There are a basic set of rules for every interstellar explorer. Don’t beam down to a planet wearing a red shirt. Don’t wander off in a dark tunnel by yourself. Don’t touch the black goo. Don’t panic. Unfortunately, the crew of the Prometheus failed to read their copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy before exploring a new alien world.
Prometheus is a prequel to the Alien quadrilogy, first begun by Ridley Scott in 1979. Dr Shaw and her forgettable boyfriend with a six pack discover cave paintings in Scotland that point to the origins of mankind in the stars. An exploratory mission is launched by the Prometheus to search for the pasty faced Engineers, the creators of life on Earth. Of course, any notions of the Engineers being a peace-loving, human-welcoming community is quickly dashed when they find dead bodies scattered around oozing vases of goop.
The film delves into similar philosophical territory as Scott’s masterpiece, Blade Runner, discussing what it is to be human. In looking at the origins of mankind Prometheus fails to make any serious conclusions on the nature of creation. While faith is symbolised in Dr Shaw’s cross, it’s not much more than a metal trinket. If there’d been some serious meaning imbued into her necklace, I would have believed her dedication to God more, but we never see Shaw pray or discuss God in specific terms. Prometheus embraces faith lite mixed with new age vagueries about the existence of the universe.
While the story is intriguing, some script editing could have been done to tighten up the first half. Although I was engaged with the world and the characters, it feels a little slow and I wanted the action to begin earlier and include more conflict scenes. The best scene is where Dr Shaw needs to perform emergency surgery; it is also the most reminiscent of the original Alien.
Noomi Rapace does her best Ripley impersonation, but it’s hard to distinguish Rapace amongst the crowds in the first half of the film. Rapace is almost unrecognisable from her turn as Lizbeth Salander in the Swedish version of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. As she gets her own space (or as more people die), she pulls the tough but emotional Doctor Shaw into a convincing performance.
The film is carried by Michael Fassbender’s strong performance as the robot caretaker David, to the point I could have simply watched a film about him a la Silent Running. The stiff backed robot holds a penchant for Peter O’Toole films, without emotion or the ability to question the morality of his orders. Fassbender is entirely convincing, continuing his incredible reputation as an actor.
Guy Pearce, despite being one of my favourite actors, is tragically miscast as Peter Weyland. Why not simply cast an older actor, rather than pile on loads of unconvincing make up? It disrupted the reality of the film to see him covered in prosthetics. Prometheus also feels cluttered with people without a purpose. At least two of the subsidiary characters could have been left out of the film, allowing more space for the others to develop their characters.
But the greatest strength of Prometheus is the way Scott has created a convincing world. The special effects are astounding, realistic and completely integrated with the landscape. When the ship is taken over by a shale storm, the amount of particles whizzing around the screen is mind-blowing. The alien life forms feel like you could touch them (not that I’d want to touch them). Geiger’s influence lies over the morbidly black interiors and monsters. The costumes and make up for the Engineers is reminiscent of marble; everything in the film has a texture so rich that it feels real.
Where the discussions of mankind’s creation fall down in Prometheus, it is the textured reality created by the film that plunges the viewer into Scott’s violent vision once more. It is for the director’s act of creation, and not the Engineers’, that make this film worthwhile.