I think it might have been a mistake to revisit both Alien and Aliens in high-def 4K prior to catching the latest franchise instalment, Alien: Covenant, on the big screen this weekend. They both remain masterpieces of the form, the first one of the greatest horror and SF films ever made, the second arguably the greatest US action film committed to the screen, so how can anything possibly compare? Well, after the glaring failures of Prometheus and the initial trailers for Covenant I had adjusted my expectations accordingly, but we live in hope that Ridley Scott might have one great film left in him, and to all the naysayers that repeat the mantra that the originals can never be bettered I point to the Mad Max reboot which meekly disproves that position as one rare exception to the rule. For cinephiles of my vintage the first couple of films are akin to our first viewings of Star Wars, indelibly seared into our memory of what cinema, and rather more specifically genre cinema could achieve through atmosphere, themes and design. They are corrosively etched into our shared popular culture, a nodal point for all future endeavours to be benchmarked and compared against as long as storytellers look to the indescribable depths of the universe and ponder on what immortal terrors may be lurking between the distant stars. Have they equalled these peaks with this latest mission? No, of course they haven’t but this film isn’t without its merits, while also working as a wider metaphor for all the frustrations of franchise filmmaking in 2017.
The set-up seems gestated in an Alien franchise screenwriting nest, drawing DNA strands from previous instalments in a simmering SF stew. It is the year 2104, and the 15 soul crew of the colony ship Covenant is progressively hurtling toward a remote planet, Origae-6. Some two-thousand colonists are also slumbering in hyper-sleep, monitored by an upgraded android named Walter (Michael Fassbinder), the next generation of synthetic that we previously knew as David in Prometheus, the bio-technical pinnacle of the sinister Weyland Yutani corporation. After a solar flare damages the vessel the crew are thawed, and in the ensuing chaos receive an enticing transmission from a nearby system, revealing a potentially fertile world for their colonising ideology – the planet yields an oxygen atmosphere, acceptable gravity, and a promising array of vegetation and hydration. The missions terraforming expert Daniels (Katherine Waterson) objects to the diversion, but is overruled by acting Captain Oram (Billy Crudup), so with a new course set an away team investigates the source of the message and naturally all hell breaks loose, in all the gruesome glutinous violence that we franchise fans have come to expect.
Let’s seed this review with some of the fertile positives before we reluctantly turn to some of the more problematic elements of Covenant. Firstly, it’s a Ridley Scott joint so naturally the aesthetics are just stunning – the gloomy production design, the tech, wardrobe and uniforms, the typography and cinematography are all state of the art, effortlessly building a believable and tactile future universe which is worthy of a big screen experience alone. I loved the desaturated, misty palette, and no-one shoots a klaxon shrieking, steam bathed strobe-lit bulkhead corridor better than Ridders. The first two-thirds are compelling and for much of the time I had a nagging belief in the back of my head that we might have another great Alien movie on our hands. It takes its time to build the story and assemble the narrative pieces on the chess board, but then like Prometheus the effective set-up and activation of plot nodes stumble into an increasingly fractured climax which – and this is difficult to articulate but bear with me – seemed to be assimilated into Covenant from an entirely different Alien franchise film. It is a very strange shift in pace, emphasis and events, where the supposed incessant demands for CGI set-pieces obliterate the previous control of structure and symbolism. The orignal Alien, and to a lesser extent Aliens orbit some very elemental human characteristics which pollenate across cultures and creeds while impregnating some unconscious essentials of human nature – the semen flushed fluids of the artificial androids, vague vaginal threat, inverse concepts of male rape and insemination. In opposition Covenant seems neutered, displaying a distinct lack of sexuality in terms of its emphasis or acuity, even the concept of the crew being populated by colonist couples working together as professionals regardless of their gender in some post misogynist landscape is largely supressed and discarded. Now, for the record this isn’t some SCW agitating, this is a concept that was present in the series from day one if you watch the various documentaries on the development of Alien, even before Ripley was transferred from a male to female antagonist through the script development process. Hell, even Alien III dropped a woman into a isolated culture of rapists and other criminal miscreants, where an ‘Alien’ outlier could at least be understood and tackled, querying where the real threat might be lurking.
