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Film review: Prometheus**
Sometimes the reviews write themselves. “They created us, then they tried to kill us,” says Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) near the end of Prometheus; “They changed their minds. I deserve to know why.” “The answer is irrelevant,” replies David (Michael Fassbender), a super-intelligent android who acts as butler, factotum and secret antagonist; “It doesn’t matter why they changed their minds”. Elizabeth looks at him sadly. Well, she sighs, I suppose that explains why you’re a robot, and I’m a human being.
That’s the review in a nutshell. It gives no pleasure to slam Prometheus, because it contains some of the most incredible scenes – and incredible images – of the year. But this is a film made by robots, leaving out the ‘why?’s as if believing them to be irrelevant (or reserved for the sequel, which amounts to the same thing). Why, at one point, does David secretly impregnate Elizabeth (or arrange for Elizabeth to be impregnated) with a kind of alien spawn, necessitating one of the messiest abortions in movie history? Why does Meredith (Charlize Theron) force herself on this mission, when her only agenda seems to be to annoy everyone and get back home as quickly as possible? Why, again and again, do these top professionals act unprofessionally, the Captain going off for a quick bonk while on duty, the (obviously doomed) sidekicks abandoning the other scientists in mid-expedition and heading back to the ship? Why do people behave as they do?
Yet the opening sequence, for instance, is worth the price of admission in itself (at least if the price of admission weren’t inflated by the needless 3D premium). We open on blasted, volcanic landscapes, then a thunderous waterfall above which – we suddenly realise – an alien spaceship is hovering. A hooded figure stands by the waterfall; beneath the hood is an albino-like creature who strips off, brings a cup to his lips, drinks deeply then winces and begins to disintegrate. Muted colours add to the otherworldly feel; every droplet of water seems to be glimmering. The alien, having taken his own life (why?), falls into the spume and dazzling foam of the falls – and the title comes up, random bits of straight lines and diagonals slowly evolving into recognisable letters to form “PROMETHEUS”.
That design is a nod to Alien (1979, also directed by Ridley Scott), which also played a game of slow-reveal with its opening title – and the very end makes it clear that Prometheus is a prequel to Alien, sharing much of the same DNA. Here, again, is a ship with a small crew (17 in this case; Alien had seven, plus a cat). Here again is a clash between two powerful women: Elizabeth vs. Meredith in this case, Ripley vs. “Mother” the computer in Alien (amusingly, robotic David calls Meredith “mum”). Here again is a snatch of classical music in outer space (it’s a 2001: A Space Odyssey thing). Yet Alien was claustrophobic whereas Prometheus is expansive, “Building Better Worlds” like it says in the corporate motto – and Alien had a B-movie clarity whereas Prometheus is diffuse and waffly, raising half-hearted questions (all those pesky ‘why?’s) then letting them drift away.
It’s a shame because there’s a real theme here, if the film would only deal with it. The mission (set in the year 2093) is a quest to “meet our Makers”, Elizabeth and her scientist partner Charlie having found evidence that aliens – like that suicidal albino in the prologue – may have come to Earth long ago and perhaps created humanity. Elizabeth is religious, pointedly wearing her father’s cross, yet also believes in alien Creators; it’s what I “choose to believe” she says when challenged, echoing what her father said in a childhood flashback about Heaven being beautiful. But what happens if you meet your Creator and he tries to kill you – treating you like garbage, like a bad mistake? “There’s … nothing,” says a bitter old man in the film’s boldest scene (“I know,” replies a disembodied head beside him). Prometheus is crying out for a few lines of dialogue that’ll make sense of its spiritual aspects – maybe asserting that religion is a form of denial (‘what I choose to believe’), and will even survive the disillusionment of meeting God – but there’s nothing. Connective tissue is missing, as with all the other ‘why?’s.
The film starts off strong, and keeps throwing up splendid images (the flashbacks crackle, as if viewed through a dust-storm), but it peters off into nothingness. Scott, now 74, seems to have gone back to his roots in advertising, caring only for pretty pictures; he’s lost his touch with actors (you have to go back to Matchstick Men nine years ago for a memorable performance in a Ridley Scott movie) and Rapace – the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – is inadequate and hopelessly lost as Elizabeth. Fassbender does better with David, but the character is impenetrable. What exactly is the robot’s agenda? Is he lying about having no feelings? Why is the otherwise-pleasant Charlie so nasty towards him? Why does David care enough about our heroine to provide the film with an ending? Above all, why do you wait 33 years to make a prequel to your biggest hit, then neglect to provide basic plotting and motivations? Cue Ridley Scott, in his best robot voice: ‘The answer is irrelevant’.
DIRECTED BY Ridley Scot
STARRING Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green
US 2012 124 mins