Sunday, 3 June 2012

Movie Review: Prometheus

Unusually, the internet seems to have been somewhat coy about Prometheus in terms of spoilers. The trailers and previews were castigated for giving away too much plot, too many setpieces, too much of Noomi Rapace's perma-shocked expression.

In a token effort to honour that, I will try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible. But that's going to be difficult,because trying to explain why something is an absolute unholy mess the first thing you need is precise examples.

And Prometheus is a mess. Oh, it really is.

So. A pick n' mix team of scientists, space pilot types and corporate manipulators go on a three year voyage to a distant moon in order to meet some mysterious aliens they think are potentially responsible for creating life on Earth. Or just humans. It's not too specific, really. They get there, mild disaster ensues, things happen in a randomly selected order. The whole thing is a sort-of-prequel to the Alien franchise, inasmuch as it is supposedly set a fair way before it and has events tangentally linked to the first discovery of the xenomorph by the crew of the Nostromo.

CGI is thrown at the viewer with enthusiasm, in an unsurprising move for a sci-fi movie in 2012. Said CGI is pretty well put together, and visually is a striking mix between the visuals of the Alien trilogy (shut up, it's a trilogy - the latest three films were horrible cheese hallucinations I had) and somewhat generic-but-pretty sci-fi fare. It suffers slightly from the Star-Wars-prequels-syndrome of looking like technology is much further along years before the events of the original movies, but given that (a) we're a long way from the audience expectations of 1979, and (b) the ship in Alien was meant to be a crappy tug and not a top class scientific research vessel - I don't mind too much. There are far bigger holes to plug. Not to mention that nowadays, being impressed by CGI is such a standard sensation that I have become immune to its charms.

The film as a whole tries to balance on a knife-edge between a slow philosophical sci-fi musing, and a faster-paced sci-fi horror. It desperately fails at this. Not because of any innate problem with this fusion - far from it, other films have managed this capably. Sunshine springs to mind. It fails because it has very little internal consistency, the characters are mostly blank nothings and the writing is shockingly poor given the pretensions at high concept and the proven talents of Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof.

Characters will be terrified and fleeing for their lives one moment, and the next giggling and trying to make friends with an alien snake creature. They will be having high-minded discussions of the creation of mankind, and segue awkwardly into a relationship argument. A technological MacGuffin is examined by Rapace's tabula rasa archaeologist lead - she is amazed to have seen one, since only 12 have ever been made. Shortly after this she operates it competently without any hesitation or need for training. These last two examples are also linked to another problem, one of long-range telegraphing that disrupts the flow for the viewer with astonishing clumsiness. The relationship argument is an obvious lead-in to a plot twist that is resolved utilising the MacGuffin, and then virtually thrown away without comment by any other character. The crew just revolve around each other without caring about life, death or any sense of planning through what is fundamentally the most important scientific mission in human history. You get the sense they're making it up as they go along, which in turn makes you feel Ridley Scott and the writers were doing the same thing.

If this were a pure schlock sci-fi horror, that wouldn't matter. It also wouldn't matter that the inevitable alien (though not Alien) nastyness that emerges doesn't seem to behave or operate under any sense of internal logic. Are they monsters? Do they turn people into monsters? Or into themselves, via any method that is contrived in order to put the cast into a hazardous situation? Oh, all of the above. Unfortunately, when you have pretensions of philosophising and more serious sci-fi these things jar harshly with your suspension of disbelief. Individually these are all nitpicking elements that nerds like me throw out with a snorting sneer, but unfortunately in the case of Prometheus they pile on top of each other until all you're left with is lots of almost-but-not-quite Alien trilogy referencing and a ship full of scientists and blue collar workers who all look like underwear models. There are quite a few extra frustrations I am leaving out of this review, for the sake of spoilerisation and the boredom you would feel from reading the offshoots from my mighty Organ Of Cynicism.

So, anything decent in the whole turgid junk pile? Well, as I said before it looks nice. The opening scene is superb, mysterious and beautifully shot - but that probably just contributes to the eventual disappointment of the rest of the film. Michael Fassbender is excellent as the morally dubious android David, pushing his performance head and shoulders out of the dross surrounding him to become the finest camp robot in cinema since C-3PO. But other than that, Prometheus badly fails to live up to its promise. Ridley Scott can direct much better than this. Damon Lindelof can write much better than this. Most of the cast can act much better than this.

And while I appreciate the notion of expanding an established universe into an odd sideways direction, the creative team have really shot themselves in the foot by linking themselves to superior cinematic efforts.

D-, guys. Must try harder.

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