever hope to live up to the high expectations set for it?
Except in the rush to proclaim this an Alien prequel, with the expectations of the same qualities as the original, everyone seemed to forget that no two other Alien movies have ever sat in the same genre. Alien was effectively a haunted house movie in space, for all its sci-fi trappings and unbearable tension; Aliens the classic war movie, the Dirty Dozen sent to pick off the enemy in black; Alien³ was a nihilistic prison movie, despairing at the nature of life and death; and Alien Resurrection had mutant DNA running through its core, the darkly comic contrasting with the horror of the cloned creations. It should come as no surprise to anyone willing to give it a moment’s thought that Prometheus is keenly ploughing its own furrow, looking to explore not only how the aliens may have come about, but also how we came about as well, and Prometheus could well be the first pure sci-fi of the series.
Consequently, it stands alone as a film that can be watched without pre-knowledge of the series, but one that also calls on the themes of each of the earlier (or is that later?) films, even if the key call out to Alien Resurrection initially appears to be incredible basketball skills. The core motifs of the series – other than a giant black alien with two mouths and acid for blood – are all present and correct. There’s the strong female lead in Noomi Rapace, a different twist on the gradually empowered Ellen Ripley who’s looking for answers she may not want to find; the corporate tool, in more than one sense of the word, as Charlize Theron lays down the law and takes matters into her own hands in equal measure; the friendly grunt (Idris Elba) who’s unshakably on the side of good, and the absolute standout here, David the android (Michael Fassbender), who’s working to his own agenda but avoids the more Pinocchio-like clichés of other obvious robots. This sense of familiarity in the characters, coupled with Prometheus telling a new story using many of the story beats of the other films, gives Prometheus an oppressive sense of familiarity, and for anyone familiar with the series a gut-wrenching sense of inevitability sets in as whatever’s still on the planet starts to reveal itself.
Prometheus then becomes a fascinating mix of the old and the new; grappling with new ideas that extend well beyond the claustrophobic scope of any of the films with Alien in the title, but at the same time having some fun with the old ideas and investing new life into them. The one thing guaranteed to disappoint those most hoping for another film cut from exactly the same cloth as Alien, rather than just cut into a similar style, is that this is more sci-fi than horror, looking to engage your mind rather than send it screaming. On the ideas front, the only failing is the insistence to have to explain some events in total and absolute detail, especially given that this leaves as much open to speculation as Alien did; to attempt to leave much unexplained, and then practically shout explanations in your face for the remainder, is both disconcerting and ultimately disappointing. For anyone else who’s ever contemplated either the nature of existence, or even what that blue fluff collecting in their belly button is, there should be a decent amount to enjoy. When Scott does turn his hand, in a few brief moments, to horror it’s the equal of anything in the series, queasily uncomfortable scenes that could leave you clasping your belly, Ripley-like, in sympathy. Prometheus is about two minutes too long (and those are absolutely the last two minutes – if you’ve any sense you’ll leave when you see the duffel bag, and you’ll enjoy it more on its own terms if you do), but the marriage of big, unexplained ideas and gorgeous cinematography and production design mean that there’s life gestating in the warm body of this franchise yet. Fancy another go, Cameron?
Why see it at the cinema: Visually stunning, which almost goes without saying being a Ridley Scott film, and there are just a couple of sequences that you’ll want to see so you can chat with your mates in the pub afterwards.
Why see it in 3D: Ridley Scott does about as well as anyone has with 3D in terms of creating a depth of field, and the crisp images and bold shots work pretty well with the extra dimension. Despite the dark sets and gloomy images, the image has been sufficiently brightened that you can still watch indoors with sunglasses on and make out everything that’s happening. If you’re a fan of stereoscopy, then do make the effort for Prometheus.
The Score: 8/10