The uncomfortable laughter that rippled through the audience said everything, really. Not because Prometheus is at all funny – or corny. It isn’t. It’s horrific and frequently brilliant. But it’s in that laughter that this audience was finally able to release their tension. Bunch of emotional lightweights in this session? Or a true indicator of suspense? A little bit of both.
Let’s start with what Ridley Scott really nailed in his prequel-of-sorts to Alien and its subsequent films. There’s a lot he certainly got very right.
Drawing from the work of H. R. Geiger, Scott returns to the skeletal, organic-yet-mechanical futurism of Alien and Aliens. From the opening moments, Scott chooses his palate carefully, crafting an alien planet of muted blues, greens and greys. His human cast, led by a wonderfully detached David (Michael Fassbender) and diminutive heroine Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomie Rapace), are sharp, good looking and ready for their star-flung expedition.
The course of their journey, sketched in the loosest terms, takes them on a search for answers to life’s biggest questions. What they discover ultimately stitches together a backstory that connects with key locations in Alien.
Tonally, it’s clear that Scott was aiming for the same visual motifs of his 1979 masterpiece. The human landing craft is gorgeously stark and clinical; Scott’s balanced framing and heavy use of contrast pulls cues from his previous work – and 2001: A Space Odyssey at times.
His monstrous creations, of which we will not spoil, largely carry the second half of the film—and not a moment too soon. The first half is about establishing the crew and pushing hard to make some kind of emotional connection between Rapace’s Dr. Shaw, her partner Dr. Holloway, and the crew of multi-racial role-fillers. This is where Prometheus stumbles – never falling, but definitely limping a bit.
At some point, maybe some time after Gladiator, Ridley Scott gained the ability to create spectacle. Crowd-cooing, eye-widening wonders of effects glory that stand amongst the best we’ve seen on screen. He also lost the ability to direct actors with subtlety.
Charlize Theron is, and this is not her fault necessarily, miscast as the expedition lead. Her character is, we are supposed to believe, guided by the mission – but the direction removes all redeeming traits and she’s painted in black and white. Her dialogue makes her out to be some kind of ball-buster, but she comes across as inconceivably irrational and unprofessional.
Then there’s Guy Pierce’s inclusion as a character so unnecessary to the plot that it’s a wonder he made it to the screen at all. While we’re given enough background to mull over Rapace’s Dr. Shaw and her lover’s relationship, it lacks authenticity.
Then, after you get over the fact that sometimes the scientific logic is completely absent, you get back to the core of what makes Prometheus great – it’s entertaining and memorable. The bitter pill of oversimplified writing and direction is swallowed and it’s on with the show.
Prometheus’ futuristic vision is completely convincing. It’s a film that clearly had tremendous thought put into it from a visual standpoint. If the acting is finger-painted, the backdrop is sketched with a fine-tipped pen. It’s a film you will love to watch purely to let the sweeping landscapes and nightmarish caverns wash over you.
The horror comes shining through in the second half – and Prometheus finds its teeth. There are some chair-gripping moments of tension that completely nail what Alien was really about – and anus-clenching suspense of the sort that leaves the audience looking for an emotional release – any kind – and laughter was it.
Like every film in the Alien franchise, this has its own flavour. Prometheus tells its own story and has a unique feel to it. It’s told with style and conviction – never quite matching Alien or Aliens for emotional authenticity or that kind of cerebral engagement – but definitely holding you in tow until the final moments. Ridley Scott isn’t much for illustrating humanity, but he sure as hell knows how to craft aliens.