“Yes, suffice to say, I love the Alien Trilogy. And no, we do not talk about the fourth one.” – WatchingCattle gives his views on Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.
Lately I’ve been watching a lot of films from the 70s. Last week I saw Taxi Driver and The French Connection. Before that I saw The Taking of Pelham 123 and Chinatown. They’re all great. They’re in fact so great that each and every one of them deserves an entire article devoted to them but alas, who would read such a thing in this high velocity world of handguns, one night stands, economic collapse and the always curious continued existence of Limerick? Also I’m not nearly good enough a writer to take on the 70s, for that you need Mark Kermode or perhaps a cup of tea and a biscuit squeezed between the doors of the lift you’re trapped in with Quentin Tarantino. “No Quentin I haven’t seen that one either” You’d say, but would he stop? Would he fuck. Only that kind of dedication would do justice to the 70s rich and diverse is the output. In fact do yourself a favour and gorge on the 70s. Next time you see a remake is out in the omniplex, check if the original was made in the 70s and, if it was, watch it instead of the remake. It will, without doubt, be 100 million times better than the remake. Watching the original is good advice for most remakes sure, but for the movies of the 70s it’s a must. Remaking anything from the 70s is sacrilege. And yes, I do realise how obvious this all is but I’m pointing this out now so I can come back to it later you shit. What interests me most is that film makers in the 70s managed to do exactly what Tarantino has done throughout his career – they just took what they needed form the history of film and made it theirs. Scrosese took whatever he wanted from Kazan and Wells, De Palma stuck his hands into Hitchcock’s pockets and pilfered what he needed and Polanski and Lynch lifted whatever they felt like from Bergman and they all did it with such a joy and an abandon that the results could be described in one simple word…original.
In 1979 Ridley Scott had made one film, The Duelists, which showed off the fact that this man knew cinema. He had his skills which he honed on TV shows and adverts and now was taking little bits of B movies and a lot (if you believe him) of John Carpenter’s Dark Star and making a monster in space movie called Alien. It became, and probably still is, one of the greatest achievements in sci-fi and in cinema in general. It gave Sigourney Weaver the biggest break in history as cinemas greatest heroine of all time and spawned a trilogy (we don’t talk about the fourth one) which spanned several galaxies, too many characters to mention, one evil corporation, biological weapons, robots that reflected the greatest and worst of the souls of their creators, the years 2122-2179 and at its core a species (or more accurately several complex sub species) of alien whose appearance and simplicity of purpose must make them the most terrifying creation in sci-fi. Yes, suffice to say, I love the Alien Trilogy. And no, we do not talk about the fourth one.
When trailers for Prometheus appeared on the internet mates of mine started ranting about how there was a new Alien movie, a prequel, Ridley Scott was in charge and it looked like the greatest film ever made. I remained stoically unimpressed by their assertions and said that the last thing we need is another Alien movie because the trilogy was near perfect and we do not talk about the fourth one. Ever. Surely no movie could live up to the hype that this monster has surrounding it.
Firstly is it a prequel to Alien? I’m trying not to give that away. That’s for you to hear from your loud-mouth mates who’ve probably given the ending away in the pub before this article will ever see the web and frankly it doesn’t matter. Prometheus is very much its own beast.
When describing films it’s often the best policy to give a synopsis of the plot but here it doesn’t really matter and anything I could say will probably give away more than you want me to so, taking inspiration from Cillian Murphy once described Sunshine as such: “there’s a ship, there’s a distress call and that’s the film”, I too will use the Cork lady boy’s quote here and that’s basically all you need to know.
