Right – the wait is over, and let it be first of all said that Ridley Scott‘s prequel/companion piece/whatever-the-hell-it-is to Alien (1979), Prometheus (2012), does have more than enough of the flair and invention that one might have expected from the director who first gave us the xenomorph to end all xenomorphs. However, there can be no doubt that the debate over this film will run and run – having only just left my own screening 30 minutes ago, I have to say that my thoughts run far more to missed opportunities than questions answered. Intrigued? Well, it’s only fair to say that you probably will be by the film as well, but I doubt that few, be they devoted Alien-hounds or merely the curious, will emerge jubilant.
I do not want to go into too much detail as to the story’s backdrop – in the first Alien film (apparently set very far in the future, but apparently only some 30 years after this prequel, so that would make it around 2124) interstellar miners working for the Weyland-Yutani ‘Company’ are forced to land on a planet only half-way back to Earth in response to an apparent distress signal (that’s later interpreted as a warning) – the crew encounter a huge derelict alien ship and pick up a most unwelcome stowaway. The rest, as they say, etc, etc, but we’re in the past now anyway in relation to that film, because a team of explorers, led by icy Weyland-Yutani exec Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and including scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan-Marshall Green), who believe they are en route to the discovery of the origins of mankind, and ever-so-friendly android David (Michael Fassbender), who’s just here to help, no really, are now heading back to the planet featured in Scott’s first film. You see Company founder Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) has left a hologram message for the brave explorers, claiming his own death, but indicating that they may be on the verge of discovering the answer to life, the universe and everything. Hmmm.
And the opening 30 minutes or so are riveting, it must be said – Scott and his screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindehof present us with a largely believable motley crew, and Fassbender’s performance as a replicant ranks as the finest of the previous franchise, and well as being the film’s best turn by quite some distance.
However, the problems begin with Scott choosing to largely distance his film from many of the big questions posed by Alien – true, the so-called Space Jockey alien’s role in proceedings is more than explained, but the ultimate would-be apocalyptic overtones are ultimately not credible, greatly reducing the scare factor, which I was expecting a great deal more of.
And the inconsistencies in technology between the two films is also an irritant, and I promise that I am not being a geek or a nerd here or someone who is going to pick up on *every* inconsistency (I will leave that to Colin 😉 ) – but clearly, despite it being set decades before Alien, the tech on display in Prometheus is clearly light-years in advance of what we saw on the Nostromo way back in the day, which would appear to indicate that Scott felt he had to root his film in ‘modern’ futuristic for today’s audiences, when a far braver (and artistically more pleasing) step would have been to have gone fully retro.
Good stuff? Well, the set-pieces are ocassionally excellent, the Space Jockeys and other creatures when they appear are sufficiently impressive to distract from the fact that there ain’t a H.R. Giger alien to be seen (well, maybe not) and the ending manages to be spectacular, philosophically challenging, moving and disquieting. But, and it pains me to say it, there is no doubt in my mind that this could have been so much more. Scott has suggested that a sequel to his prequel may be on the cards and that, for me, would have to be his last chance to get it as right as I still believe a director of his talent is capable of doing.