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Simon Read [Celluloid 06.03.12] scifi horror action

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Prometheus has landed, and on the whole it’s rather disappointing. This review will be as spoiler free as possible but if you’ve been avoiding all adverts, trailers and behind the scenes videos then best skip this and the multitude of other Internet reviews and just go see for yourself. If however you’re eager to get the straight story from an old “Alien” fan who was willing to give this a chance on opening night (and in 3D!) then read on. It’s not a total disaster by any means.

Doctors Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Repace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are archeologists (or scientists or something) traveling the Earth documenting cave paintings which date back thousands of years and all seem to portray a representation of the same star constellation, pointing mankind to a specific system many light years from our own. On discovering a final relic in Scotland they decide that the evidence is strong enough to follow the ‘invitation’ and launch an ambitious interstellar space mission funded by none other than Peter Wayland himself, and including the usual band of technicians, scientists and (of course!) a corporate stooge named Vickers, played by Clarlize Theron in the exact mould of Paul Reiser’s ‘Carter Burke’ only less openly slimy and quite a bit sexier. Together they awake from stasis in orbit around the mysterious moon which they believe to be inhabited by the ‘engineers’ who once visited Earth. Also on board is the polite but eerie android ‘David’, played with relish by Michael Fassbender, and the tough but sympathetic captain Janek (Idris Elba). Together they suit-up and begin to investigate what appears to be a huge alien compound complete with mysterious runes, melting metal vases and a gigantic carved human face. Synopsis ends here.

This long awaited (and that’s saying something) directorial return to sci-fi by auteur Ridley Scott does not live up to the hype generated by over a year of fan speculation and a Summer season saturated by viral advertising, and indeed the constant back-and-forth chatter of the writers and director as to whether it is indeed a proper prequel to the first “Alien” film. Scott is on record claiming that it “has the same DNA as the first film.” Right. The first Alien film was described by Roger Ebert as a haunted house film in space, and has yet to be matched in terms of tension and suspense, while the sequel “Aliens” was a more standard shoot-em-up in space which was nonetheless very enjoyable on its own terms. The less said about the other films in the franchise the better. With Prometheus the writers substitute gore and nerve shredding tension with what I suppose they hoped would be intelligent, ‘hard’ science fiction and a ponderous examination of the roots of human evolution. Did these alien engineers visit Earth to influence the human race? Did they create us? What do they want by giving us the star map? The intentions of the human scientists would appear to be the accumulation of knowledge and information, while as usual The Company has an ulterior motive.

If the writing had been better we might have had something genuinely groundbreaking from this scenario but in the end the film dives headlong into clichéd action set-pieces and pompous speeches, with the occasional scene of tongue-in-cheek horror, fast-cut chase scenes and unintentionally amusing moments of human pathos. It isn’t that the film is badly conceived, acted or filmed, it just plays the game so safe that we’re reduced to second guessing the twists and distracting ourselves by spotting the endless nods to other science fiction films, which take intertextual referencing to the next level (did we really need to see a space-suit from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ dangling in a hanger?).

Positive points, it almost goes without saying, include mega production values. The film looks terrific, the ship is cool and exciting, the gadgets are fun to see in action and the cast themselves are all uniformly good in playing their roles. Repace has a tough job in channeling Ripley from the original series; she is neither strong nor brave, but clever and intuitive enough to hold her own. Green plays an everyman who enjoys taking advantage of the on-board bar and tends to be more reckless in the field than the others. Theron’s Vickers is a corporate ice-queen, and although we’ve seen this character in films more times than I can count, she has fun with the role and so do we. The shining star is of course Fassbender’s David, who we meet while the others are still in stasis. He keeps the ship running, bicycles around the hangers playing basketball and occasionally finds time to watch old movies and model his appearance and mannerisms after a certain foppish British actor. Fassbender manages to keep the plot interesting with an obvious contempt for his human colleagues and the will-he-won’t-he programme directives he’s operating on. He’s a very good actor in a role perfectly suited to his talents.

