(Ridley Scott, 2012)
There are lots of little things - and a few very big things - to admire about Prometheus.
Admire yes, love no.
This is a chilly, downbeat film, it's look dominated by the textures of steel and rock, and love just slides off it's beautiful surface. And it is beautiful. Ridley Scott, for all his flaws as a storyteller, has always had an outstanding ability as a shotmaker, and this film is at times absurdly beautiful, giving him the time and space to create a future world and fill in it's many crucial gee-whizz details. That stuff - the look and design of the ship, the spacesuits, the weaponry and clothing, the technology the characters use casually - is important in science fiction and Scott excels at it.
All of that, together with a patient, unembarrassed way with exposition, makes the first hour or so of Prometheus an involving experience. We witness two archaeologists find some cave paintings on the Isle of Skye which contain a pictogram matching ones they have found from other ancient civilisations across the globe. Then the film jumps forward a few years as they awaken from hypersleep as their ship - with a crew of scientists, doctors and corporate security - arrives at the planet the pictograms mapped for them. They are searching for the origins of life on earth and hoping for answers. What they find is something very different.
These passages suggest this will be a piece of idea-driven, relatively adult sci-fi. And partly, it is. But as it develops it introduces some weak material about Dr Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her faith, before finally succumbing to it's basest commercial instincts and transforming into a horror film of sorts, with elements of body horror, tentacles in dark corridors and other overly-predictable genre beats you knew were coming.
They are well-mounted as these things go - Scott is too accomplished and experienced a director to mess up those moments - but all the potential and interesting questions of the first act are squandered in the rush for spectacle and excitement. Scott's recent films have all suffered from similar problems - he seems determined to make audience-pleasing movies, no matter how rote and tired that might make them in their dull following of established structures and techniques to assure a narrative is resolved. That's is only exaggerated in a film which starts out seeming distinctive and unusual.
But there are those little things to admire. The cast is splendid; Michael Fassbender steals the film as David, the enigmatic, somewhat smug robot with his own agenda, but Rapace is good in the lead (despite being saddled with a truly awful scene where she weeps over her own ability to bear children), Idris Elba and Charlize Theron do well with underwritten, one-dimensional roles, and English character actors Rafe Spall and Sean Harris are great as the only crew members who react normally (ie. with stark, acknowledged terror) to what they find in the alien pyramid.
Then there is a hammy but effective Guy Pearce, buried under make-up as the Billionaire funding the mission, in what is a surprisingly negative portrayal of a Rupert Murdoch type in a film produced by Murdoch's 20th Century Fox.
The design of the alien structures and creatures is front and centre and though it feels a little second-hand, it mostly works within the look of the film.
The film resonates with a few isolated scenes; Rapace's grisly, visceral self-administered surgery is probably the best passage throughout, though the scenes of Fassbender alone on the ship, watching and imitating Lawrence of Arabia, playing basketball and studying languages, run it close.
The closing scenes, which link with the Alien films and suggest a direct sequel to this film, are less successful. For all its early ambition and overstuffed insistence on a few big ideas, Prometheus isn't quite thrilling or interesting enough to warrant a sequel on it's own merits. But it works as a solid piece of grown-up genre entertainment. Perhaps hoping for anymore in such an expensive mass-market product was unrealistic. If only that first hour or so hadn't suggested that it could be something more..