With very little time the characters are hastily sketched, some twitter reviews I’ve scanned have praised Waterman although I can’t agree, she was something of a nonentity on-screen for me with just the bare bones of backstory. Billy Crudup’s captain makes some early intriguing references to his religious beliefs which is a thread that is promptly discarded, a casualty of an evolving script development one suspects. I’m not sure why they made Amy Seimetz , initially a competent, spacefaring professional pilot into a hysterical shivering mess so quickly, but it’s nice to see the Mumblecore and Shane Curruth alumni getting some higher profile roles. With the exception of the miscast Danny McBride – I just can’t take him seriously in a dramatic film – the rest of the crew are identikit red-shirts, so it is left to Fassbender to save the day. He plays the synthetic with the same intriguing gravity that he brought to Prometheus, an artificially created specimen with all the just slightly off delivery of speech and figure movement, internally questioning the integrity of his flawed creators*. I just wish the screenwriters didn’t resort to the cliché of crowbarring numerous literature references into his occasionally portentous dialogue beats – Shelley and Keats to name but two, and also a spot of Wagner – when a few allusions to the other Shelley and the Frankenstein myth would have sufficed. Rather more mischievously I admired the films bloodthirsty intentions, it is graphically violent with shredded puny meatbags being repeatedly ground into mince in a most amusing fashion, making me chuckle in glorious gorehound glee.
The major problems with the Alien franchise, now in its sixth (or eighth) gestation and near four decade hereditary are these – the entire direction of travel, the effort to create some franchise universe is unnecessary, and it is distracting. When they brought in the pathogens, those alabaster hued engineers and the swirling pixels of nanotechnological viruses it just obscured the pathological, elemental, primordial terror of the Xenomorph and its, well, it’s utterly alien nature. Why couldn’t they have just taken the series to earth, or take a petrifying sojourn to the beasts homeworld? Elemental myths and fears of the mystery of creation, of isolation and cognition, gender, evolution and birth swirl around these recent episodes of the series but they are simply not wielded to anything as potent as the sheer terror of the unknown, of lifeforms without remorse or pity subjecting us to their superiority and horrific, incubating lifecycle. To be fair the artificial life, synthetic philosophising is fascinating from a SF perspective and is contemporary with the growing unease and progression in IRL A.I. evolution, and this gets a lot of play in Covenant which might be this film’s singular saving grace – time, contemplation and a few re-watches are required. Some of the callbacks to early instalments are great fun – I really loved the revival of Jerry Goldsmith’s music cues from the original which is one of the most overlooked triumphs of the original film – but this now being 2017, and not 1979 or even 1986 there is this hideous necessity to incorporate some ‘thrilling’ action scenes which are also unnecessary and distracting, shattering the screen fidelity and immersion in the world, and dancing around spoilers one plot development late in the film is so spectacularly obvious it’s almost insulting when they detonate it. It’s funny, I initially was a lot more forgiving of Covenent when I exited the theatre, I mostly had a good time and enjoyed the experience, but gathering my thoughts here has exposed the glaring errors of what could have been. In summary then I’d rate this as on par with Alien III, flawed, irritating but still pulsing with some of that glutinous, gruesome fascination that the first two masterpieces incubated. With three more instalments already in the works I’ll keep a flickering flame lit amidst a melancholy musing over what course we might be on if they’d let Blomkamp have a crack at this still fertile, but frustratingly ferbile franchise;
* Maybe Fassbender could get together with Scarlett Johannson’s succubi in Under The Skin in some weird SF sidebar mythology. And fuck. This is how my genre crossover mind works. Professional help is being sought……
Jesus Christ on a xenomorph this is looking increasingly wretched – maybe like how Promethea had a great trailer and was bad, this has a bad trailer and is….good? Yeah, I know, I’m clutching at interstellar straws. The casting doesn’t help either, I just can’t take Danny McBride nor James Franco seriously in this universe, and nice to see the fate of one character spoiled already. …yes I’m there opening weekend ’cause its Alien, but it will be be arms firmly folded and legs crossed, awaiting to be impressed;
Oh, and that whole ‘post-credits-sting-action-beat’ technique thing can also go fuck a duck….
