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What's the big deal?
Prometheus is a science fiction horror film released in 2012 and was directed and co-produced by Ridley Scott. Originally conceived as the fifth film in the Alien franchise, the film is a prequel to Scott's 1979 original and sees the crew of a science research vessel venture into deep space on a mission to help discover the possible origins of the human race. The film stars Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron and Logan Marshall-Green. Production of the film was halted after the release of spin-off movie Alien Vs Predator in 2004 before Scott revived the project in 2009. Although not linked to the Alien franchise officially, it is certainly set within the same universe. Released to a positive reception from critics, the film ended up earning more than $403 million worldwide as it became the highest earning film in the series so far. The film would be followed in 2017 by Alien: Covenant which was also directed by Scott, the only man to direct more than one film in the franchise.
What's it about?
In 2089, archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway discover prehistoric cave paintings on the Isle Of Skye and soon link them to other such paintings from a number of ancient, disparate cultures. The two of them uncover a pattern depicting a star chart of a system light years from Earth and believe that the paintings were an invitation from humanity's forerunners, known as Engineers. Funded by the CEO of Weyland Corporation, Peter Weyland, they travel on board the scientific research ship Prometheus to the distant moon LV-223 together with the ship's captain Janek and company representative Meredith Vickers. While the team are in stasis for the long journey, android David monitors the ship and prepares for the mission ahead.
In 2093, the ship finally arrives and lands on barren wasteland near what looks like an artificial structure resembling a pyramid. As they slowly explore the structure, they find a number of disturbing clues such as a large sculpture of a humanoid head, a vast number of strange containers filled with black liquid and what appears to be a decapitated corpse of an Engineer. As the mission gathers steam, it quickly becomes apparent that there are a number of differing agendas among the crew and an undiscovered threat soon emerges that threatens not just the Prometheus but all life on Earth...
What's to like?
It was perhaps wise of Scott to take the Alien series back to its roots and who better to revive its fortunes than the guy who kick-started it all? After years of substandard sequels and the indignity of those Predator mash-ups, Prometheus gives audiences a genuinely inventive and effective science fiction tale. Rather than just feature spaceships and nasty alien creatures, the film dares to take a more intelligent stance by posing questions about the origins of man and the nature of God - even if it doesn't provide much in the way of answers. It's a film that tries to make you think and the first half of the film is a tense and gripping drama driven by characters instead of circumstances.
The film benefits hugely from an experienced and talented cast led by Rapace and Fassbender as two characters from opposite ends of the scale. Rapace is a gritty and emotional heroine, driven by her faith and containing plenty of echoes of a certain Ellen Ripley. Fassbender's android is a much more settled character, disturbing in his impassive curiousity as his crew mates are butchered all around him. But both are great additions to a stacked cast including Theron, Elba, Rafe Spall and Sean Harris. The film also looks amazingly produced - effects are first-class and sets look and feel authentic. There are plenty of nods to pretty much all of the Alien films from the closing lines to David's impossible basketball shot imitating Ripley's three-pointer from Resurrection. The only thing missing is the traditional banana-headed beastie from the earlier films but the set designs and new creatures bear much of the same DNA (so to speak) so fans of the Xenomorphs won't be too disappointed.
- To prepare for the role of David, Fassbender studied The Man Who Fell To Earth, Lawrence Of Arabia and another Ridley Scott film, Blade Runner. He also studied American diving star Greg Louganis to imitate his physicality and walk for David.
- The advanced technology seen in Prometheus creates an obvious discrepancy with the out-dated tech seen in the original Alien. Scott explained this by saying that the Prometheus is a state-of-the-art science vessel costing a cool $1 trillion whereas the Nostromo seen in Alien was a decades-old ship with obsolete tech and bulky second-hand space suits.
- Fans of the Alien franchise are divided over whether this is the fifth or seventh film as some consider the two Alien Vs Predator films non-canon. James Cameron, the director of Aliens, was working with Scott on development of Prometheus when the first crossover film was announced and walked away, believing that the validity of the series would be killed. While not credited on the film, several of Cameron's ideas made it into the script.
What's not to like?
The problem is that about halfway through, Prometheus gets bored of being a serious science fiction film and suddenly remembers its horror aspects instead. The movie suddenly kick starts into a gory and violent splatterfest with heads exploding, disembodied screams echoing around the place and those randy aliens trying to impregnate everybody. There's nothing wrong with this - remember that Scott gave us the original Alien, still one of the best sci-fi horror films ever made - but because we've all grown so accustomed to the franchise, it doesn't offer anything we haven't seen already. They may be new but these aliens feel very familiar.
It also feels a bit of a waste. Given the strength of the first half of the film, it's disappointing that it reverts to being a simple and slightly silly horror flick. It also throws away logic in order to give us fancy visuals and imaginative sequences - take the moment when a character who has recently undergone invasive stomach surgery hours earlier is suddenly able to leap over distance and keep pace with another character who is fully fit. Characters also suddenly become very stupid, making decisions that defy all sense of logic - would a biologist approach a previously unseen life-form on an alien world the way any one of us would approach a puppy? Lastly, I was confused by the casting of Guy Pearce as the positively ancient Weyland - why not cast an actor of appropriate age instead of covering a younger actor with unconvincing prosthetics? His appearance was the least convincing thing about the movie including its fat-fetched plot and his performance suffers from it.
Should I watch it?
Prometheus is a welcome return to the series for Scott and a return to form for the films which had undoubtedly dipped in quality in recent outings. It's a superbly produced sci-fi film that brings a fresh perspective to the series, even though it's not about the Xenomorphs but instead questions the origin of our species. With exceptional talent in front and behind the camera, Prometheus is a great sci-fi horror film with enough nods to the whole Alien franchise to satisfy fans old and new. I just wanted it to stop being silly and let me concentrate on the questions the film poses instead of trying to scare me silly.
Great For: fans of the Alien franchise, anyone looking for decent sci-fi horror, reviving interest in a stagnating series
Not So Great For: anyone expecting a serious sci-fi film, the squeamish, Christian viewers
What else should I watch?
Much like Prometheus itself, the Alien franchise starts off well but ultimately begins to slide the longer it goes on. Launched in 1979 with Alien, the seminal sci-fi horror was followed up by the more action-packed Aliens from James Cameron which, while still highly regarded, was a very different film from the first. Aliens almost feels like a war film with heavily-armed Marines wading into battle against countless Xenomorphs and the almighty Alien Queen. Then things started to go wrong - Alien 3 was a more stripped-back affair, set on an all-male prison planet with Ripley once again being pursued by a hungry monster. Director David Fincher may have disowned the film but it's still much better than the messy Alien Resurrection which was struggled to escape the feeling of a dead horse being flogged. It was boring, predictable and desperate. After this, the series split off into two Alien Vs Predator films which, at the time of writing, I have yet to muster much enthusiasm to watch.
While the spin-off films may feature cinema's favourite alien hunter, his solo movies are still fairly popular. The original Predator is a classic, featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers do battle against the invisible extra terrestrial deep in a South American jungle. The first sequel Predator 2 was a bit of a misstep as Danny Glover's LA cop finds himself in the line of fire as another Predator comes and visits southern California. The series was revived in 2010 with Predators which saw the character rescued from the mashup series and reintroduced as one of Hollywood's most effective baddies. The most recent film The Predator was another disappointment despite the presence of Shane Black (who starred in the original film and worked on the script as well) behind the camera and what the future holds for the series remains uncertain.
Jon Spaihts & Damon Lindelof*
Release Date (UK)
1st June, 2012
Horror, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Academy Award Nominations
Best Visual Effects
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