Prometheus was always going to struggle to avoid collapsing under the weight of expectations. Although the collapse isn’t total or fast, by the end it has definitely been brought to its knees, groaning, without (appropriately enough) enough air in its lungs to breathe (or scream). The budget has forced a kind of “Blockbuster compliance” on Prometheus; set pieces occur when necessary, exposition is delivered on cue, titillation and gore spoonfed in enough quantities to keep the audience interested if not totally involved.
Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Naomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a series of cave paintings which have a unifying motif of an apparent constellation and appear to suggest life on Earth was seeded by extra-terrestrials. Tenuously, with the help of the shadowy Weyland Corporation, a multi billion dollar mission to the one planet in the system that may support life begins and The Prometheus is launched, to once again steal fire from the gods… how portentous. During the two year voyage the seventeen strong crew are in hypersleep, tended to by David (Michael Fassbender, excellently channeling Peter O’Toole), an out and proud android who may, or may not have a hidden agenda. The crew is a classic ragtag bunch of grimy, sarcastic, moaning mercs headed by a salty seadog pilot, Janek (Idris Elba) a Captain Ahab in space if you will and Merdith Vickers (Charlize Theron) who fills the cold hearted company executive roll to a T, exuding contempt. Upon arrival on the planet, a mysterious structure is found and Dr Shaw and Holloway, along with the crew, begin exploring. Predictably, things start to go wrong almost immediately and briefly that same thrill of the original Alien is rediscovered, cold horror stalking corridors.
Well written for the most part, excellently acted by a strong cast and directed efficiently by a man who definitely knows what he is doing. Prometheus has many things going for it (not least intrigue) but the lack of subtext howls like the void of space. There is nothing to get your teeth into, no heart nor soul and no entrails to pour through searching for meaning. The film moves along, inoffensively and dramatically correct, but ends up saying nothing at all, which in a genre with Stalker, two Solaris’, 2001 and Blade Runner is practically a crime.
However, there is one area that Prometheus has the edge on it’s counterparts. It is eye-achingly, brain fryingly beautiful to look at. Starscapes, sets, costumes and landscapes are painted and framed by masters which creates an entirely immersive world that constantly overwhelms the senses. This almost military-like “shock and awe” tactic would distract any half-hearted critic…
Prometheus is a pick and mix tapestry of previous works in what amounts to a relatively small genre. The “finding god” nature of the mission recalls Sunshine‘s disparate band of scientists travelling to the Sun and with the blasted landscapes pondered over, the broken down old man sitting in an empty room and the occasional symphony of sirens on the soundtrack, 2001 is never far from the mind. The film most alluded to, somewhat obviously, is Alien. The key scenes from that 30 year old film are replicated here with twists that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. The “chestburster” scene is paid homage to excellently but many others just fall flat causing a desire for originality or just to be able to see Alien for the first time again.
The problem with discovering the origins of the “Xenomorph” is not totally addressed, the curtain is pulled back and the mystery of one of the more terrifying creatures cinema has produced just vanishes. Not even two AVP films managed that (mainly because, disgusted, we never watched them). However, there is a dubious pleasure in discovering that the proto-aliens on display here are all phallic and vaginal, penetrative and repulsive. Tentacles, orifices and teeth snap, slobber and lunge, splashing surgical body horror around liberally.
In the end it is strange that a film purporting to attempt to explain our existence feels so lifeless and unhuman. Its pleasures are to be found on the surface, hoodwinking you with it’s beauty whilst ultimately, a vacuous soul lies turgidly underneath. Whilst Alien showed humanity at its most desperate and terrified, being stalked by a living breathing nightmare, Prometheus shows humanity as the nightmare and offers little sympathy…