REVIEW: Prometheus. Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron. Directed by Ridley Scott. R16. State Cinema.
The Alien franchise was badly in need of a reboot after the dire Alien vs Predator movies, and with original director Ridley Scott back on board, what could go wrong, you might ask?
Enough to prove the old adage that a master craftsman can do only so much with flawed materials.
Prometheus – a prequel to Alien – draws on the ancient astronauts and we-came-from-the-stars theories that were popular in the 1970s with the likes of Erich von Daniken and Battlestar Galactica, but it's an uneven, occasionally puzzling film that raises more questions than it answers.
Two archaeologists (Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall Green) find star maps in ancient artwork, and theorise that they are an invitation from ancient alien visitors, dubbed "Engineers".
The spacecraft Prometheus is duly dispatched to a distant world, where the crew discover huge, mysterious structures. With lots of dark tunnels, of course. And lots of strange, egg-shaped containers.
Before long bad things start happening. But the big black shiny things with big snappy teeth aren't the only creatures the crew have to contend with.
Visually, Prometheus is a winner. The special effects (in which Weta Digital had a hand) are great, and the production design is inspired by the classic age of science fiction as well as by HR Giger's "organic machinery" creations for the original Alien.
Its shortcomings are in the script, co-written by Damon Lindelof, the co-creator and producer of TV's Lost.
Prometheus has big ideas but, like Lost, it hikes up the mysteriousness factor while leaving holes and loose ends along the way. There are many shocks and monsters, but the pace drags at times, and the audience is expected to fill in too many gaps.
The central role of the strong female is split this time, between Rapace and Charlize Theron, as the corporate ice maiden commanding the expedition. Rapace shoulders most of the burden, but doesn't have the screen presence of Sigourney Weaver's Ripley.
The rest of the crew are the usual assortment of misfit scientists and space jockeys, including The Wire's Idris Elba as the captain. Ironically, the performance that stands out involves the least human character – Michael Fassbender as the ship's android, David.
Going on past experience with "synthetics", David comes with a hint of villainous intent behind his wry exterior, which dilutes the element of surprise in the story.
Did you know that Scott axed a sex scene from the original Alien? He makes up for it in Prometheus, although it helps to advance the plot. There's also a surgery scene that's not for the faint-hearted, and a finale that feels rushed and doesn't appear to lineup with events at the start of Alien.
We are going to have to make rapid advances in spaceflight and science this century if stories like Prometheus are going to pan out. And advances in makeup as well – as the elderly boss of the sinister Weyland Corporation, which is central to the Alien saga, Guy Pearce suffers under one of the least convincing ageing treatments in cinematic history.
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