It's hard to believe Alien is over 30 years old but it hit cinema screens in 1979. It was a claustrophobic horror film with a relatively modest budget of $11 million. The sci-fi world it gave birth to was bleak, dank and depressing. It was also believable. Giger's Alien design made him a household name but the visual style was superb throughout and it has influenced the genre heavily. Alien has spawned a number of sequels and spin-offs over the years, from Cameron's action-packed epic, Aliens, to the more recent and far less enjoyable, Aliens vs Predator: Requiem. If you haven't seen Prometheus yet then go and watch it, there may be spoilers ahead.
Director Ridley Scott has finally returned to the world he created with a prequel. Prometheus could hardly be further from the original Alien film in terms of scope. With a budget of around $130 million this is an awe-inspiring journey that ponders the origin of humanity. The basic premise sees an exploration ship called Prometheus following a star map that was recorded by various unrelated ancient cultures. A small crew end up investigating a distant world in search of the "Engineers". Alien fans will recognise them from the derelict spaceship that the Nostromo finds in the original film.
The star map was uncovered by an archaeologist couple, Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway, and they have convinced the Weyland Corporation to fund the expedition. Naturally there are strings attached to this arrangement. David is the creepy android on board and he seems to have his own agenda. Meredith Vickers is the severe company woman in charge, Janek is the cynical captain of the ship and the rest are fodder, most notably Milburn the botanist and Fifield the geologist. What they discover when they reach the moon, LV-223, is not entirely what they expected and it doesn't take very long for things to spiral out of control.
The film is a blend of sci-fi, horror and action. Some reviews have called it "ponderous" and there's no doubt it has grand intentions but, for me at least, it achieved some of the sense of awe it was aiming for. Most of us spend some time in our lives questioning our origins, not even just where do we come from but why do we exist at all? Most people give up thinking about it in frustration because not only are there no satisfying answers but it's not even clear where you would start looking. The idea of finding a solid lead and following it is a decent premise and it inevitably sucks you in.
Of course if you think you're going to get a clear cut answer you can think again but Prometheus throws out enough good ideas to keep things interesting. In its best moments it evoked similar feelings to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not everyone likes thoughtful, slow-paced sci-fi so Scott has thrown in some tense action and a couple of classic horror deaths. There's nothing approaching the stalk-and-kill tension of Alien but everything in Prometheus is grander and bigger and more dramatic.
You could argue that they threw a bunch of genre clichés and familiar ideas into the blender. We've got - humans created by ancient humans seeding the earth, old man seeks immortality, we treat androids horribly as their creators and yet expect something different from our creators, idiot scientist says "coochy coo" and approaches an alien that will obviously kill him....the list goes on. However, the end result is beautifully crafted nonetheless and many of those ideas and clichés are more skilfully realised here than they have been elsewhere.
The cast is solid and mercifully free of any grandstanding. Everyone seems to be praising Fassbender for his robotic performance as David and he is undeniably well cast. Noomi Rapace is different enough from Ripley, despite being a strong female lead, to avoid direct comparisons. I like Idris Elba, although Janek is the kind of part that doesn't seem to require much imagination. There's able support from the likes of Sean Harris and Charlize Theron.
Expectations for a film like Prometheus are always ridiculously high. It's unlikely to please Alien fans because it really doesn't have a great deal in common beyond being set in the same universe. It's tough to escape the feeling that it was tied in for commercial purposes. It's also tough to counter the argument that the film is muddled and the script is quite weak. There are a lot of ideas at play here and a lack of focus. On the other hand the ideas are all interesting, the direction is good, the visual style is captivating and you won't see a better sci-fi film this year.
Prometheus runs for just over two hours and I can honestly say I wasn't aware of myself or my surroundings for the duration. It was entertaining from start to finish.Short Review
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