Prometheus ★★½

Prometheus has landed; finally. After months of spoiler-heavy trailers we get to see if it really is a prequel to Alien and whether Ridley Scott’s return to the universe he helped establish was worth the 33 year wait. Unfortunately, even having seen the film, the answers to both these questions remain unclear.

Whilst it is a prequel in the broadest sense (i.e. existing within the same universe and occurring before the events of the previous film) it is clear why they were coy when explaining how closely it related to Alien. For me this sideways prequel is a blessing. It doesn’t directly demystify elements of the ‘79 classic but it teases familiar imagery and ideas making the film appear richer than it arguably is. Scott’s return to the outer reaches of space was greeted with excitement and trepidation but whilst he succeeds in some departments the whole is not quite the sum of its parts.

The film begins brilliantly, in fact the short pre-credits sequence is arguably the film’s greatest moment, as the camera pans across a primordial Earth before witnessing the origins of human life. The expansive landscapes are breathtakingly beautiful and perfectly accompanied by Streitenfeld’s epic musical arrangements. It is a beginning that neatly sums up the film; both providing an explanation for a great mystery yet raising a myriad of new ones in its place.

Damon Lindelof’s involvement is very apparent, whether it is in the teasing of many new questions but an inability to provide compelling answers or in the crude characterisation of Prometheus’ crew. Whilst the film does answer one of the great unanswered questions in sci-fi cinema there is a desire not to explain everything. Mystery is good but the problem is the questions aren’t mere background details as they were in Alien (it was still a primeval battle of survival) but the entire driving force of the film. The result is a film rich with themes yet no great desire to explore them fully or even provide a genuinely satisfying resolution. Instead the whole film feels rather aimless and frustratingly unfocused.

The film has an epic canvas in every conceivable way, from the weighty issues of man’s origins to the exploration of cavernous pyramids, everything feels big and significant but the story is strangely bitty and unsatisfying. Perhaps the big frustrations with the film, and why it feels so scattershot, is because the characters are so poorly realised. With the exception of the always reliable Michael Fassbender none of the characters really leave much of an impression. Rapace is fine in the role but she has little to work with here despite the need for her character to be the centre of the story. Her romantic relationship with Logan Marshall-Green (forgettable) is particularly half-hearted whilst the other crew members are broad and uninteresting stereotypes. Of all the elements Scott could have borrowed from Alien it is a crying shame they ignored the compelling and relatable characters that help an audience genuinely invest in a story.

All of which sounds incredibly negative which is a shame because there are also moments to admire. Not only is Fassbender’s performance the best but his character is by far the most intriguing and complex onboard Prometheus. Visually the film is stunning with faultless special effects and the best use of 3D I’ve seen in any live action movie to date. The film uses sporadic body horror to great effect (and not necessarily in the way you expect), the vague links to the earlier films work well without pulling back the curtain completely and spoiling Alien in the process. It is never less than watchable but sadly, for large stretches, that is all the film is; watchable. It rarely gets you on the edge of your seat or peering behind your fingers and, most crucially, it never truly makes you care what happens next.

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