Director Ridley Scott raised a few eyebrows with the announcement that he’d be returning to the universe of his 1979 sci-fi classic Alien with a prequel, set 39 years before the original. Where the ’79 film was filled with horror and drenched in the paranoia that was so prevalent in that decade, Prometheus has a sense of curiosity and wonderment running through it’s ambitious but messy plot.
The film deals with the big questions of humanity, like why we exist and how we got here, with scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) finding a series of ancient cave paintings in remote locations across the globe. Each painting depicts humans worshipping a much larger man pointing to a small cluster of stars. Shaw and Holloway soon find themselves heading to a distant constellation that matches the paintings on a ship piloted by Janek (Idris Elba) and overseen by ice-cold corporate rep Vickers (Charlize Theron).
Rapace proves extremely well cast in her first Hollywood leading role after making her mark as Lisbeth Salander in the original Millennium Trilogy. As Shaw, she is intensely focussed on answering humanities biggest questions, ignoring the faith she inherited from her late father (Patrick Wilson in flashbacks) and centuries of Darwinism in the process.
Also on board is scene-stealing android David, played with an eerie camp by Michael Fassbender. David has been designed to appear completely human to avoid making the real people uncomfortable but with his distinctly Aryan look, chilly English accent and stiff, vaguely threatening mannerisms, David is far from comforting.
On the planet’s surface, the crew discover a large series of Giger-esque caves and tunnels that lead to a tomb filled with mysterious urns oozing sinister black goo and a statue of a giant humanoid head. The contents of the urns begin to evoke the sexual-themed body horror that made the original film so horrifying and they bring about a number of scenes that will feel very familiar to fans of the original Alien series.
The script, by Lost writer Damon Lindelof, is loaded with big ideas and big ambition; it’s just unfortunate that there are so many ideas and bizarre plot details that the film is left floundering under the weight of its muddled story. The cast Scott has assembled is impressive but they are mostly hamstrung by the dialogue, spending the majority of the film discussing nothing but the big themes and questions without ever pausing for a single natural line of dialogue.
So this might not be the epic prequel fans of the franchise have been waiting for and in fact, it’s likely to infuriate the die-hards as much as it will titillate the average movie-goer. Measured against the big scares of Scott’s Alien or the big action of James Cameron’s sequel Aliens, Prometheus doesn’t fair too well but as a stand alone film, it’s a solid entry into the sci-fi canon. The astonishing design by Arthur Max and Dariusz Wolski’s vivid cinematography compliment the knockout performances from Rapace and Fassbender but all involved are ultimately let down by the lack of a strong script that funnels the good ideas into a great movie. What’s left is a watchable, entertaining but frustrating missed opportunity. Let’s hope the inevitable sequels can build to something great.