Like so many now classic horror films, Alien (1979) was critically under-rated and even vilified on its release, as was Sir Ridley Scott’s other venture into sci-fi, Blade Runner (1982).
Perhaps that’s why he has taken his time to go back to the future.
It’s not giving too much away to say that Prometheus is a prequel to Alien, though another film will be needed to bridge the time gap between the two.
Space odyssey: Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender as explorers who find themselves in a fight to protect the human race
Scott even recycles elements from his 1979 movie: a blue-collar crew on a spaceship (called Prometheus), an aloof android (Michael Fassbender taking over the Ian Holm role to droll effect) and not one but two strong female characters — Noomi Rapace (the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) as the tough-guy heroine and Charlize Theron as the corporate boss who matronises the mostly masculine astronauts.
There’s more philosophising than in Alien, for the crew’s mission is nothing less than to discover the origin of mankind, why we were created and by whom. To accomplish this, they visit a distant planet where all kinds of unpleasantness awaits them.
The film is on a much grander scale than its predecessor. There are sufficient epic vistas to have satisfied David Lean, whose Lawrence Of Arabia is quoted from throughout (not a great idea, as there’s no doubt which is the better film), and enough space gadgetry to satisfy the most obsessive Top Gear presenter.
Less impressive is the film’s split personality. It starts out as a thoughtful take on Darwinian versus Creationist theory and as an investigation of faith, but it turns into a fairly conventional monster movie, with icky special effects catering for the grisliest of fanboy tastes.
Blockbuster: Prometheus cost a reported 85 million to make, but it is set to overtake box office records previously set by hits such as Avatar and Batman The Dark Knight
The sequence about a self-inflicted Caesarean is even more gruesome than Alien’s famous exploding stomach scene involving John Hurt. Do not watch if you are expecting a baby.
As a piece of speculative fiction, Prometheus falls well short of greatness, but it shows abundant visual panache and, as a horror flick, delivers plenty of nasty shocks. Technically, the film is a triumph.
Disappointingly, it leaves its deeper questions unanswered, which comes across as a cop-out. Though solemn and portentous, Scott doesn’t get any closer to the meaning of the universe than Douglas Adams did in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
Much of the movie takes place inside an enormous, hollow, alien structure, and that is all too apposite a metaphor for the whole movie. There’s little sense of human contact between the crew, and we are not encouraged to feel much as they are exploded and eviscerated.
With the exception of Noomi Rapace’s leading character, the others are as sketchy and undeveloped as in the most sub-standard slasher flick, so the experience is emotionally underwhelming.
Prometheus isn’t a classic, unlike Alien and Blade Runner, but there are enough quality ingredients to make me hope Scott gets the money to make the sequel.