Here’s my idea of a happy Christmas;
Kids today eh? They bloody don’t know they’re born with their modern conveniences and century of cinema lore to absorb, easily absorbed through numerous streaming and on-demand entertainment options. Well, you may have been wondering why their has been radio silence on two recent high-profile and DNA related announcements, the prospect of a new Alien movie with Neil Blomkamp at the helm following the warmly received pre-production artwork, and the confirmation that Blade Runner 2 is progressing with Ford returning to the Deckard role. Exciting, and infuriating;
Well, apart from querying if this is how every future project will lever a greenlight going forward – get some outline production design concepts and sketched material together, ‘accidentally’ leak them through social media and gauge the fan reaction – well apart from that I’m hesitantly embracing the first and still rejecting the latter. I think Blomkamp has certain talents which makes this a potentially effective hybrid of material and master, he is skillful at SFX and futuristic world building, and design is absolutely crucial to any successful Alien film. In fact if you’ve got that right then I reckon you’re 50% of the way there, the creatures, ship designs and planetary environment, I just hope he gets some decent screenwriters to bolster the mechanics and mileau which he badly botched by his own admission in Elysium. Final word – anything possible to eradicate the memory banks of the AvP atrocities is welcome around this sub-orbital system, and Ripley deserves a decent send-off.
Moving onto to our Nexus 6 chums the news of director Denis Villeneuve being attached to the project is an eye raiser, his earlier films (and one wonders if the doubling in this film was one reason he got the gig) were great but I think there is one overwhelming obstacle – the pyramid shadow of the original. Look, I’m not of the adolescent age where any interference of franchise or previous material sends me off on some nerd-rage, quite the contrary in fact, as we’ll always have the original regardless of the remake/reimagining/reboot, and the second generation might be an entertaining picture.
Does Carpenters The Thing seem diminished by infected osmosis due to the terrible prequel? No, of course not. Yet all that said I fail to see what they could possibly do to eclipse the original, as all everyone will be debating another rehash of the whole ‘oooh, is he a Replicant?’ question. Even with half of the original screenwriting talent back on board (and the other writer is the genius behind Green Lantern – awesome!) and Tyrell, Sean, Daryl, Eddie, Roy and even Bryant still defying their termination dates around this sounds like a clusterfuck of epic proportions. A new film set in that same exhausted 2019 world? Maybe. Deckard being back? No, I really don’t think so – some things should be kept sacred. Now, who’s gonna get cracking on that Legend reboot?
