In the final years of the 21st Century, archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Marshall-Green) discover 35,000 year old paintings in a cave on the Isle of Skye. They believe the images, identical to those they have located in other ancient civilisations, depict a distant solar system. Aided by a crew that includes android David (Fassbender), investor’s representative Meredith Vickers and Captain Janek (Elba), and instructed by the hologram of financier Peter Wayland (Pearce), Shaw and Holloway travel to the Earth-like moon of an enormous ringed planet, on a quest to find the origin of man.
Prometheus is a not-quite-prequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien. Certainly, it inhabits the same universe, though not the same planet, as the original film and its ensuing franchise, and the film makes frequent nods to its predecessors. At times there is a sense that we are covering old ground, but this is never overbearing, and as the film finds its stride, its own elements take over. For Prometheus’ role is not simply to explain those elements left unexplored in the original films, but to pose new ones and expand the mythology of the world in which it was set. For the most part, this is done successfully, and the line is carefully toed – though there are elements that would no doubt confuse a viewer unfamiliar with the earlier films, and references that may be lost, a little imagination and some careful inference is surely all that’s needed to piece together an understanding.
In the days of CGI, praising a film for its scale often seems pointless, but there is something spectacular about Prometheus’ landscapes – it is not simply that they’re vast (which they are), nor that they look so real (which they do) – it’s that, in their understatement, they perfectly combine the familiar and alien, on a scale that sets a precedent for the discoveries the team will uncover in their mission to meet their maker.
It is this motive which helps to construct Prometheus’ emotional core, lifting it from the more tired conventions of its genre. Creation myths are entwined with one another, not simply the Greek tale from which the film takes its name, but also the biblical Adam, and Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein, which is subtitled ‘a Modern Prometheus’. Man is depicted as both created and creator, raising interesting theological questions – not only ‘who made us?’, but also ‘who made them?’. Many of the characters negotiate complex relationships with their beliefs, both creationist and Darwinist, and with their own creation. Indeed, creation and procreation and played against one another, and even the alien creatures are distinctly phallic and yonic. Yet the film also warns of the danger of creation, of man playing god, and there are hints of biological warfare and the AIDs pandemic in its narrative.
Prometheus did little to alter my aversion to 3D, and at times if felt detrimental to my enjoyment of the film’s beautiful visuals. But beyond the aesthetic, some of the film’s finest elements lie in its performances. Fassbender is, of course, mesmerising as David, but it is Theron’s performance which I found most intriguing. Unfortunately, she is also burdened with some of the weakest lines in the script – a disservice to her abilities.
Sure, Prometheus is flawed. Some of the dialogue is staid, and we are occasionally beaten about the head with ‘big reveals’ that I’m sure everyone had guessed long before. Other elements, meanwhile, fall to the wayside at the expense of action, or perhaps in order to lay the groundwork for a sequel. But these flaws are not so abundant as some reviewers would have you believe, and are mostly derived, I’m sure, from the huge amount of hype surrounding its release, and the burden of expectation placed upon its creation. Additionally, Prometheus is a little more ponderous than perhaps its critics were expecting – but this is precisely the reason I enjoyed it. Scott’s franchise has become somewhat derailed over the decades, most recently in the form of the 2004 film Alien vs. Predator and its 2007 sequel Alien vs. Predator: Requiem. Prometheus, thankfully, returns the franchise to the levels of taste, class and intelligence that made the original film so popular.
Words: Jack Casey