Prometheus – Ridley Scott
When did the octopus first become the template for space-monsters? I get why: they carry all the repulsiveness of the snake – multiplied by 8; and they are very what we might call grapho-genic. Wave the arms about a lot and our imagination comfortably believes in flying octopi (Octopussies?…er no, perhaps not), especially in space. It is wise to leave Mr Freud and his ideas in the car park mind or your psycho-sexual equilibrium could get a bit freaked out.
I have come to expect two things from Ridley Scott – the first is abundantly present in Prometheus: the gothic surrealism of the Hans Giger-derived visuals, stunningly fresh in the original award-winning Alien, still deliver a punch today. Now as then, Scott knows how to use them to create a darkly threatening tone.
Unfortunately the second thing I’ve come to expect from Scott is the paradox that while he has an instinct for ideas, he appears to have no feeling for either narrative or dialogue that will make them take off or resonate. Amidst the embarrassment of visual riches and interesting ideas in Prometheus, the actual dialogue though set in space is flat and obstinately earth-bound.
Anthropology Professor Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her Indiana Jonesy mate Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) find a series of ancient cave paintings in different parts of the world each bearing the image of what looks like a constellation of stars. She takes this as a symbol representing the birth of Man with the constellation acting as a guide to further exploration. She mounts a space expedition funded by very old, near death corporate tycoon Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce wrinkled-up) whose interest is more in re-birth than anthropological discovery.
Spaceship Prometheus is personned by ice maiden Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) apparently outranking rebellious ‘I’m just the captain’ Janek (Idris Elba) aided by a number of totally anonymous, expendable characters we know little about and care less. In one of many references to Kubrik’s 2001 – A Space Odyssey, Prometheus is essentially butlered by David (easily the best performance from Michael Fassbender) – a blonde, emotionless and deeply suspicious robot: think an incarnate, Aryan HAL (2001). It becomes clear that the scientific purity of Elizabeth’s purpose is shared by no one: all, even including dreadfully written Charlie who seems to become a totally different character, for no apparent reason, after the opening scenes. Her two instantly forgettable engineers Fifield (Sean Harris) apparently ‘only here to make money’ – we know not how; and the more idealistic Millburn (Rafe Spall) remain as characters literally lost in the space between concept and dialogue.
Like a Space-age Jeeves, David de-ices the merry crew from their cryogenic capsules when Prometheus arrives at the planet represented in the cave paintings. Much CGI-ing follows and lots of slimy Octopussian mayhem is occasioned by their mathematically ill-named tentacles. The Promethean theme of the first God/Man is frankly sheer tosh – tedious until we bring on the Octopussies.
Charlize Theron got distinctly pissy on Radio 2 about the idea of Prometheus as a prequel to the far more innovative Alien. Yet all the set horror-pieces are heavily reliant on Alien-like imagery. There is not a single character in Prometheus that registers with us and thus we are left strangely indifferent to their fate. This is no doubt partly down to a clunky, ploddy screenplay. However, the dazzling visuals and sort-of-ok story, could have been rescued through strong performances: but these are all so glumly wooden that it is hard put all the blame on the writing.
I admired Noomi Rapace’s Lisbaeth Salander in the Swedish Dragon Tattoo trilogy: but here she just looks totally lost – in space; ill at ease with the language and I’m not sure she, like we, have any idea who Elizabeth Shaw is or what drives her. Charlize Theron struts about in a Kidmanesque sort of way but even the revelation of her unexpected relationship with one of the other characters induces more of a yawn than much surprise.
The things you would expect to be good in Prometheus are good without being innovative; the horror bits are…well… more mildly horrible than genuinely scary though Elizabeth’s DIY caesarean has its moments. But you know Scott is running out of creative steam when in the last act Theron and co start toting ludicrous flame-throwers and space-guns.
Hollywood is also technologically perverse: in the real world, every technological product gets smaller and smaller as it gets more and more powerful: in Hollywood guns that used to fit on your hip or discreetly snuggle under an armpit now have to be so big they’d have to go in the aircraft hold – too big to carry on as hand-luggage. You wait: some of these super-heroes are going to have so much back trouble when they get older, humping about weapons the size of the average fridge.
The ending clearly signals the prequel sequel to come, pace Ms Theron: and in fact makes her protestations faintly silly anyway.
For me: such a disappointment. Highly derivative and desperately needing a screenplay remotely up to Scott’s conceptual flair; and performances to bring it to life. Even the highly accomplished visuals seem literal rather than resonant: it is one thing to reference Kubrik – yet another to match him. Even the 3D is largely irrelevant and poorly used.
A reasonable night out. Just.