It’s always Tuesday isn’t it, the day of bad news? Well another behind the scenes movie icon has left us today, this one from the production design side of the business, as well of course as being a well-respected and established fine-artist in his own right. Interest in his work was resurrected a little with both the launching of Prometheus (the sequel of which was officially announced recently) and last years Jodorowsky’s Dune documentary, I think you’d have a strong claim for electing the Alien design as one of the top half-dozen movie monsters of all time, up there with other icons such as Frankenstein and the soon to be revisited Godzilla, so its with a solemn severity that we pay tribute to the Swiss nightmare sculptor H.R. Giger – a purveyor of pure nightmare fuel;
A lot of film fans cite the likes of Chris Fosse, Moebius and Ralph McQuarrie as the all time great SF designers, I always gravitated more to the likes of Syd Mead and Giger, as apparently you can’t eradicate those cyber Gothic instincts completely once they’ve begun their slow adolescent infection. It’s a shame he didn’t get more work although he did fall out somewhat with the movie industry over the usual squabbles about rights and licencing, some of his other designs were quite striking even if the quality of the films around them wasn’t always quite so…moistened fresh;
Here’s a detailed old-school documentary on the man and his work on the cornerstone SF Horror quadrilogy, if you’ll forgive me I’ll return to the first-world privilege of signing up my new accountants and incorporating my new business, arranging my professional indemnity insurance for my imminent assignment and associated compliance functions – that my friends is pure 21st century horror;
It has been with a delicious sense of contentment that I have observed the glowering praise that Under The Skin has accrued since its UK release last weekend, so I thought having seen the film again on Sunday it might be a worth posting a very brief précis now that the film has actually alighted on local shores. Second time round and the film retains its disturbing power, even when you know the storybeats it is still a deeply distinctive and distressing work, and my appreciation has only intensified for Johansson’s otherworldly performance, the intense and chittering score and Glazer’s sparsely brilliant and uncompromising manipulation of the form. Lots of reviewers have been taking more of a Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth flavour from the film rather than a David Lynch vibe, both positions are equally valid, but there does still seem to be some discontent with the movie which the three star reviews reference but fail to illuminate why – it’s quite frustrating. Still I’m assuming some of my esteemed colleagues are working from their intergalactic instincts which is a position I can sympathise with, sometimes a film just feels a little off and not quite there as a five-star masterpiece if that makes sense (no, probably doesn’t but anyway), and it’s really only subjective touches or moments which can overcome that creeping feeling that something might just be slightly amiss. For me its all about the atmosphere which the film and being given the space to breathe, of formulating your own backstories to motivations or lifecycles which a major strength, of frankly not being treated like a juvenile and walked through the story which a lot of SF material seems compelled to do these days. Some mild spoilers follow;
It’s really some of the mysteries the film leaves you with the space to speculate which I find more involving – who are the bikers and where are they from? Does the mere fact of Izzy’s time amongst us change her behaviour when she ‘rebels’ against her nature? What the fuck are those poor doomed blokes being harvested for anyway? It’s abstract and so much better, much richer and intellectually curious that way. Given the films now notorious production method it’s quite interesting to go back for a second orbit from a technical perspective, the hidden camera scenes are fairly obvious and quite easy to distinguish from the three professional actor encounters but you’ve still got to admire Johansson’s nerve and the achievement of such verisimilitude. Never one to miss a trick FilmFour scheduled a screening of Glazer’s first film Sexy Beast over the weekend which I also revisited, being fairly indifferent to the film the first time around it does yield some connections, some small moments of DNA which can be traced through his rather odd movies. He’s good on deployment of close-up’s, of timing and restraint with them too, and he also has a penchant for non-narrative specific mood moments, either executed by a dream or the characters lapsing into a state of imagination. Like a lot of music video piece graduates the visuals eclipse the narrative, there are many music video techniques deployed in Sexy Beast which are flashy but a little hollow, thank god he restrained himself for Skin with the more powerful moments residing in the qietly held shots, the moments of reflection which drive the narrative forward – Izzy calmly observing and possibly satisfied with the insects lurking at the fringes of our environment, as alien in their design and purpose as we are to her, the final image of vertical, silently drifting snow. Danny Leigh, a chap with whom I tend to see eye-to-eye on most movies has made the rather startling claim that he has had two formative experiences in his cinematic education, the first seeing Eraserhead at age 14, the second Under The Skin. I’m not sure I’d go that far but I think I know what distant nebula he is coming from, as this is a film which is the new standard for ‘serious’ SF to be triangulated against for the next few years. So finally here is Mark Cousins ‘riposte’ which is quite stunning, he loved the film by the way but as is his idiom he sought to point out another work which may have influenced Glazer, particularly that incredibly haunting and indifferent beach scene;
No, I’m not branching out to video game reviews but I think given the movie connections I can get away with posting this, plus its my excuse to buy me some time while I put the finishing touches to last weekend’s film review which I’m finding hard to finalize – don’t hold your breath;
All of the Alien inspired games have been fairly terrible if memory serves, so anything aiming for the initial sense of dread and horror of the superior first film could be quite an experience, especially given the fidelity and respect for the source material outlined here. Any excuse to buy a PS4 also isn’t such a bad thing…..
