Prometheus (R16) (124 min)
Directed by Ridley Scott.
Starring Noomi Rapace, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender.
Sir Ridley Scott has now directed three science fiction movies. The first one was Alien, the second was Blade Runner. And with those two films, Scott established himself as the most influential western sci-fi director of a generation. George Lucas' Star Wars may have changed the way sci-fi was seen, and even made it a safe box office bet, but the original trilogy was never much more than a very old story being restaged with spaceships and lasers.
Prometheus is Scott's attempt to go back and mine the very opening scenes of Alien. Way back then, we saw a group of humans stumble upon the ancient carcass of a gigantic alien spaceship, and the remains of its hapless pilot. Prometheus, set in 2089 (which is about 30 years before the events of Alien) features another group of humans setting down on a distant planet, and encountering the detritus of an ancient civilisation. But the explorers this time are archaeologists, not wayward garbage truck drivers, and they have science and discovery on their minds. The planet, they think, is home to 'the engineers', a supposed race of starmen who have been visiting Earth for millennia, and who have helpfully left pictures of their solar system for us to find them by.
And so we are immediately into Alien by way of a pretty liberal ripping-off of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Will our brave team of scientists discover something profound about the origins of humanity, or will they all be eaten, eviscerated, decapitated, disemboweled, and impregnated by a nasty intergalactic beastie with mayhem on its mind before they can even hand in their essays?
Prometheus is, as you may have guessed, an uneasy mash up of ideas. At one level, Scott and his team clearly can't wait to get back to the good old fashioned fun of ripping the heads off the extras and support cast - of whom there are far too many - while at the same time he is trying to entertain the audience with a daft and ill-thought-through load of old wallop about creation versus evolution, and whether those two concepts can exist together. It's a case of ''give those adolescent Americans something to think about'', but from Scott, who has never felt the need to include even the faintest whiff of religiosity in his films before, it reeks of box-office seeking hypocrisy, and flabby-minded thinking of the worst kind.
Which is not to say that Prometheus is not a watchable, or indeed spectacular film. The set pieces, especially in 3-D, and on as big a screen as you can find, are sporadically quite stunning. While the creature and set design is as brilliant and occasionally quite beautiful as you would expect. Scott and his team have H R Giger's original and hugely influential Alien concept to draw from, and, without giving away too many surprises, they do a pretty convincing job of establishing its whakapapa.
Working in and around the green screens and soundstages, Noomi Rapace, Idris Elba, and Michael Fassbender are the only standouts in an ensemble that is just too large to allow time for many personal stories to adequately develop. Alien told a more memorable yarn with a core cast of seven, getting knocked off at regular intervals. Prometheus has actors climbing over each other to get in front of the camera, but only a few of them even register as characters.
Prometheus is grand to look at, but it lacks the brutal simplicity and rigour of its forebears. It's too long winded to pass as a horror, and too daft to really be anything else. Great marketing, shame about the film.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Have you read Kiwi author Eleanor Catton's Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Luminaries?Related story: What now for Eleanor Catton?