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/customers/d/6/4/thesouthbankreview.org/httpd.www/concrete/libraries/view.php on line 776 The South Bank Review :: A Review of Prometheus

One of the most anticipated movies of 2012, Prometheus was Ridley Scott’s long overdue return to the world of science fiction. A loosely based prequel on Scott’s sci-fi classic ‘Alien’, Prometheus was to breathe life into a moribund franchise while at the same establishing a new mythology of its own. Abandoning the traditional elements of previous Alien movies, the plot follows a group of scientists traveling aboard the spaceship ‘Prometheus’ on their way to what they believe is the home of ancient gods who created humanity. Led by Doctors Elizabeth Shaw (Naomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Marshal-Green) their purpose is to find the answers to the questions that have plagued mankind since the dawn of time - Who are we? Where do we come from? Are we alone in the universe? In true Sci-fi horror fashion however, what the crew discover is not the home of benevolent deities, but a bizarre alien weapons facility manufacturing deadly bio-weapons.  “Sometimes to create, one must first destroy” says David (Michael Fassbender) the ship’s robot who clearly understands more than his human counterparts.
     While the premise of meeting our makers and finding them entirely hostile to us is an intriguing one, the inherent dichotomy of Prometheus is that its script seems unsure if it wants to be Space Odyssey 2001 or Alien Resurrection. The opening scene of the mysterious, God-like ‘Engineer’ sacrificing his life and seeding a primordial planet with his own DNA is visually stunning and sets the scale for the grand ideas that the film wants to explore. Unfortunately these concepts are not complemented by our introduction to some of the worst scientists ever to break the most basic protocols of their profession.  Whereas Alien had character realism in abundance with its depiction of working-class space truckers, the script to Prometheus gives us a cast that includes a pot smoking, misanthropic geologist and an idiot biologist who thinks that petting a clearly dangerous alien organism and terming it a ‘lady’ is standard scientific procedure. At times the level of dialogue and the numerous instances of over-acting threaten to reduce the seriousness of the plot.  
     Prometheus faces further problems in the form of some poor editing decisions and a level of plot pacing that prevents its horror scenes from realising their full potential.  The familiar problem of an ambitious film that wants to be a commercial success rears its ugly head as vitally important plot segments are severely cut in order to make the film clock in at just under two hours long. Consequently on first viewing, the movie seems to lurch from one very short burst of action to another and for an audience who are not watching carefully, the film can seem somewhat incoherent. The solution to these problems could easily be rectified in the release of an extended cut that would restore the many deleted scenes available on the film’s blue ray edition and help fix the film’s awkward pace.
     Despite all of its problems, an audience who are willing to overlook some of the film’s obvious defects in favour of the bigger picture may find that Prometheus is redeemed by both its majestic visual quality and the sheer imagination of its ideas. With beautifully crafted sets inspired by H.R Giger’s sexually charged, bio-mechanical imagery and the depiction of futuristic human technology, Prometheus is a visual tour de force. Its themes of creation, self-sacrifice, and religion are also expressed through rich symbolism that draws on Christian literature, in particular the Bible and Paradise Lost, and although many people have complained that the movie leaves too many questions unanswered, there is plenty that is suggestive enough for an audience to piece together answers to the more open elements to the story. In many respects Prometheus feels like a new beginning, and contains a universe that has some amazing potential to explore when the inevitable sequels materialise at some point (the film is part of an intended trilogy according to its writers).
     Aside from the sheer scale of ideas and the sense of a unique alien world, Prometheus also introduces us to one of the best characters in the entire Alien cannon in the form of the ship’s android David (played by Michael Fassbender). One part Ash and another part Bishop, David steals the show as the sinister and creepy synthetic whose motives are ambiguous. Loathed and mistreated by his human counterparts, David’s apparent servility to his human masters represents another aspect to the theme of gods who despise their creations, and children who rise up against their parents.
     All in all, Prometheus is a film that is both frustrating and admirable.  The scale of its ideas, its haunting visual quality and a wonderful performance from Fassbender go some way in redeeming its rather glaring faults. The film will not be to everybody’s tastes and those expecting something approaching the sci-fi horror perfection of Alien will inevitably be disappointed, however, with an open mind and a readiness to forgive its failings in favour of it’s imaginative design, there is enough in Prometheus to suggest that the film could well be the beginning of something special in the great canon of science fiction movies.