Monday, 4 June 2012

Prometheus (A spoiler-free critique)

Riddled with plot holes and sorely lacking in suspense this Alien prequel from the director who started the franchise with writer Dan O'Bannon back in 1979 shamelessly exploits the original mythology for what is ultimately a highly flawed and frustrating to watch sci-fi thriller.

Taking the mystery of the previously unexplained creature discovered by the crew of the Nostromo, piloted by the charismatic and now legendary character Ripley, prior to their exposure to the famous Xenomorph that picks them off one by one, Prometheus creates a back-story for this bizarre entity, once dubbed the Space-Jockey and now referred to as an Engineer. Set 100 years before the original Alien took place, Noomi Rapace steps into the central protagonist role this time around as Dr Shaw, a scientist who believes that the answer to the meaning of human life lies with these advanced beings after discovering ancient cave drawings referring to a distant galaxy where the Engineers seem to have travelled from to visit Earth millions of years ago. Cue a lengthy mission statement from Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers, an employee of the fictional Weyland Yutani corporation that is spearheading and funding the mission, the true reason for which is revealed later, and Weyland himself, oddly played by Guy Pearce in aged prosthetics and make-up. Much time is spent between the crew bickering and debating ethics and morality and the should they/shouldn't they nature of the expedition and once the film picks up interest it's lost yet again due to more banal theologizing and philosophising which comes across as a failed attempt to inject deeper meaning into what is a rather simple plot that doesn't really beg to be dwelled on.

Prometheus suffers from a disjointed and muddled narrative that crams so many different potential threads into 124 minutes but never fully follows through with any of them, apart from perhaps the existential quandary facing multiple characters that arises and is summed up with one line of dialogue that fittingly surmises the film itself; "there is nothing". As if to distract us from the banality of the characters and script Scott goes to town on the visuals with some truly breathtaking imagery, the only trouble is that the initial awe is hardly replenished due to the fact that the whole thing is set in one general location with only the crew's ship, the Engineer's structure and the planet surface as sets, and whereas Alien used the confines of the industrial ship to claustrophobic effect Scott here tries constantly to mine as much grandeur from these locations that it becomes tedious.

To demystify the mystique which leant Alien so much atmosphere and boosted its terrifying impact I would argue that there should be a worthy reason to do so and at no point in Prometheus did I feel that the weight of the story and concept was fully realised. In fact most of the major occurrences in the film come and go so quickly and often inconsequentially that you start to feel as if you are watching a showreel of high tech special effects sequences with no narrative continuity. Alien kept you on the edge of your seat due to what you didn't see, and the power of the imagination was provoked to startling effect, whereas with Prometheus Scott shines the brightest light he can find onto the story and shows us too much of the locations, creatures and dwells heavily on the concepts and ideas raised while eschewing emotion, suspense, horror and feeling.

You could argue that this is a standalone film and that it should be judged on its own merit but even so it still boils down to being a spectacle-driven film conceived as something more intellectual that fails to reach its own ambition. To not compare it to previous Alien films is impossible due to the fact that it borrows so heavily and directly from each one. Human-alien pregnancy, hybrid mutations, chest-bursting, rape subtext, androids and of course the alien itself, I don't criticize them for taking some of the best elements from the past and revisiting and revising them but unfortunately the new creatures in this film aren't scary at all and the characters are so unlikeable that the sense of threat is heavily diminished, the other elements are wasted apart from Michael Fassbender as the android David who is at least one saving grace. One of the most inspired scenes that harkens back to the underrated and brilliantly dark Alien 3 involves an alien pregnancy and the removal of a gestating alien from one of the human characters but unfortunately there is such little build up to this that it lessens the impact of what could have been a much more tense and unnerving situation and then it's forgotten so quickly that you feel slightly cheated, which becomes a pattern throughout.

As mentioned Fassbender is one of the film's best aspects, but Theron and Idris Elba also do a great job considering the shoddy material they're given and the bizarre and incongruous character motivation, which you will no doubt be questioning at every narrative turn. Noomi Rapace seems oddly cast as Prometheus' Ripley-esque protagonist, lacking the humanity that would have perhaps made her more likeable. The minor characters are appallingly written and really detract from the otherwise serious tone and atmosphere.

Those hoping to find direct links to Alien will be disappointed and most likely angry. The planet which is visited in Prometheus is LV-233, not LV-426 which is the planet that the crew's nightmare begins on in Alien. Instead of tying things up nicely the film raises more questions than it answers and ends in such a way that demands a sequel to actually finish the story, but if it's going to be as confused and ineffective as this than it's one sequel I can definitely do without.

(Scroll down to read my spoiler filled grievances and questions)

Why does Ridley Scott set this on LV-233 and not LV-426? I found this very misleading and annoying.
The tentacle creatures look silly and are not scary at all, neither are the Engineers.
The characters actions aren't clever, the scientist playing with the tentacle, the character smoking marijuana from his space suit, Idris Elba switching from not caring at all about what happens to suddenly deciding he must sacrifice his own life to destroy the Engineer's ship, Dr Shaw being able to run around after having her stomach cut open, Vickers letting herself get crushed by the ship while Shaw merely rolls a few feet out of the way, the Engineer suddenly deciding to get angry...
The alien which bursts from the Engineer at the end looks like a poor copy of Geiger's iconic design.
The Engineer's are supremely advanced beings that have mastered space travel, interactive hologram technology and bioengineering and yet the activation of their ship is accomplished with a magical flute.

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