Alas I cannot get away from the writing on this film. It’s just bad. Many times throughout the film I wanted it to take off and give something really mind-blowing but in the end I had to settle for a pretty smart sci-fi with nothing special to offer. It’s entirely too piecemeal and that’s the main problem. We begin on Earth in caves, jump-cut to the ship and the crew awakening; suddenly we’re on the planet, in the alien structure, back on the ship, arguments, warning lights, running around and then the finale. Step follows step and at no point do we deviate from what is expected. There are so many plot-holes and false starts on possible developments that go nowhere that I began to wonder if the director’s cut could be one whole hour longer. We are barely introduced to actors Sean Harris and Rafe Spall, two British character actors who play disinterested geologists, before they bumble themselves into trouble like a couple of Shakespearian comedy rejects. Then there’s Kate Dickie the actress who has one or two lines of dialogue and is then relegated to background player. Two of the pilots of the ship have a running bet for one-hundred credits about the outcome of the mission and they occasionally pop up to remind each other about it before they too become secondary to the less interesting main characters (I would like to see a film about the ‘below’ crew of a ship dealing with life on a hostile alien world, it might be more interesting than watching the ‘good scientists’ coo over samples and argue about evolution and ethics).

Prometheus is a decent sci-fi think-piece with impressive visuals and some good acting across the board, but if you’re expecting anything like the thoughtfulness and sheer ingenuity of Scott’s early work then you’re saving yourself for disappointment. It’s not horrible, but it’s derivative, predictable and for anyone who has seen the trailer or read the synopsis then it’s clear the whole thing is kind of based of H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness”, which isn’t a bad thing really, but we’ve been there already, and that’s how I felt watching Prometheus.

Additional: If you’re planning on seeing Prometheus at the cinema make sure and see it in IMAX or standard 2D. The 3D was as usual a way to pay more for a darker picture and every time I took the glasses off the image was brighter and clearer. Let’s just end 3D now please.

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Beppe (11 years ago) Reply

"The 3D was as usual a way to pay more for a darker picture and every time I took the glasses off the image was brighter and clearer. Let’s just end 3D now please."
I think I'll watch it on TV. I don't like 3D and I'm not so sure I can't live without knowing the origin of life on earth :-)


j.j. (11 years ago) Reply

"Let’s just end 3D now please." here, here!!! And while we're at it, let's end all these damn fanboy movies that spend more energy on referencing other movies than they do creating original and sound stories/screenplays. Kubrick would be pissed at this weak, weak group of modern filmmakers.


bob roberts (11 years ago) Reply

got to agree with above review. it was good with some cringe inducing moments, but i still came away a little disappointed. totally agree with the film looking darker in 3d, thought it was my glasses at first!


arete (11 years ago) Reply

Totally agree with review. The play-safe script and hurried execution reminded me of Indy4 - very predictable and ever so underwhelming. Both films felt like prolonged trailers or movie recaps.


ChrisR (11 years ago) Reply

Thanks for that great review. Very fair and wise. The spelling however in the reviews and the comments section make me feel old - does no one care about standards any more?! (No you silly old fool)


macm (11 years ago) Reply


I am sorry, but his trademark writing is just all over it. Too much the same methodology used in Lost with tying an audience with questions and only binding scenes by characters - under the everlasting promiss of answers in the next sequel.


Frodo Baggins (11 years ago) Reply

The one thing I was left with when leaving the cinema after this was 'THANK THE GODS FOR 'ALIEN'!'. Prometheus is a turd in an easter egg and Ridely Scott should be ashamed of himself, being used like this to make such a mediocre, empty and disappointingly infantile piece of sh!t as this. The stunning SFX do not do justice to treating the viewer like a fapping teenager with little more intelligence & imagination than the primordial synthi-slime this movie truly is. Director's cut or not, this is purely-for-commerce. I recommend buying a Blu-Ray player and watching Alien again, instead of feeling like your own head has been raped by retarded executives of a corrupt and disturbingly coercive system running the entertainment industry. They got my money and I feel truly defiled. The bastards.


darkwater (11 years ago) Reply

You do have to wonder when the Tristrams are going to realise that prequels are generally duds. It cannot be beyond the wit of such a great director to come upwith a totally new well written plot and use his craft to the full extent we know he is capable of.


Gabbs (10 years ago) Reply

" model his appearance and mannerisms after a certain foppish British actor"
Please tell me that you know that was Peter Otoole in Laurence of Arabia. If not, you need to see a lot of movies before writing reviews


projectcyclops (10 years ago) Reply

I knew who it was Gabbs, just keeping it ambiguous for anyone who hadn't seen the film. I thought it was one of the better moments and not worth spoiling.

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