**SPOILERS AHEAD – NOT AS MANY AS USUAL, BUT STILL SOME SPOILERS: YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!**
So I’ve finally written my review. It’s a week since I first saw Prometheus: a week of analysis and synopsis. I’ve thought about the creatures and the characters and their individual significance and subtext. But I can’t avoid writing this damn review anymore. If I haven’t got my thoughts in order by now I never will.
I was incredibly excited about Prometheus. I knew my expectations were high but I also knew that after Alien: Resurrection and two god-awful AVP instalments things would have to get pretty ugly before I flew into a rage.
But anyway: my feelings towards Prometheus remain conflicted. I was both underwhelmed and overawed. Satisfied and frustrated. Excited and irritated. Disappointed and thrilled. How to break it down? Even having watched it I remain oddly cautious: torn between feeling that I’ve been seduced too readily by its glamour but conversely that I’m too eager to condemn its faults.
Is it Alien? No, of course not. But then how could it be? Is it trying to be Alien? No, it’s attempting to be something much bigger – something epic and groundbreaking.
Visually it is stunning. It feels perfect. I was impressed by the sets, effects, creatures and costumes. It was suitably grandiose and epic, capturing both Geiger’s alien-gothic and the functional-futuristic aesthetic of Aliens. So on this count at least it achieves the epic scale it was aiming for.
Clearly the next area where Prometheus was aiming for epic scale was in its concept. I was anxious about the Erich Von Daniken aspect of the plot long before I viewed it. This part of the story is handled very badly. Much as I liked the idea of the two archaeologists heading off to the stars in search of our progenitors, Elizabeth Shaw’s ‘faith’ and Charlie Holloway’s ‘need’ to find these creatures smacked of lazy plot and character development more than anything. I would have loved some high-concept sci-fi in here, rather than the hammerpedes and squid-facehuggers that occupied so much screen time. I didn’t want a creature feature: we already HAD our creature, perhaps the greatest to originate in cinema. Why ruin it by introducing these new and thoroughly underwhelming additions to the Alien mythos?
The black liquid was the most interesting of all the alien technology – but again, this was used as nothing more than a means to introduce more gruesome spectacle. So Prometheus falls down here: it thinks it is being far cleverer than it really is. It has the potential to introduce us to some original and terrifying ideas but instead we got a few squid like creatures, a couple of snakes and some mutants.
Prometheus also suffers from too many ‘main’ characters. It’s biggest failing is that it over-develops David and under-develops Shaw. Shaw is a woman with a troubled past, a complex set of beliefs, suffering from her inability to ‘create life’ and dedicated to her work – but all this is introduced only to be discarded again. Of the rest of the characters Vickers, Weyland and Janek are all woefully underused. Considering the immense amount of coverage Weyland and Vickers got in the build up to release, this seems particularly inexcusable.
According to Ridley this film isn’t an Alien prequel – and I think there’s a very clear reason for that: this film feels very much like the opening chapter to a new story. Very few of the existing questions are answered – quite to the contrary – we are left with many new mysteries.
One of the most frustrating things about this film for me rests on the characters of the two archaeologists. They make so many assumptions about the Engineers and their technology that I’m left baffled. Are we meant to accept the conclusions they draw or are we meant to question them? If the former is true then why are their conclusions reached in such an unsubstantiated way? If the latter is true, then why isn’t this made clear?
The final area where this film aims for epic status is in the subtext of creator and child and the relationships that exist between the two. Most obviously this is played out between David and the human crew – mankind and its own creation – but we also see it more specifically between David and Weyland, however underdeveloped this ultimately proves to be. For me the subtext is more successful than the concept but unfortunately this is at the expense of any substantial characterisation.
Yet for all that I liked Prometheus. I felt it chipped away a little more at the Alien mythos – if only to unearth a myriad of new riddles. Yet by the same token this seems like a cheap trick, maintaining the mystery at the expense of providing any substance.
So in conclusion, I remain torn – though overall I feel Prometheus was a success. It is a very entertaining film and a grand spectacle – even if it suffers from a lack of substance. As a stand-alone it proves ultimately unsatisfying but if it is intended as the opening sequence to a new story in the Alien universe then this is a promising start. But what is required next would need to be a Space Odyssey of Kubrik proportions – requiring first and foremost a science fiction writer with a sense of the epic and a command of mystery (basically Arthur C Clarke, only able to write characters as well) – which I fear may be asking the impossible.