Sunday, 3 June 2012

'Prometheus' review:

A running theme among the half-dozen trailers that have teased Ridley Scott's 'Prometheus' is that they've tended to be more alluring and spectacular when focused on the numerous eye-catching shots of spaceships and strange alien worlds, whilst offering only fleeting glimpses at the story and characters. It turns out that's because 'Prometheus' has no story or characters. It has a basic sort of "plot", I suppose: astronauts head to a distant planet in order to find answers about the creation of mankind. And it has characters in the sense that there's a reasonably impressive international ensemble cast thanklessly filling the various spacesuits - including Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba and Charlize Theron.

Yet there can be little doubt that 'Prometheus' is a triumph of design and special effects rather than human drama. The film looks stunning, with the CGI spaceships and beautifully crafted interior sets having a sort of painted concept art look. But for all its self-important posturing around issues of faith, god and the nature of creation, the film's pretense at being this summer's "thinking person's blockbuster" comes to nothing. During its few cod philosophical exchanges - some of which should make your toes curl - the film's grasp of the deeper issues never seems to want to venture beyond truisms. It's a shame because the set up suggests something much smarter, or at least more interesting.

Rapace, as scientist Elizabeth Shaw, is the ship's blindly faithful Christian, whilst her lover and fellow scientist (played by Logan Marshall-Green) is supposedly the on-board skeptic as they search for humanity's alien creator. Meanwhile, Fassbender is David, a humanoid robot whose behaviour is modeled on his creators, something he seeks to perfect by watching old films in his downtime. A wrinkly old Guy Pearce is his creator and surrogate father, as well as the head of the huge corporation financing the mission. Charlize Theron has her own nascent "creator" issues as the stern and possibly treacherous leader of the expedition. Given that this is nominally a prequel to Scott's seminal 'Alien', it's entirely appropriate that it should explore that franchise's theme of motherhood and the destructive, violent act of creation itself: it's a melting pot of strong character archetypes with competing ideologies, which seems primed to react - only there is no heat.

Potentially interesting characters die left and right with scarcely a decent scene to their name. Supposedly sensible people react in increasingly irrational and oddly inhuman ways as the film goes on, for instance when a group of characters voluntarily give up their lives without any clear indication of why (in fact they don't really even ask for one, but as a united group blindly accept death at the merest asking). The film lurches messily between fussily directed action scenes which lack either the body horror of 'Alien' or the excitement of a crowd-pleasing summer movie, almost as if the filmmakers lacked the courage to devote any screentime to the potentially divisive "let's all talk about religion" thing the movie seemed to kind of want to be about originally. There are nods to various big ideas and questions here and there, but they are extremely tentative.

Then there's the handling of the film's various alien creatures and their multiple messy incarnations which lack credibility even if you suspend a whole universe's supply of disbelief. (Those sensitive to SPOILERS might want to avert their gaze now.) How does this reproductive cycle work?:

1) There are rows of eggs full of black goo.
2) A human man eats the black goo and becomes a sort of crusty monster.
3) The crusty monster man has sex with a human woman and she quickly gives birth to a tentacle monster.
4) Left alone for (presumably) a few hours, said tentacle monster becomes enormous. It then latches onto a huge white alien and eats his face.
5) Once partly-devoured by the tentacle monster, the big white alien's body yields a chest-bursting, quadrupedal alien not dissimilar to the original "xenomorph".

Please explain how that makes any kind of sense. I genuinely want to know why I'm supposed to think anything other than "this sure is a random sequence of events" at this point. Even if you accept that this primordial gloop is simply enabling the rapid evolution of an organism (and that's a leap you have to make yourself), doesn't it sort of imply that the "xenomorph" would then also become something else entirely different the next step along the chain? So then why do all the Aliens in the sequels look the same? Are they supposed to represent the pinnacle of evolution? I'm honestly not trying to be pedantic in the least - I just want to know how this could possibly make sense, even in the limited way a film about sexy future-spacemen warrants.

A friend of mine said that (one of) his problem(s) with 'Prometheus' is that it raised far more questions than it answered, at least pertaining to the way it links into 'Alien' continuity. I disagree. It's not a problem that the film raises more questions than it answers - after all, so does '2001'. The problem is that the questions it raises are invariably very silly, all relating to the who-could-care-less world of the 'Alien' mythos. Whilst it labours to provide trite and convoluted answers to the grander, more universal questions that are perhaps best left enigmatic. It should have been the other way around.

'Prometheus' is out now in the UK, rated '15' by the BBFC.

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