People have often asked me why I don’t produce a ‘ten-worst’ movie list alongside my annual round-up. The answer to this is relatively straightforward I think, I mostly just can’t find the inspiration to construct ten more pieces on something which is evidently not worthy of merit, and even more simply life is just too short. Now that’s not to say writing a review of a bad film can’t be as entertaining as heaping on the praise – I hugely enjoyed putting the knife into the horrific failure that was Dark Shadows for example – but it’s just a little negative and I kinda see my job here as much more aligned with identifying the films you should strive to see, rather than scaring people off things which they are potentially pre-destined to enjoy anyway. If I have convinced one person to go see a movie that they wouldn’t have seen then my work is done, and if recent feedback is anything to go by then I’m proud to admit this lofty goal is occasionally achieved. However I am going to make one violation of this rule and return to the scene of the crime for Prometheus, one of the biggest disappointments of the past five or more years rather than just one of the worst of the year, which has received a lengthy re-appraisal from a series of essays now doing the rounds;
I knew precisely when my heart plummeted and I realised we were entering hostile territory with Prometheus, after that mysterious opening (and mysterious is usually good) when they arrived on the planet and one of the scientists removed his helmet citing some ridiculous comment about ‘experiencing this moment organically and taking a leap of faith’ or whatever nonsense he spouted. Right, so let me get this straight, you’ve the emissaries of the human race and the prospect of any viral or microbiological infection on either side hasn’t crossed your mind you dick? I knew then, straight away, that we were in serious trouble.
It’s filmmaking 101 really, when you make a film you have a tone, a particularly fragile beast to master especially when at the helm of a ‘world building’ picture as befits SF projects of this large and unwieldy sort. We can accept interstellar travel and advanced robotic AI, those functions of the universe that you accept as logical and embedded in the films core, but when characters start acting like total idiots, completely antithetical to their profession or personality then you know the script has gone seriously awry, and Prometheus is absolutely infected with these inconsistencies, and seeming entirely missing scenes and sequences that have been sacrificed on the altar of ‘pacing’ which is a cloudy way of saying this had to be short enough to maximise screening revenues at the expense of the film as its own entity.
Finally, as we bask in the fading cheer of this heartwarming festive season I’d just like to bookmark the year with a miniscule plea to my fellow cinema patrons following a 2D viewing of The Hobbit with my mother yesterday afternoon. The film was still good, I picked up a few more things I hadn’t noticed but the fucking twat of a child sitting next to me for 75% of the film detonated the worst viewing experience I’ve suffered all year. This little fucker was afflicted with a severe (and potentially terminal if I see him again) case of fidgeting, getting up and obscuring the view at core points, talking, slurping, and rustling for roughly two hours of the screening. So, from the cadres of respectful movie-goers to this fucking bozos parents – and to be clear I’m talking about an eleven, twelve-year-old here not a toddler or anything – then may I humbly suggest that if you can’t raise your fucking child to fucking pay other fucking people fucking respect in fucking public then perhaps you should fucking consider a fucking vasectomy you selfish fucking ignorant fucking clowns. Merry fucking Christmas.
