ACCORDING to the movies, Earth may be the most desirable postcode in the universe. Certainly extraterrestrials are constantly trying to move in for reasons that range from “we just adore what you’ve done with the place” to “just wondering what there is to eat around here?” Now according to Prometheus they’ve also been leaving us Post-it notes, inviting us round to their place.
Director: Ridley Scott
Running time: 124 minutes
On the Isle of Skye in 2089, archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) get very excited when they find a star map in a cave that, along with a bunch of other scratchings, suggests the existence of an alien race who may have been responsible for mankind. There’s further confirmation of this in a prologue where an alabaster alien, with the musculature that could kick sand in the face of Charles Atlas, imbibes something that causes him to cast his DNA into the river and gets evolution’s cauldron bubbling.
Aged dying industrialist Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) funds a trillion-dollar expedition with Shaw, Holloway and a deep space crew that includes a chilly corporate executive (Charlize Theron) who has daddy issues and an acute case of sibling rivalry, a cigar chomping pilot (Idris Elba), a nerdy biologist (Rafe Spall) and a geologist (Sean Harris) who is here for the money not the glory, and so on. In other words, the spaceship Prometheus appears staffed by stereotypes with a death sentence.
It’s probably intentional that the most intriguing, nuanced personality is the ship’s android David (Michael Fassbender). While the crew snooze through the years in hypersleep, David watches Lawrence Of Arabia obsessively, and styles himself after Peter O’Toole’s golden TE, who managed to win over a distrustful set of humans. This role is something of a departure for Fassbender – he keeps his clothes on and doesn’t have sex – but even though he’s driven by algorithms rather than testosterone, David is the best character aboard.
Ridley Scott’s pronouncement that Prometheus should not be seen as a prequel to Alien now sounds a bit hollow. After all, it has an ambiguous robot, a greedy corporation, a brave young woman running around, sometimes wearing not very much at all, plus some squelchy extraterrestrials who look like nightmare genitals. There’s even a particularly guignol riff on the baby alien chest-burster from the original film. If this isn’t a prequel it could certainly be mistaken for Alien’s granny on a dark night.
However, unlike Alien, where the monsters were centre-stage with its ideas backgrounded, Prometheus constantly throws out big questions – creationism, science’s moral boundaries – without really grappling with them. Still, it does answer Alien fanboy queries such as how the big alien with the exoskeleton ended up in the abandoned spaceship, and where all the eggs came from. However it also provokes new questions, including why bother making Guy Pearce look like a tortoise? Why not just hire an old actor? And when something that looks like a gelatinous cobra comes swimming up in the dark, why not run away instead of clambering forward for a closer look? And why use 3D if you won’t make things jump out at us?
Don’t get me wrong: Prometheus is more than watchable – in fact, it looks magnificent. But despite its self-generated viral promises, this is not the haunting metaphysical species we were expecting. «
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