When internet based rumours began to circulate in 2011 that Ridley Scott's next film Prometheus, would be a prequel to the Alien franchise which began with his seminal sci-fi Alien in 1979, there was excitement to say the least. The original has spawned a plethora of sequels, some good and some awful. How then would it fair with the return of its creator who hasn't made a film in the sci-fi genre for nearly 30 years?
The first thing that must be said is that this is only tangentially related to the original series of films. In that sense it stands on its own and has to be judged in this context. It is a far more sedate affair than any previous entry in the series in any case. Opening with a team of researchers led by Noomi Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw discovering mysterious cave paintings on the isle of Skye in the year 2089, we are soon aboard the exploration ship Prometheus on the way to a planet unknown in search of something unknown. Before long we find that the crew includes our intrepid researchers along with a Lawrence of Arabia obsessed robot named David played by the excellent Michael Fassbender. The crew is rounded out by Idris Elba as a hard talking Captain and Charlize Theron as the cold corporate bitch. Upon arrival at the earth like planet, a large and imposing dome like edifice is discovered and of course must be investigated. The rest is fait-accomplait and why should I ruin the surprise.
I could never call myself a science fiction aficionado, however I believe that the truly great films to emerge from the genre succeed as such because they succeed firstly as good drama. Star Wars could very well be a tale of familial discord, Blade Runner could be about the dangers of racial segregation and if Star Trek is about anything it is surely the brotherly love between Kirk and Spock. Unfortunately, this film does not meet such vaulted standards. The script is so concerned with telling a grand tale of the origin of the human race that it fails to develop its own characters as believable human beings. Indeed, the most realistic character is the robot David.
This is a fatal flaw because as any horror fan will tell you if you don't care enough about the characters when the blood begins to fly then it quickly becomes a terribly dull non-event. How can you create dramatic tension with flat pack characters?
This apart, the film is not without some genuinely enjoyable moments not least in terms of the performance of Michael Fassbender who steals every scene he appears in. He gives the robotic David an eerie inhuman quality that is a joy to behold. Unfortunately these enjoyable moments get somewhat swallowed by the denseness of the storyline. There is just too much background and plotting without enough character development or even god forbid genuine action.
Think back to how thrilling Alien was in 1979 or even its sequel? This is not in the same league unfortunately. It gets bogged down in telling its story and does that with little fanfare and much workmanlike film-making. Alas, the sheer promise of the film led to a massive box office haul and already there is a sequel in the works, so what do I know?