Since it opened in the States I have naturally been intrigued and amused to see how Prometheus has gone down amongst the wider film community. The two best reviews I’ve encountered have been the hilarious Quarter To Three guys acerbic takedown of the movie, and as expected the Red Letter Media dudes also conducted a fine deconstruction, consequently this extract has been doing the rounds – major SPOILERS;
You can see their full review here, like many they actually kinda liked it but had some fun with its glaring errors, and this is also very well written and observed. Personally I’m still minded to get a posse together, hunt down Lindelof, Spaihts and ‘Sir’ Ridley Scott, and hang ’em up by their buster browns – alas my disappointment has only intensified – but I concede that the movie has generated some high quality discussion and debate, some good natured satire and disgust, and this is a good thing. I was toying with the idea of throwing together some further thoughts but I really can’t be bothered, we shall speak no more of this until my end of the year round-up. If you are intrigued there is some fine discussion here which gathers together some links that you may enjoy pursuing, I particularly like the observations about the ‘male only’ medical unit and studio nervousness around the themes of abortion…..
During the run up to the long-awaited Prometheus I revisited a small UK film with the rather more alarming title of Inseminoid, a little known cult horror from 1981 where a group of mismatched astronauts and scientists discover some ancient hieroglyphics buried away on an alien planet, the exfoliation of which soon results in a rather grisly and bloody reduction of their factions human resources by an unearthly homicidal ‘other’ which subverts and possesses most of their doomed expedition. As with the better known Planet of The Vampires AKA Terrore Nello Spazio, the lesser known Queen Of Blood and It! The Terror From Beyond Space gestating the mucus encrusted Alien in 1979, the embryo of Prometheus is also blooded in a cinematic passage, the notion of our species evolution being guided and manipulated by unseen, gargantuan alien forces with their own indecipherable motives and agendas. From Kubrick’s 1968 Odyssey to the Egyptian transmigrations of Stargate to the entirety of the X-Files mythology, most successful SF and horror films are hybridised from pre-existing material, with the trope of an ancient alien civilisation birthing our species evolution being a rich seam of speculation ever since Erich von Däniken put his tinfoiled quill to paranoid paper. The interstellar anticipation for Prometheus bursts from two complementary impulses, firstly Ridley Scott’s long-awaited return to the genre which cemented his career with Alien and Blade Runner being seminal films that have imprinted their DNA on almost all subsequent genetic clones, the second being the potential resurrection of a long dormant franchise from a quality control perspective, with the first two installments offering the very best the SF and horror genre have offered in the past thirty years, before its calamitous fall into the Aliens Versus Predator mash-ups and the rather dubious charms of both Alien III and Alien Resurrection although both those installments do have their admirers alongside the detractors. From its echo chamber trailer, from the iconography of gothic horseshoe spaceships, ebony allochthonous caverns and brooding title crawls, with the return of Switzerland’s premiere gothic surrealist Prometheus was marketed as primary grade continuity porn of the highest calibre, a project that has been designed to appeal to the fans of the original series and newcomers alike in crowd beguiling, 3D drenched chromatic CGI, as summer event cinema at its absolute apotheosis. Unfortunately, it sucks.
