reviewed by greg moss
Friday 8th June 2012
Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof. Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba and Rafe Spall. Running time: 124 mins.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD –
Having been a fan of Ridley Scott’s ALIEN since its release in 1979 and being less than enamoured with the director’s subsequent output, with the exception perhaps of 1982’s BLADE RUNNER, I went into PROMETHEUS not expecting a great deal, but still hoping it would be somewhat of a return to form.
PROMETHEUS is Scott’s first self-generated genre film since 1986’s LEGEND (and by this I mean Scott commissioned the script based on his own original concept),
And PROMETHEUS does indeed resemble LEGEND in many ways – visually impressive, but with erratic pacing, superficial characters we don’t care about and a clumsily-staged finale.
At times the violence in PROMETHEUS is so over-the-top that it ventures into shameless exploitation. In fact, most of the various dispatchings of characters reminded me very much of Roger Corman’s exploitation pictures from the early 80’s, particularly (and ironically) his ALIEN rip-offs GALAXY OF TERROR and FORBIDDEN WORLD.
The death of Fifield (Sean Harris) is a case in point. It is ridiculous and uneccessary – incineration by flame-thrower, followed by splattery head-crunching by multi-wheeled vehicle.
Admittedly the visual effects are flawless, but this film has major problems in the script department, and genre scribes of Spaihts and Lindelof’s standing really should know better.
Apart from the seven or so principal characters, most of the crew of seventeen seem to be conveniently forgotten by the screenwriters soon after we meet them at the initial briefing. Why make the number of crew so large in the first place, if they’re not actually utilized in any meaningful way ?
In ALIENS, at least Cameron had the good sense to wipe out most of the platoon early on in the piece, so as to leave a handful of survivors we care about to fight for their lives. In PROMETHEUS, most of the crew seem to just ‘disappear into the woodwork’ for no good reason.
Sloppy, very sloppy.
As for the performances, Idris Elba as Janek, the ship’s captain, is the only thesp who comes close to nailing the naturalism of the actors in the original ALIEN. Everyone else in the cast is clearly ‘acting’ – particularly Michael Fassbender as the android David. In ALIEN, Ian Holm’s acting style is natural and understated (and Lance Henriksen in ALIENS too for that matter). But here, from the outset, Fassbender is clearly not human – which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in terms of how the androids are portrayed in the original films. And no, justifying this by saying David is an earlier model is nothing more than a lame cop out.
So … are there ANY positives?
Well … no … not really.
But for all of those eagle-eyed ALIEN nerds out there, there are several interesting little homages dotted throughout. Some less obvious than others.
Jerry Goldsmith’s original ALIEN theme can be heard during the ship’s descent to the planet. The bringing back of the Space Jockey’s severed head to the ship is straight out of Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett’s original STARBEAST draft. The flying ‘mapping robots’ are a reworking of similar maintenance robots (referred to as ‘mice’) which appeared in Scott’s original ALIEN storyboards (but which were later scrapped due to budgetary reasons). And the Engineers’ dome-like ‘pyramid’ is a reworking of the original egg silo designed for ALIEN but never used, with the added feature of the elongated human head atop the Harkonnen fortress Giger had originally designed for Jodorowsky’s aborted DUNE film in 1975.
Egg Silo – ‘Alien’ by H.R. Giger
Harkonnen Fortress – ‘Dune’ by H.R. Giger
I’ve been aware of Scott’s concept for the Space Jockeys’ backstory for some years now – ie: in that they created the alien as a biological weapon to wipe out dominant life forms on whatever planet they chose to colonize. And for years I hoped he would never get to realize it. I mean, do we really NEED to know who they are? Isn’t it more – I dunno – alien – not to know?
For me, the idea of explaining who the Space Jockeys are defeats the purpose of calling the original film ALIEN in the first place.
a’lien a & n, 1. a. Not one’s own; foreign, differing in nature; out of harmony.
Space Jockey – 1979
Remember in ALIEN – the first time the Jockey was revealed – in that breathtaking crane shot? Didn’t it send frissons up the spine? Entice your imagination? Give you a sense of – awe? Like, holy shit! – what the F*CK is that? Of course it did – and that was the intent. I mean, let’s not forget, Scott hired Giger with the express purpose of creating this feeling in the first place! It’s like the first time we saw the monolith in ‘2001’ – its presence was enough – it didn’t need to be explained – it didn’t need to be anything other than an iconic image which inspired awe.
And so it is with the Space Jockey.
However, now Scott has well and truly ‘jumped the shark’ by reducing the Space Jockeys to nothing more than ‘bio-suits’ for a bunch of bald-headed humanoid neo-nazi astro thugs!
And that’s not all – THEY CREATED US AS WELL???
This clumsy shoe-horning of Von Daniken’s theory of alien intervention in human evolution into the ALIEN universe is something akin to Lucas using midichlorians to explain away the mystery of The Force in THE PHANTOM MENACE. Except in this case, the damage is far more profound, affecting the very integrity of the original films.
Yes, but has Sir Ridley forever ruined the mythos?
Well, not for those of us who remember ALIEN as a stand-alone – we can always ignore this ill-conceived, sloppily-made abomination.
But for subsequent generations, I’m sad to say the answer is yes.
Viewed in 3D at the V-Max Cinema, Westfield Marion, Adelaide, June 7 2012.
Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes right-brained people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.