These are notes (hastily scribbled after midnight) rather than a proper review, but so many people have asked me if I liked the film that I decided it was easier to present my thoughts about it here rather than attempt to answer everyone individually. I have tried to avoid major spoilers, but would still recommend you watch the film before reading on.
I’m glad I didn’t watch the trailers, which serve up far too much information; I’m starting to wonder if today’s audiences really do prefer their trailers to be spoilerific synopses – perhaps they’re so busy texting or talking to one another they need to know in advance where the story is going, so they won’t get lost. I loved the design of the first Alien but thought the narrative left something to be desired (it’s basically a Ten Little Indians plot with only a couple of interesting twists) and I’m not an unqualified Ridley Scott fan, so I was able to come to this without too many preconceptions or unfeasibly high hopes.
Firstly, it’s in a different class to the prequel to The Thing, and not just budget-wise; it’s buzzing with ideas, even if it doesn’t follow all of them through, and it does attempt to develop the Alien mythology rather than just rehashing it. After an introductory teaser showing a humanoid creature killing itself amid some astonishing natural scenery, apparently on Earth, the narrative follows a similar pattern to that of Alien and Aliens: the crew of a spaceship (called Prometheus) travel to a distant planet to investigate what they hope will be proof of extra-terrestrial life. Naturally this life turns out to be livelier than expected, and there are casualties. There is also some really stupid behaviour (Oooh, what a cute little alien!), and a sequence when a lot of questions could easily have been answered and a whole load of shit avoided if only incoming communications had been recorded and then played back – duh!
Noomi Rapace (plucky yet vulnerable) plays a scientist whose discoveries on Earth have persuaded Weyland Industries to bankroll this gazillion-dollar trip; Charlize Theron plays the ice queen Weyland rep looking after their interests, Guy Pearce (unrecognisable under heavy make-up) plays old Mr Weyland in a hologram. Michael Fassbender, alternately endearing and ambiguous, is perfect casting as the voyage’s obligatory robot, who reminded me a lot of Max 404 in Aaron Lipstadt’s Android (1982). Idris Elba does a lot with very little as the ship’s captain. There are also some crew members who might as well have been wearing red shirts with CANNON FODDER printed across the front.
There’s nothing to match the sense of wonder when we first saw the interior of the derelict spaceship in the first Alien, but as you’d expect from Scott, a lot of the design is breathtakingly beautiful, particularly when a geologist sends out exploratory red gizmos to map the interior of a series of interlocking caverns, or when Fassbender starts rooting around in the extra-terrestrial artefacts and switches on a sort of planetary light-show (I expect this would have been spectacular in 3-D but I chose to watch the film in 2-D). There are plenty of tentacles, and a lot of gloop, but until the climax there’s too much coming and going and an odd lack of urgency, with only one sequence that truly has you on the edge of your seat, peeking through your fingers – but still, that’s one more genuinely tense sequence than we get in most films these days, so not such a shabby score. The 124-minute running-time passed quite painlessly for me, if not for the crew of the Prometheus, and I found the story consistently intriguing, even if it didn’t really deliver on a genre-shattering scale.
One of the odd things about Prometheus is that while the main action is meant to be set in 2093, roughly three decades before events in Alien, it’s actually coming out roughly three decades after the release of the original film. Perhaps this is why the technology looks more advanced and the spaceship more hi-tech, though I suppose since the Nostromo is a mining vessel it’s bound to look more run-down and industrial.
I missed a sense of everyday life on board the ship, one of the strongest elements in the original Alien, and never felt we got to know the Prometheus the way we got to know – or felt as though we got to know – the grungy entrails and dripping pipes of the Nostromo. I also missed the music; the first Alien was very much enhanced by Jerry Goldsmith’s score, which at moments gave me goose-pimples; Marc Streitenfeld’s music in Prometheus is bombastic without being evocative of anything much.
The title logo is similar to that of the first Alien. The credits typography is spaced out, but beautifully kerned – it’s as though they drafted in a Master Typographer to oversee the spacing. (Compare this to the credits of Rust and Bone, in which the credits are so appallingly kerned you suspect it must have been done on purpose.)
There is, unfortunately, no cat.