In ancient myth Prometheus was the titan who stole the gift of fire from the gods and gave it to us feeble mortals, a martyr who was rewarded with this pivotal role in our evolution by being chained to a rock and having his liver forcibly extracted and devoured by a giant eagle every day, a fate almost as painful as sitting through this horrendously misjudged failure. In this near future year of 2093 extraplanetary mariners have finally learnt the lesson of not naming their craft with the rather fate baiting names of Icarus or Titanic 2.0 as the expeditionary ship Prometheus ferries a crew of scientists, geologists and archeologists to the distant world of
LV-426 LV-223, a distant sphere that has been identified as the homeland of an ancient species whom have scattered guides and sigils to their origin in glyph form throughout the decaying ruins and mouldy detritus of the adolescent Earth. The ships polyethylene crew gain no purchase; the mission director is the frigid, risk averse Meredith Vickers (an icy Charlie Theron), a supposed counterpoint to our heroine Elizabeth Shaw (a nervous Noomi Rapace) whose wide-eyed innocence and crucifix clutching religious devotion is soon extinguished in a muddy, sterile characterisation. Amongst the men are Elizabeth’s rationalist partner Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), ship captain and incongruous plot psychic Janek (Stringer Bell) and the rodent whiskered Fifield (Sean Harris) whom are partially illustrated, orbiting them are a retinue of silhouetted crew members whose purpose and abilities remain on the cutting room floor. Much more promising is the series preservation of the android as a manufactured ‘other’that runs like a potent digital seam throughout the series, personified in the form of David (Michael Fassbender), the latest model of artificial intelligence from the Weyland Yutani corporation, headed by Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) who is bankrolling the epic expedition for purposes unknown. The source of the signal is identified and as the crew bivouacs on the charcoal planetoid a hesitant excursion is made to a nearby structure, and soon the crew unearth an evolution defying secret, and they are not alone……
Future civilisations will excavate the critical reaction to Prometheus with a bemused wonder, and will worship at the most brilliantly devious marketing campaign of the early 21st century, as not since Keyer Soze outfoxed Chazz Palminteri over a cup of coffee has a film so hoodwinked and violated its audience expectations. If you’re going to make a SF horror movie it kind of helps if it is terrifying, it needs to embrace the isolation of those vast incomprehensible distances, of the universes hostile indifference, with the lurking spectre of civilisations and species that may look upon our puny progeny as little more than a warm incubating host or a particularly sloppy snack, heck even the greatest scientist of our age has suggested that we really may not want to make any alien contact. With Scott and his producers strongly hinting at elements of how the film tied into the universe of the Nostromo and its homicidal, unwanted cargo during the two years of production it therefore had some deep spacebooted shoes to step into, and it repeatedly fails as a thought-provoking SF spectacle, due to a terribly obscured script and the most insulting insertion of franchise references in a vain attempt to glean some historical kudos. I realise this is opening myself up to eye rolling dismissals of fanboy opinions but I assure you and I simply cannot stress this enough, that even if you divorce your mind from any of the potential references to earlier treasures (and this is very difficult proposition as Scott with screenwriters Damon ‘I wish he was Lost‘ Lindelhof and Jon ‘Cowboys Versus Fucking Aliens‘ Spaihts have infected the film with numerous stings and references, so the recent backpedaling of this suddenly not being a prequel, of not trading on previous triumphs is ludicrous) then this is simply a muddled, incoherent mess with galactic narrative omissions, where dramatic events are glossed over or left unremarked through frustrated stabs at storytelling, I assure you that I had lowered my expectations down to acknowledging that we should at least just get a competent, exciting, interesting, thoughtful and dramatic piece of work, and on that criteria Prometheus fails on almost every one of its DNA sequencing levels.
The movie gets off to a rather lacklustre start with a mysterious prologue and title sequence, but this indifference is soon eclipsed by a succinct leap forward into the mission to a distant moon orbiting a unremarked planet, and faint glimmerings of excitement are sparked with a prowling montage detailing David going about his chores and activities, whilst the human crew slumber in hyper-sleep. Alas this is the most interesting and engaging sequence in the entire movie, complete with potential nerdfan reference to this, before the crew are awakened and the initial sojourn to the obsidian ruins is made. To give credit where it is due the designs are delicious, and initially I felt a genuine sense of a plausible future world (if that’s not an oxymoron), the SFX is smoothly unobtrusive, with the 3D oscillations of the planets and spheres providing the expected and anticipated eye teasing candour. A film with just David wandering around performing his duties would have been throughly entertaining but he is wasted as a character despite Fassbender’s best efforts, with confusing motivations (I’m avoiding spoilers but some of his actions and comments simply do not make sense and are never explained) with questions of artificial life mirroring the discovery of our species evolution, a potent area of exploration for a SF film being initially raised then spun off into incoherence along with numerous other themes and ideas which are not entertained or explored. Now of course a little mystery is welcome and not everything should be telegraphed to the audience (although this does happen with the worst cliché of a character suddenly delivering the entire plot of the film further down the line, a plot which he seems to have psychically gleaned through some magical powers), it’s a fine line between seductive ambiguity and illogical incoherence, and Prometheus firmly and repeatedly squats in the latter.
