Film review: Prometheus.
It's a strange thing, hype. Rare as it now is for a film to be sprung upon us, you get the feeling that the practice is self-defeating. As much as we ought to be able to rationalise it, the process of posting teaser trailers and then eventually the trailer itself online does raise often unrealisable expectations. Those behind the marketing for Prometheus went pretty much all out, uploading additional videos giving extra character background, and also creating an entire website for Weyland Industries, the company behind the journey to planet LV-223, which is not it should be noted the same planet as landed on by the ship in Alien.
Indeed, much as this is a prequel to Alien, and as much as prequels in general are a terrible idea which only highlight the lack of originality and risk-taking afflicting Hollywood at the moment, it's best to forget Prometheus has anything but a tenuous connection to the original masterpiece. Ridley Scott never intended to try to one-up or remake Alien itself; he did though attempt to add something to the series. Whether he's managed it or not seems to have split critics and punters fairly down the middle, with critics mostly giving it the thumbs-up while those expecting much from Scott seem to have on the whole came out disappointed. This isn't an exact science, as both Metacritic and IMDB have far more positive than negative reviews (it's currently rated at 7.7 on IMDB, but that's fairly meaningless when almost anything below a 7 on there is usually dire), but to judge from the correspondence on message boards, comment sections and Mayo and Kermode's film review show those most looking forward to it were left distinctly underwhelmed.
This raises the point of whether you can ruin a film for yourself. So many of those who gave Cabin in the Woods good reviews, which I hated, suggested it was one of those movies where the less you knew the better. As I only went to see it as I was on a loose end on the day, I'd read the reviews before going. Perhaps if I hadn't known how it played out I might have enjoyed it a little more; I doubt it though. With Prometheus, I have to say I wasn't expecting all that much, only watching the one trailer, although I had read a good few reviews. Has that affected my overall opinion this time, which is that I really rather enjoyed it?
Possibly. One friend, who was almost wetting himself with anticipation, ended up loathing it. And I can see why some will be absolutely infuriated by Prometheus. Opening with a humanoid alien (or a space jockey, as seen in the original film) drinking a liquid that kills him but which in turn uses his body to create new life, Prometheus returns to the well-trodden theme that life on Earth began either with a meteor strike or through direct intervention by aliens. Introduced to the characters of Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway, played by Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green respectively, on the Isle of Skye, they find cave paintings showing man pointing towards five small spheres, spheres that Shaw and Holloway are convinced represent a constellation, a motif repeated in the art of other ancient civilisations. Could it be they knew something we didn't?
It's a conceit that invites derision, but this is science fiction after all. Funded by the dying head of the Weyland corporation who shares their intrigue, they blast off to the one moon in this depicted constellation that could once have supported life, accompanied by a motley crew similar to that in Alien, including the humanoid robot David (Michael Fassbender) and the distinctly icy Vickers (Charlize Theron), who's representing the company. Of the main criticisms levelled at the film, that the script is poor and that the scientists seem remarkably ill-informed for such an important, scholarly mission, I have to admit on this occasion that I was perhaps overawed, or at least paid less attention to these failings due to the sweeping cinematography and pitch-perfect visuals. The design of the ship and the planet live up to the series' beginnings, although I can't imagine how any of the film could possibly have been improved by the 3D, having seen it in good old twod.
If you aren't drawn in as I was, I suspect you might not be able to get past the various plot holes, creaky dialogue and the odd poor performance. While Noomi Rapace is good value in her lead role, Charlize Theron is distinctly underwhelming as Vickers, coming across as wooden. This might be explained by the differences of opinion over whether or not she is also a robot, but there's no such debate over Michael Fassbender's David, who as Peter Bradshaw writes steals the entire film. Just as Ian Holm's Ash in the original had a different mission to everyone else, David is certainly sinister, and Fassbender plays the part with such cold subtlety that you know something isn't right yet still find yourself warming towards him.
The other reason I might have enjoyed the film as much as I did as that at times it resembles an episode of the X-Files with a mega budget. Sure, there isn't a Mulder or Scully, but the theme is one that the series directly addressed. Shaw does though have the same seemingly illogical religious belief that Scully had, believing in a higher power while being strictly a scientist. Even when they find the evidence that if not refuting three hundred years of Darwinism as one character says certainly puts it in a new perspective, she still refuses to accept there is no God. Who, she posits, created those who created us?
As predictably then as Prometheus plays out, the positives outweigh the negatives. It occasionally veers into the disjointed, but the set-pieces are superbly manufactured and there are even a couple of genuine scares in there, all the better for their coming out of the blue. The ending is also deeply satisfying, although you can't help but hope that this is the only prequel and that both Scott and the studio leave well be now. Not everything has to be explained or developed fully, as some of the amateur critics seem to want. Without the hype and expectation, what would have been a thoroughly decent sci-fi blockbuster has been somewhat unfairly traduced. It does what it sets out to do, does it with reasonable panache, but it isn't a classic. The real question is why anyone thought it would be otherwise from Hollywood in 2012, Ridley Scott helming the project or not.