It’s been over 30 years since that Alien burst out of John Hurt’s chest. Over three decades. In that time, we’ve seen quite a bit of that Alien. We’ve experienced the glorious (James Cameron’s Aliens) the mediocre (Alien3) the shoddy (Alien: Resurrection) and the inevitable spin-off (Alien Vs Predator, and its sequel). Frankly, it seemed that the invaluable cash cow had, finally, run out of milk.
Only one thing could reignite the stagnating series, and that was the return of Sir Ridley Scott to the director’s chair. And, after decades spent gallivanting in ancient Rome, medieval England, and crusade-ravaged France, Scott is going back to the future. The script landed in 2009, Scott went to work immediately. And, three years later, it’s ready. Is it a prequel to Alien? Is it a spin-off? It doesn’t matter. The point is, it’s marvellous.
Inevitably, there will be some who compare Prometheus to Alien, and many of them will (rightly) conclude that Alien is better. Scarier, darker, more original. Well, yes, but the thing about originality is that it’s difficult to recreate. Pretty much impossible, in fact. Prometheus instead concentrates on giving us everything else we could possibly wish for. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s brilliant.
Noomi Rapace’s central performance as Elizabeth Shaw has been criticised by some, seemingly on the sole basis that she isn’t Sigourney Weaver, but that’s not her fault. Rapace, so good in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is great again here, turning in a gutsy performance that perfectly captures Shaw’s quandary between following her heart and following her brain. The rest of the cast also fare remarkably well. Logan-Marshall Green impresses as the arrogant Holloway, while Charlize Theron is commendably restrained as Vickers. The real star though, as it so often is, is Michael Fassbander. Layering his android David with resentment, jealousy, and malice, Fassbender perfectly captures David’s desperation at being viewed merely as an empty vessel, while himself feeling superior to his comrades.
A Science-Fiction movie, though, lives or dies by its set pieces. And, here, Prometheus flourishes. Taking full advantage of its rumoured $130m budget, Scott crams the first hour full of suspense, and the second full of incident. Part of the genius of the original two Alien movies was the brilliantly drawn-out opening, building the anticipation slowly until a bloody breaking point. It’s a template Scott follows to the letter here, and once the action starts, it doesn’t let up. A horrific Caesarean sequence (don’t ask) is truly gruesome and genuinely terrifying, while the finale is exhilarating in the extreme. Oh, and there’s also the most excruciating arm break scene since 127 Hours. Just warning you.
If there is a problem with Prometheus, it’s the plot. While we all, to some extent, know what fate will befall many of the central characters, it’s still way too predictable throughout. The characters’ stupidity and gung-ho approaches detract from their so-called intelligence somewhat. Furthermore, the central premise seems tenuous- never really clarifying the motive for the trip other than ‘because we can’. These are minor quibbles though.
Prometheus is the perfect prequel, answering some questions while leaving others tantalisingly unsolved. For those watching closely enough, there are also some delicious ironies to comprehend. Did humans unwittingly create Alien? Or did Alien’s predecessors create us? Either way, it’s visually superb, totally enthralling, and as tense as anything else around. Blockbuster of the summer? The Dark Knight Rises was yet to come…