First of all, before I go into its flaws Prometheus is by no means a bad movie – lets get that straight – but on the other hand it’s no masterpiece, and for the level of hype around it anything less is basically means it’s a failure. It’s flawed in very obvious ways and anyone expecting anything on a par with Alien is going to be disappointed. But there is lots to admire and plenty to enjoy. It has probably the best opening to any film you will see this year or for a very, very long time. It looks spectacular in a way that spectacular doesn’t really manage to describe. Michael Fassbender is utterly brilliant as a robot and the first 10 minutes or so could have been grafted into 2001 a space odyssey fairly seamlessly, that’s testament to how high quality and enigmatic these few moments are. Unfortunately, once the gears of the story click into place and you start to realise that you’ve seen quite a lot of the characters and plot dynamics many, many times before the film loses a lot of that fine lustred other-worldly ‘alienness’. The enigma reveals itself and yes, this is unfortunately a space ship with a crew of stock characters manning it, which is a pity. There are probably just too many people in this to make any one character stand out. A title card at the beginning points out there are 17 people on board the ship and it feels that way throughout. Charlize Theron is the ice-queen boss, Idris Elba is the likable laidback captain, Noomi Repace is an academic, Logan Marshall Green is her prick husband and Michael Fassbender is a robot and really that’s all you need. The other 12 just sort of fill in the background and as such clog up the screen time which could flesh out the core group and this really is Prometheus’ main failing – it tries to cram way too much in. The core plot ticks along nicely mostly carried by Fassbender and Theron’s icy performances and if it was edited to a taut 90 minutes it could have been more than the sum of its simplistic parts. Unfortunately it gets derailed by clumsy plot mechanics and pointless sub-plots. Alien at its core was a very simple film: ship – beacon – alien – horror – end credits. Prometheus bites off more than needs to be chewed and, as such, loses the run of itself. It degenerates into smartarse quips which feel utterly out of place here with characters seemingly making giant leaps to conclusions because there isn’t any space to expand any one theme fully amidst the aforementioned pointless sub-plots.
One scene in particular in which something big is revealed is completely needless and left me thinking “wait… why is that there?” and in another scene aspects of the plot are simply laid out in one incredibly awkward feeling clunking mess that left me giggling at how badly devised they were. They might as well have just gone “here you audience yeah? Are you listening? Well listen carefully, this will be important later in the film so pay attention” and then winked at the camera in unison. This is Ridley Scott damn it, what were you thinking? You’re better than this. The main problem is that Alien has become the blueprint for these types of film and as such its like when a great band who influenced a whole generation (blah blah blah) reforms and makes a new record. Sure it’s good but it’s not as good as you wish it was and even though it’s better than the imitators it’s still not as much as you’d hoped for. In many ways Scott’s film suffers from the fact that 90s film makers dug deep into his pockets and stole everything he had to offer. What’s worse is that the results of those 90s rip-offs (and one sequel of which we do not speak of) are, for the most part, so awful that they nearly succeed in tarnishing the original work with their awfulness. I mean imagine some snot nosed little shit seeing Alien for the first time today and saying “Yeah it’s like a shit version of Species without the tits, mixed with Sphere” You’d be right to eat his face and gouge out his eyes. Just saying.
There are many redeeming aspects to Prometheus. Scott knows how to build tension and the first hour, for all its flaws, is superbly orchestrated. It’s the second hour where things go awry in places, though never so badly awry as to make it a bad film. It looks absolutely amazing. Cinematographer Dariusz Woski and the crew of thousands who built the world which the film inhabits will probably never do finer work in their lives and even when nothing is really happening it’s gorgeous to look at. The 3D is excellent and thankfully Scott is smart enough to know not to just have things fly out at you every few seconds to remind you that it’s 3D. The set pieces are suitably huge and though some of the actors don’t get much to grip onto everyone is at least trying. Fassbender makes a fine robot and Theron who’s arguably doing the trickiest roll, playing a sort of human robot, deserves much more from the script which relegates her to second fiddle, when it’s clear from the off that the most interesting scenes happen between her and Fassbender.
Overall Prometheus is a good film. But that’s all. It’s good. You know? …eh … it’s grand. Go see it since you were going to anyway no matter what any self important impotent little shitehawk critic says anyway.