I was so excited for Prometheus. Late April, on my Twitter page, I proclaimed that I was besotted with it in fact - a dirty little secret I felt I'd been keeping from the Avengers movie.
So perhaps it's my fault. Maybe I overhyped the return of Ridley Scott to the Weyland-Yutani universe and the sci-fi horror genre. I've done it before - I was stupidly excited about Avatar, then I saw it and hated it. I've still not forgiven James Cameron if I'm honest. stupid blue Smurfs in space, clumsily reinterpreting The Last Of The Mohicans. And don't get me started on the clumsy foreshadowing dialogue and the bestiality. That's right, if Avatar is your favourite movie - take another look. They have sex with animals. Kinda.
Now, I'm not quite so furious about Prometheus. I'm just disappointed.
The film opens with beautiful shots of stunning vistas, and it continues to look incredible throughout. The 3D is the best I've ever seen - better even than Avatar (it does, I can begrudgingly admit, have that one redeeming feature). The holographic recordings of the Engineers - as the humanoids like the Space Jockey from Alien are revealed to be called - really stand out on the frame, in a way that truly enhances these effects. The set design is superb too - with a great contrast between the interior of the Prometheus and the alien structure on the planet they reach. And the music is great - riffing off science fiction exploration scores similar to Star Trek before transforming into something altogether more intense and evocative in the third act.
Sadly these aesthetics cannot hide the film's massive flaw. Unlike the story of Alien - and it's successor Aliens - which seamlessly integrates the set pieces into a constantly advancing narrative with unfolding revelations, Prometheus feels like a patchwork quilt with set pieces surviving from previous drafts, despite the fact that the surrounding exposition has been lost.
The plot holes are bigger than the chestburster hole in that original Space Jockey back in 1979. The story in a nutshell is that the Engineers created life on Earth (and I felt the implication was other worlds as well) and were then looking for the perfect way to destroy these original experiments with new biological warfare. Unfortunately they lost control of these new weapons - which essentially boil down to a mutagenic black goo - and almost all of the Engineers at this research facility were killed. Fine in theory and almost intriguing. Their motivations are never clearly explained in this film - lazily setting up a sequel, which I wouldn't have a huge problem with if this had been billed as two films from the start like the upcoming Hobbit films.
The parallels between the Engineers creating life on Earth and the humans creating synthetics is briefly explored and is the one real triumph of Prometheus. Michael Fassbender shines as David, delivering a wonderful performance. "Why do you think your people made me?" he asks. "We made you because we could," he is told. Looking away, David offers this simple observation - "Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you, to hear the same thing from your creator?" For me, it's this fascinating heart of the film that kept it from being a rage-inducing disaster like Avatar.
Unfortunately, there's so much nonsense surrounding it. Aside from David, almost every other character spends the first act speaking utter bollocks. They all sound like they are characters in a cheesy movie - a far cry from the effortlessly believable dialogue in Alien that established a credible class system on the Nostromo. I admit in Alien that crew had been together for sometime - mining in deep space - and that the crew of the Prometheus were essentially just meeting each other for the first time, straight out of stasis. And it is a nice touch that this earlier version of stasis can cause vomiting and muscle wastage.
There's also a very clumsy seduction scene that - whilst it does serve to underline how vehemently one character hates being compared to another, which is of some importance later - is really just there to take two characters off the bridge before a critical moment of horror afflicts the two most annoying members of the crew.
This brings me to the monsters. There are at least five different deadly alien mutations in the film and none of them have the same iconic impact of Giger's original xenomorph creatures. The creature that Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw cuts out of herself (in a ridiculously contrived torture porn sequence that felt like an older director trying to prove he could keep up with the nonsense peddled by modern horror filmmakers) is essentially a cephalopod that grows to an enormous size. If the original facehugger creature was an attempt to elicit a fear of mouth rape with a phallus, I can only conclude that when the giant cephalopod is later unleashed on another antagonist, this was an attempt to invoke images of a human vulva. Very strange and extremely clumsy when once again compared to Giger's uniquely disturbing sexual imagery.
Guy Pearce's role is ruined by the most unconvincing old man special effects makeup I've seen in a long time - it's saying something when the BBC can do better on a TV budget in Doctor Who. The resulting appearance popped me out of the reality of any scene he was in, destroying my suspension of disbelief almost entirely.
The finale is a welcome crescendo of set pieces that feels like the most tightly scripted act of the whole film. The remaining crew of the Prometheus sacrifice themselves and their ship to stop the one surviving Engineer from flying to Earth (in one of the horseshoe shaped ships previously glimpsed as a derelict in Alien) to wipe out humanity. Two and a half crew members survive (it was inevitable that would David would be reduced to just a head, but it is lovely that the resulting cranium is so reminiscent of Ash) long enough to see the alien spaceship crash back to the planet in a stunning sequence.
As much as I'm clearly judging Prometheus against it's forebear, I could have done without the somewhat out of place callbacks to Alien, as Shaw becomes the lone female survivor stalked around an escape pod before recording an audio message as the "last survivor". It does little to mask the fact that the audience aren't getting any further explanations until Ridley Scott deigns to shoot a sequel - and with him currently touting a new Blade Runner project it could be a long wait before we get to see more of the Engineers and learn more about their real motivations.
Which is why Prometheus is so disappointing. The idea of pulling the Space Jockey into the spotlight and exploring just exactly what its role was in Alien was tantalisingly appealing. Taking it further and transcending the events of Alien and Aliens - elevating these giant humanoids to the role of Creators - was the promise of true science fiction that gave me chills and had me so damn excited. Exploring the contrast between ethical science for the pursuit of knowledge versus the ethos of "because we can, therefore we must, no matter the cost" was a fascinating basis for a thought provoking film.
Instead sadly, Prometheus is a beautiful mess. An unfinished symphony that can possibly be redeemed or further damned by the potential sequel. I guess time will tell.
Ben Fardon hopes Damon Lindelof is not involved in any follow up...