SPOILER SECTION – There are no surprises in this movie, you can map its two-hour run time to its two-minute teaser, all the way down to the climax of panic-stricken scientists – presumably relatively intelligent souls with a fundamental grasp of geometry and physics – not realising that running at a 90 degree angle to a collapsing superstructure might be slightly more efficient than trying to sprint the full distance of the lethal monolith. That probably sounds incredibly picky and absurd, right? Well, in my defence by this point of the films closing moments I was so frustrated with the wasted promise of the opening act that every logical flaw and character defect provoked an exasperated groan, there is no sense of threat, no sense of story or narrative, and the film is utterly confused on whether it is a scary picture or an adventure piece, a SF treatise or an action movie. Prometheus never gains any momentum, scenes bleed into each other seemingly independent of previous developments in the most lacklustre and butchered fashion, it is a mess and not even Scott’s trademark visual dexterity gains any traction as the entire film feels like an entire franchise setting waste of fuel, not as a self-contained piece, including a final, deeply insulting, acid drenched spit in the face which has to be one of the worst afterthought shrugs to the audience I’ve seen in many, many years. Why can’t anyone on this ship lock a god-damn bulkhead? Why are major plot twists given such cold, undramatic presentations, such as the ‘shocking’ revelation of Weyland on board? What was the point of Meredith as a character, and why is her being Weyland’s daughter even remotely dramatic? Why was Guy Pearce even cast in that role? So medical equipment is programmed for one sex only? Really? That makes fucking sense, as does recovering from a major traumatic abortion in roughly twelve seconds, then going on to trust and team-up with the android that killed your partner and infected you with an alien parasite? And why did David even do that? Under Weylands instructions? WHY? OK, OK, I think I need some oxygen and a bit of a lie down…..SPOILERS END
The effects are shimmeringly slick in that post Avatar world design way where everything must be represented in a holographic 3D interfaced realm – see also The Avengers – and the sloshing screen GUI’s that have been ubiquitous since Minority Report ten years ago. It would have been nice to see more of a Ron Cobb or Moebius flavour to the ship and equipment designs, but to be fair this was a different type of vehicle designed for a different purpose, and on the whole the visual SF sheen of the film is perhaps the only element that will lure me back for a Blu-Ray revisit. Just to go into hyper-drive pretentious mode there is nothing compelling here in terms of corporate malfeasance or the sexual horror of the series which I concur isn’t necessarily the films objective, but then we are subjected to an obviously brainstormed horror scene which is designed to up the ante on the chestburster sequence of Alien which leaves one bemused rather than horrified, prior to this we are subjected to some rather halfbaked conservative positions on the evolution versus design debate which like the rest of the film remains unindulged, unfocused, unresolved and unremarkable. But, as Eldon Tyrell so memorably (heh) said all of this is academic, with the Blade Runner* sequel now in pre-production not even the presence of original writer Hampton Fancher recruited onto scribe duties bodes well for another revisit to Scott’s earlier oeuvre, and I actually hope he gets caught up with the other projects he has on the drawing board before returning to a future Los Angeles. I realise I have trailed this film to death on the blog and yes along with The Dark Knight Rises this was the most anticipated summer project of the year for me from a blockbuster perspective, the whole sordid enterprise has left me with a combination of tired exasperation and deep disappointment, and a weak prayer of not being seduced by such relentless marketing manipulation ever again – I mean when they started posting trailers for a trailer you had to suspect that something was up – but those associated virals were superbly manufactured, and I’d like to live on a planet where the final product lived up to their quality and style. In 1979 we were warned that in space no-one can hear you scream, 33 years later with Prometheus no-one will hear you seethe;
*If you’re a Blade Runner aficionado you need to check that link out by the way, tweeted by Mr. Gibson no less….