Prometheus Unsound?

In classic Promethean fashion, there are those who might prefer to be chained to a rock and to have their livers plucked out nightly rather than go to see another entry in the time-worn Alien franchise.

Now in its fifth pseudo re-incarnation, notwithstanding a dollar-satiating combo in the shape of the Alien v Predator ‘smack-down’ of some time back, even the most ardent fan of the franchise could be forgiven for wondering if the slime ridden, multi-mouthed star had punctured its way into the human consciousness for the last time.

Thankfully, on the basis of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, both this eponymous fate and space weary attitude is likely to be held by the cinematic minority.

A little like the Greek myth of the youth who stole fire from the gods, only to be gored nightly by Zeus’s eagle in punishment, Ridley Scott’s redux steals the audience’s attention not so much via the use of the slime-fed schlock horror of the original Alien, but more by drawing attention to an intriguing backstory which works on multi-levels, with the spark of creation at the heart of the plot.

But plot and cinematic pedigree aside, Prometheus might also be a torch bearer for the triumph of CGI imagery and its revitalisation of the new cinematic experience.

From the opening scene in which an advanced humanoid appears in the primordial vista of a pre-human earth, through to the scenes in the Weyland Corporation exploration ship itself (called Prometheus), the visuals are a tour de force.

The new film also has a slight Frankenstein feel about it, and perhaps rightly so.

Mary Shelley’s electrifying 1818 novel (subtitled The Modern Prometheus), viewed by some as the first science fiction work, had its genesis in a world of electricity, an age of reason and was also a cautionary tale against the advancing industrialisation and scientific bravado of the world of the time – and also a warning against unorthodox experiments.

And it’s a leitmotif which the new film cleverly references.

At the heart of Scott’s Prometheus lies not the mystery of what might be lurking around the next corner, but what lies at the heart of the matter, the genesis of human life and the creation of monsters.

A mysterious black liquid, found in a series of ampules stored on a distant planet, seemingly holds the key both to the creation and fate of humanity in the hands of a super-human race.

This race, hinted at almost subliminally in the opening scenes of the original Alien film when John Hurt explores the mysterious horseshoe-shaped ‘alien’ craft, is a welcome addition to the oeuvre and introduces a nice twist, the likes of which seem to have become a template for certain sci-fi reboots.

In other words, prepare for your assumptions to be turned upside down.

Noomi Rapace, late of the second Sherlock Holmes movie, is no Sigourney Weaver, but this is not especially to her detriment.

But it is perhaps the artificial human David, echoing Lance Henriksen’s Bishop and Ian Holm’s Ash who steals the show – and who, thanks to a key act of theft, perhaps deserves the modern Promethean moniker.

To reveal more would be to give too much away but there’s still enough in the film to give diehard fans plenty to cogitate for years to come.

If the film has flaws, they would perhaps be the lack of empathy and identification with a number of characters onboard the ship itself; Charlize Theron as the Weyland Corp token bitch is icily good but seems a little lost as to her role, while a couple of other characters who only re-appear at the end are largely forgotten by that stage of the action.

The motives and actions of the android David are also not clear at times; while the character’s love of the David Lean film Lawrence of Arabia perhaps underline the self-reflexive ‘epic’ feel of the piece and adds an air of conflicted mystery to the persona, it’s not abundantly clear why he acts in a certain way at one crucial – indeed pivotal – point in the plot.

And when the same David consults a star map at the destination planet, in another key moment, for a split second, the film looks like falling into the stellar tedium of the likes of Mission to Mars, which features a similar ‘Isn’t the universe pretty and nice?’ scene.

Thankfully, something far more exciting around the corner lurks.

And on the strength of this indirect prequel to the 1979 original, an aquiline sequel no doubt is also waiting to bite for those still perhaps chained through fascination to the rock of this classic franchise.  

For others, not wowed by the CGI or bemused by the backstory, it might seem to lack a little creative spark, let alone divine fire, for the likes of such a cinematic Titan as the great Scott.