The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.

Reviewed by Owen Weetch.

Director Ridley Scott
Length 124 mins
Certificate 15 / R
Rating *****-----
Filmmaking: 2  Personal enjoyment: 3

Photo from the article Trailer.

The tagline for 1979’s Alien told us that “in space, nobody can hear you scream”, and the film itself delivered the terror that marketing ploy promised: it was as tight and as claustrophobic as thrillers come, an exemplary piece of body horror with a frighteningly original aesthetic. This prequel, Prometheus, is a different beast altogether. It tells of an interstellar expedition whose objective is to follow hieroglyphic directions left on various ancient artefacts scattered across Earth. The explorers resultantly land on a mysterious planet and discover remnants of an ancient civilisation which may have something to do with the origin of life on Earth; and then things, as things are so often wont to do, start to go horribly wrong.

The film is visually spectacular - for better or for worse, it might be Scott’s most beautiful film yet - with a sense of expansive wonder that contrasts nicely with the grimy realism of its smaller scale progenitor. This befits its move to a grander variant on science fiction horror, more in the vein of the Cthulhu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft and the ‘ancient astronaut’ musings found in Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods, the latter of which was also an influence (to many people’s chagrin, I understand) on 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

While there’s been a shift in the visuals to fit the change of genre, there is everywhere else a detrimental desire to cleave too closely to the original. The protagonists are sketchy echoes of Alien’s believably opaque characterisations, and there seems to be, more hazardously, a noxious need to establish continuity between the two movies in a manner that explains away the unfathomable mysteries of the earlier film, a strategy redolent of poorly-structured fan fiction.

This need would not have been an issue, though, had more care been taken; I would wager that the origins of human existence and our place in the universe are not topics without inherent interest. While Alien was a simpler narrative, the writers here seem to resent the increased complexity and scope of the endeavour they have undertaken, throwing a multitude of cosmogonic extrapolations into a blender in a kind of rabid frenzy, so that all that’s left is mush. While characters continually seem to concern themselves with grand philosophical questions regarding the origin and purpose of human life, their dialogue is delivered in wisecracks and shallow aphorisms, as if everybody hopes they’ll make it into the film’s trailers.

It’s not all bad: the cast show conviction even if their words don’t, there is some lovely body horror, and there is, admittedly, an admirable sense of ambition to the enterprise. Nevertheless, it just feels oddly incoherent and rushed. Prometheus’ overwrought pace (it seems desperate to replicate the freneticism of Alien’s last twenty minutes for its entire second half) is so at odds with the dread of its cosmic insinuations that the film, sadly, deadens rather than disturbs. Prometheus, in so many ways, seems to squander the promise of its concept. There’s so much screaming going on in space that it’s hard to hear if anything’s been said.

Alternate Take to follow soon...

This review was published on May 27, 2012.

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