Beware – quite a few spoilers in here!
I loved the first film in the ‘Alien’ series, largely because the hype was so huge I had nightmares before I even saw it. It didn’t disappoint when I did finally see it either: it was just a brilliantly simple conception, an indestructible monster picking off a captive food source one by one until something had to give. It was why I’m one of the few who also like Alien3, recapturing as it did that sense of claustrophobia, that sense of having nowhere to go. I never really got Aliens: though it was exciting enough, the monsters became scary not because they were sneaky bastards who were hard to kill, but simply because there were more of them than the heroes had bullets; they might has well have been pigeons. And as for the final in the series, Resurrection – well, apart from that really cool basketball scene, it was a pompous mess.
I love SF films, but I do prefer them conceptually simple: District 9 (a heist movie) or Blade Runner (cops and robbers) or Silent Running (fuck the corporation) or Serenity (cowboys in space); even, dare I say it, Predator, a movie I always find myself watching if it’s on, and the only film ever made in which Arnold Schwarzenegger is tolerable. So when I heard Prometheus was a high-concept ‘prequel’, I was prepared to be let down.
And I was.
The problems start early, with mumbo jumbo about us being the seeds of an alien race (SF cliché #1), a notion that depends on us believing that there was an ancient civilisation based on the Isle of Skye 35,000 years ago. Funny, there isn’t one based there today. Sorry, Skye folk, I’m really only joking. Why can’t we leave that discredited and old fashioned stuff behind us and get on with the real joys of the universe? Does anyone still seriously think Erich von Däniken might have a point?
I wouldn’t have minded if it all hadn’t been so… predictable. Alien infection (SF cliché #2); alien impregnation (SF cliché #3); double dealing android (SF cliché #4). Every single step of the way is SF 101.
And never mind the predictabilities – what about the stupidities? Why do “scientists” always take their helmets off as soon as they’re told the atmosphere is breathable, regardless of whatever pathogens might be lurking? And why, when they’re ‘infected’, do they always wait just long enough to turn into something horrible before telling anyone? They’re meant to be scientists, for God’s sake, and one of them, apparently, has lost her father to Ebola, so should know a thing or two about quarantine and sterilisation.
And here’s one for you. Imagine you see a hundred foot structure toppling towards you. Would you avoid it by (a) trying to outpace it by running a hundred and one feet in the direction it’s falling, or (b) sidestep it by moving ten or twenty feet to your left? What do our super-intelligent and resourceful characters do? Have a guess.
Performances are adequate, no more. Noomi Rapace, so brilliant in the Dragon Tattoo series, mangles lines in an execrable script; for example, the Prometheus has a crew of 17, half of whom are off the ship when she radios back that “I want a full medical team at the cargo bay immediately” to save her expiring lover. Whatever happened to “get the doctor”? Michael Fassbender is being lauded for his performance as Peter O’Toole the Android, and I suppose he’s the best of the bunch. Charlize Theron manages to convey neither steeliness nor coquettishness – damn, I love her too – and her “that’s the natural cycle… father” is one of the least surprising surprises in the history of cinema. Idris Elba, always watchable, is… watchable, I suppose, and the rest are the usual bunch of expendable nobodies, including Scot Kate Dickie whose role, it seems, is that of Sigourney Weaver’s in “Galaxy Quest”, repeating what the computer tells us; “Sterilisation complete: no contaminants present” she says, right after a shot of a pad that reads “Sterilisation complete: no contaminants present”. Why these characters weren’t just dressed in tight fitting red uniforms to indicate they’d be done away with soon I do not know.
There are some nice nods at the previous films – Fassbender wittily recreating that basketball scene on a bike, for instance – but the potential for any sort of lightness is lost in it’s portentiousness. So all that’s left, then, is the spectacle, and this is where the big let-down occurs in comparison with the original. Should prequels be bigger, more brash, more technologically cool, than the originals? Should they feel more advanced? I don’t know.
But apart from that, the beauty of Alien was its scuzziness, the fact that actors were crawling around a real set, were trapped in real access tubes. The Nostromo was a place of sweaty, dirty fear – an aesthetic that was so brilliantly captured in the “Alien” themed haunted houses that did the rounds for a while – while the world of Prometheus is one of grandeur and scale, and as a result you know it adds up to nothing more than pixels put together on a greenscreen.
A pity. I’d hoped for something with the verve of the first Alien; instead, it’s another CGI blockbuster without a heart to be ripped out of its chest by a wee nasty with an unusual set of chompers.