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Prometheus (2012)
Director: Ridley Scott

review by J.C. Hartley
Mightily hyped, this film seems to have diverged greatly from the Alien prequel that at one time it was apparently intended to be. Ridley Scott has expressed the belief that we are not alone and that somewhere along the way the human race received a little nudge; Stanley Kubrick was all for it, as was Arthur C. Clarke, and Eric von Daniken made a career of misinterpreting images from a whole range of cultures to support the same set of beliefs. What we have here is a bit of a hybrid as a result, a science fiction film eschewing space opera and battles between the stars to ask the big question, but having to carry a garnish of gore and body horror presumably to pay the bills.

Prometheus was one of the Titans, a rebel, possibly the creator of humanity, who in defiance of Zeus, father of the Olympians, stole fire to help mankind become makers and haul themselves up the evolutionary ladder. For his pains Prometheus was bound to a rock where a vulture visited him at lunchtime each day to feed on his liver. Prometheus was a hero to the Romantics, like Shelley and Byron, who equated his rebellion with their own radical anti-establishment ideas, and of course Mary Shelley dubbed Victor Frankenstein 'the modern Prometheus', acknowledging the hubris implicit in tales of those who challenge the gods.

As the film begins we see a massive spaceship suspended over turbulent water while an alien ingests a liquid that causes him to disintegrate, seeding the water with genetic matter. While much of the film that follows would suggest that such activity is what the alien race known as 'the Engineers' does, it is worth remembering the story of Prometheus and considering that this may have been an unauthorised action.

Archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) find cave art on Skye that seems to be a star map. The Weyland Corporation (Weyland was the famous Norse blacksmith of legend, hero of many sagas) finances a mission to the star system indicated by this, and other examples of cave art, to pursue Shaw's theory that the alien inhabitants were the progenitors of mankind.

With a crew of 17 including Weyland 'suit' Vickers (Charlize Theron), in cryo-sleep, the starship Prometheus makes its journey under the watchful supervision of David, Weyland's android, who spends his time eavesdropping on Shaw's dreams, watching re-runs of David Lean's Lawrence Of Arabia and trying to get his hair just like Peter O'Toole's. Shaw and Holloway provide a presentation to the crew following a virtual message from Weyland who indicates that he will already be dead by the time of their arrival. The two scientists set out the scope of their mission but are later informed by Vickers that they are not to attempt any contact if alien life-forms are encountered.

On the moon of a planet, the Prometheus crew find a system of hollow hive like structures which they explore. David activates a 3D-CCTV that shows the party a group of fleeing giants, including one who is subsequently decapitated by a sliding door. They find his corpse and retrieve the head for analysis. So far, so fine; it is at this point that the film begins to tap into the Alien mythology, with a hall of flasks reminiscent of the cavern of eggs where poor John Hurt encountered the face-hugger.

There is a very clever sequence where David finds some greenish gunk on a wall; he examines it, stretching it like hair-gel between his fingers, making what looks like a finger-puppet alien opening its drooling jaws. It is through scenes like these that the director seems determined to remind the floating viewer that this is still ostensibly an Alien movie and that the anticipated horror will arrive. David collects one of the flasks from the hall as the crew are called back to the ship as a storm approaches, unfortunately geologist Fifield and biologist Milburn are left behind.

From here on in Scott ramps up the horror and occasionally it feels like another film has been grafted onto an original concept, creating the hybrid suggested in my first paragraph. Shaw discovers that the alien DNA is a perfect match for human DNA. Holloway is disappointed that the Engineers appear to be no more and he turns to drink. David infects Holloway with genetic material from one of the flasks. Why does David behave as he does? My daughter suggested that the Lawrence reference suggests David has a different set of loyalties.

Lawrence famously went native, identifying with the Arab cause when he was supposed to be furthering British interests. Holloway betrays an antipathy to David, presumably experiencing the effect known as the 'uncanny valley', whereby the closer an artificial human or automaton comes to resemble the real thing then real people become more, not less, freaked out. David asks why humans have made him, Holloway flippantly replies because they can, and David asks how Holloway would feel if humankind's makers replied in the same way.

David displays feelings but we are not really given much more insight into his motivation than this, a desire for revenge against Holloway, some toying with his human masters, re-making them, using the Engineers' genetic broth, just as he had been made; playing God. We accept that HAL 9000 goes bonkers with AI paranoia, we can accept that Roy Batty and his pals want a bit more life, Ash in the original Alien had to retrieve something with the potential to become a weapon and was programmed to do so, David's motivation is altogether more human and enigmatic.

The ship's captain Janek (Idris Elba, Thor), after more carnage, makes the intuitive leap that this moon is not a home-world, but a military installation housing biological weapons that have subsequently got out of control. As exposition goes this is a fantastic bit of insight. I'm not thoroughly au fait with the Alien mythos but I do know that one theory has the xenomorph as part of a terraforming advance guard and, as David points out, before you can create you sometimes have to destroy.

If the star maps on Earth were an invitation to the human race to visit, why would they direct humanity to this place? If, as the film subsequently concludes, the alien Engineers were preparing to wipe out humanity, is that to be triggered by human beings ability to travel to the stars? Is this all very complicated and clever or just clumsy plotting? The film seems to be set up for a sequel, and the writer Damon Lindelof has suggested that if it happened then the story would move even further away from the Alien franchise, which to my mind would be no bad thing.

I saw this in 3D, and Scott has suggested that he used it to give scenes more depth. I think we get fairly visually complacent about 3D after a bit and are not so aware of things lunging out of the screen at us. Unlike Avatar, Prometheus is not dependent upon effects to carry a weak storyline and would work just fine in 2D. I saw a very busy Spider-Man trailer in 3D which frankly left me traumatised.

Alien famously was a slasher movie dressed up as SF, with crew members stalked by a penis-monster. While there is certainly some phallic imagery on display in Prometheus, what we have is predominantly vagina dentata, I don't know what this says about anyone involved with the design of this film. As far as the performances go, Michael Fassbender is fantastic as David; contrary to some reviews I think Noomi Rapace is very good, Charlize Theron too, Idris Elba's accent is a bit cheesy, and Logan Marshall-Green, for a relative newcomer, is extremely watchable as Holloway.


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