I got rather excited about Prometheus, in the run up to its release, despite telling myself that I wouldn’t. Something about it seemed to lift my boyish spirits, and allow me to hope that the lightning of the original Alien film would strike again. I also broke one of my other rules, and looked at reviews before I went to see it. When I saw the mediocre ratings and critical accounts, I salved my precarious hopes by remembering that the reviewers had all fallen at the feet of James Cameron’s epically headache-inducing, three-hour, 3D monster Avatar, which was certainly amongst the last decade’s biggest cinematic let-downs, and which I called bullshit on.
So what did I think of Prometheus when I saw it? Meh…
Yes, I’m sorely disappointed, but more in myself than the film. I should have known better than to think that Alien could be recreated in such a way today. Prometheus was shiny and pretty, but ultimately lacked the best part of its granddaddy and more recent ancestors- the intrigue and sense of mystery.
It’s hard to get down exactly what the source of the problem was, but I think it started with the flip-flopping over whether or not it was an Alien prequel. It ended up as some sort of bizarre semi-prequel, with the result that I and many other cinema-goers didn’t really know what to expect.
It started off pretty strongly, I thought, with the opening scene strong and intriguing, and the homages to the original Alien in the hypersleep scenes softly done. Unfortunately, once it got going properly, the plot was a little on the obvious side. The rows and rows of cannisters suggestive of the iconic “eggs” felt tired rather than creepy, and the plot-driving lack of caution displayed by almost all of the characters was just lazy.
That’s not to say it was all bad. Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of David the android (Is that a spoiler? I don’t think so, it’s made pretty damn clear from the off) particularly in the interaction with Charlize Theron’s icy business administrator. The beginning, showing David alone on the ship whilst the rest of the crew sleep, was an excellent piece of character-setting.
Similarly, whilst her character didn’t shine overall for me, Noomi Rapace’s odd self-caesarian scene had all the tension and grit that would have made Prometheus a success, had it been sustained throughout.
But sadly, the moments of brilliance were too few and far between, lost amid a tide of mediocrity and superfluousness. The final scene, for example, was wholly unnecessary. A better film would have been able to achieve as much, if not much more, through subtle implication.
The most disappointing part, I felt, was the fact that the ingredients were all here. It could have been a passable, if not a good, film. Ironically, what brought it down most of all was being shackled to the mythos of the original Alien films. Attempts to shoehorn in references felt a bit like having Ridley Scott sat next to you, nudging you with his elbow and saying “Eh? Look! Eh? Eh?” every few minutes.
If from the start it had been its own film, rather than an Alien prequel/not prequel, it might have stood a chance. It would also have avoided what I call Star Trek XI syndrome, where the future is a lot shinier and sleek than you remember it being.
In the end, I can’t recommend Prometheus. It was a mediocre SF film, dragged further down by the weight of expectation it put on itself. The critics, it seems were right. Though I still claim victory regarding Avatar.