Ridley Scott sets expectations too high in this generally solid sci-fi epic let down by an unfocused screenplay and suspect pacing.
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron
Plot: Following clues to the origin of mankind, a team finds a structure on a distant moon, but they soon realize they are not alone.
Awards: Nom. for Best Visual Effects (Oscars)
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: In Theatres
First Published: 6 Jun 2012
As Scott returns to the genre he helped defined thirty years ago with Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982), expectations are sky-high. The question on everyone’s lips is: Has the great master nailed it and delivered a superior picture?
As a genuine fan of Scott’s sci-fi films, and in particular, my intense love for the genre, I only have this to say: I admire what Scott has done, but there’s a tinge of disappointment in the air.
For the uninitiated, Prometheus may feel like another Hollywood blockbuster (read: a visual effects extravaganza). But while it features some of the most spectacular visual effects ever seen in any film this year, Prometheus is also an anti-blockbuster in the sense that it takes its time to set its mood and tone.
The story centers on a team of explorers who lands their spacecraft on a planet far away from Earth, hoping to discover the answer to the existence of the human race.
Of course, that is just an excuse for Scott to re-enter the universe of Alien, in a bid to make a ‘prequel’ that would hopefully explain the origins of arguably the most feared screen monster ever created.
The result is a befuddled attempt to juggle three narrative threads that not only lack clarity but don’t quite fit well with each other. Is this a story about the origins of the Alien? Or is it a story about the ‘Space Jockey’ – a large man-like creature whose exoskeleton appeared in Alien?
“A king has his reign, and then he dies. It’s inevitable.”
Or is it a story of Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), whose quest to explore the origins of mankind turns into the kind of nightmare that foreshadows Ripley’s traumatic experience in Alien?
To be fair to Scott, he was seduced by the conceptual idea of Prometheus, not how it was eventually penned out. Still, his direction is masterful. So are the film’s cinematography, art direction, and production design.
Scott’s handling of suspense could be more assured though, but I suspect it is the fault of the film’s narrative structure, which has more plateaus than peaks. There is just too much travelling back and forth between the crew’s spacecraft and the mysterious tomb-like cavern that the explorers hope to find answers from.
As a result, whatever suspense that could be generated dissipates as both environments, however strange or fascinating, becomes more familiar and less claustrophobic. And it was claustrophobia and the unfamiliar that made Alien such a nerve-wracking horrifying experience.
Speaking of which, there is one sequence in Prometheus that comes close to emulating the sheer horror (and quality) of the 1979 film. I won’t reveal much except to say that it involves an automated operating table.
Prometheus is an ambitious science-fiction epic that delivers (or doesn’t) depending on one’s expectations. It is still a solid film, a different kind of blockbuster seeking the right audience.