Thinking about Princess Aura; daughter of Emperor Ming, sent to us all the way from the Galaxy of Pleasure, a face carved by a bored, horny god. Her entrance in Flash Gordon was a… formative moment in my childhood.
“I remember going to a party in New York about 35 years ago. They all called me Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. I said, “You, ma’am, your name and phone number? And you, sir, your phone number? And you, sir?” And they said, “Why are you taking our phone numbers?” I said, “Because the night we land on the moon, you’re going to get called.” I was in London when we did. I called three of them, and when they answered I said, “Stupid son of a bitch,” and hung up.”
You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.
“Look, I want to tell you something, because you’re very dear to me and I hope you understand it comes from the bottom of my damaged, damaged heart. You are the finest piece of ass I’ve ever had and I don’t care who knows it. I am so glad I got to roam those hillsides.”
In the same way that you can usually spot likely fellow gig goers who are hanging around town in the last hour or so before open doors at the nearby venue, so it is with those going to a midnight screening of Prometheus. Mainly, they’re wearing black., and they look… y’know. The type.
They’re here, we’re all here: the horror fans, the sci-fi geeks, the gorehounds. All here, much like the crew of the Prometheus, wanting to know the answer to the question that has long plagued mankind (and cinemagoers): Why?
Why have they made another Alien movie?
I never thought I would say this, but you need to see this film in 3D. I’m no fan, I’m really not, but the 3D was really effective in this. Ridley Scott appears to be one of the tiny minority of directors who knows how to make 3D work, and not have it look like a pop-up book. It helps that the snaking catacombs of the Juggernaut alien space craft, where a majority of the film takes place, really lend themselves to the 3D process, the trumpeted depth of field effect actually working for once.
It’s a staggeringly beautifully designed film; from the retro-futuristic cosmonaut costumes to the dazzling sets, the look is stunning, and the use of Icelandic tundra to stand-in for the surface of the alien world gives the film an entirely different feel from the studio-bound original movies. The natural exteriors; the stark, open stretches of black volcanic rock and the looming mountains, add an incredible textural quality. As airy and eerie as the cavernous interiors of a mysterious alien structure are dank and gloomy. And the scientific exploratory vessel USCSS Prometheus itself is as glassy, sparkling, box-fresh clean and pristine as the Nostromo was cramped, cluttered and used, but it’s clear they both share the hallmarks of being Weyland-Yutani spacecraft.
As universe-building goes, Prometheus is immaculate. Just so, so impressive to look at. It’s the kind of film to have playing on a loop on a massive screen in your swish, stylish apartment.
Everyone’s saying, and will continue to say, how good Michael Fassbender is. And he deserves the praise for his finely judged performance as company android, David. With his thin, obsequious smile and tendency to make cutting remarks that are couched in politeness toward the human crewmates he holds in contempt, he is closer to Ian Holm’s Ash than Lance Henrickson’s Bishop. I think I recall him saying in interviews that Ridley Scott told him to look at Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia before playing the part – and in Prometheus David actually watches Lawrence of Arabia and imitates O’Toole’s stiff-upper-lip cadences. (Thrillingly, we even get to watch a scene from LoA: digitally remastered and in 3D!).
Noomi Rapace as the film’s main character, Ellie – not a straight Ripley clone, fortunately, instead she’s a sensitive and yearning scientist with faith – is actually okay, as it happens. Maybe more than okay. And cute as hell, which helps. And I warmed to Charlize Theron’s slightly over-chilled ice-queen in the end. One funny moment is when Idris Elba’s casual Captain asks her at one point if she is a robot. It’s a shame that some of the smaller roles fall victim to lazy scripting, particularly Sean Harris’ fiery Fifield, whose character building amounts to him flat out saying the line “I’m only here for the money”. Compare and contrast this with Parker in Alien whose M.O. was revealed during a discussion about shares. That said, Fifield is a strongly memorable character, which is more than you can say for some of the crew. But then, of course, Aliens also had its fair-share of Wiezerbowski/Spunkmeyer xenomorph fodder, and we only need concern ourselves with the principle characters, all of which are engaging and/or interesting to some degree.
The Chariots of the Gods storyline, about an alien civilisation seeding mankind, isn’t really fleshed out enough to make much sense. Ridley Scott always said he wanted to go back and explore the origins of the space jockey (we call him an Engineer now), but by the end of Prometheus we’re not really any the wiser. The film attempts to ask some Big Questions in the crew’s search for mankind’s possible creator[s] in order to find out the who, what and why’s of mankind’s existence. It then – understandably, I suppose – skirts around answering any of it. Even the totemic giant head statue at the centre of the alien pyramid – and the film’s marketing campaign for the past year – barely gets noted by the exploring scientists. What is it? What is it for? Presumably the Engineers built it, but who exactly are the Engineers, and what is their interest in Earth? The film is a series of question marks, and the fact that things just sort of happen and are never explained is a little frustrating. No surprise then that the screenplay was, in part, written by the writer and co-creator of the aptly titled Lost, Damon Lindelof, who can pile on the mystery but seems unable to provide a satisfying reveal.
In fairness, the open-ended conclusion to Prometheus points towards that it is but part one of a multi-part (a trilogy is mooted) storyline, as was announced when Ridley Scott first confirmed his intention to make an Alien prequel. And given that the ending of Prometheus doesn’t dove-tail onto Alien (the film is set on LV-223, and not the planetoid in the first two Alien films) means that Prometheus is just a set-up for another movie, which only gives the film a slight incompleteness.I think the film survives it though. All of that stuff doesn’t seem to matter too much because the crazy thing is, I still loved every single minute of it. Defenders of the film will always fall back on the amazing visuals and the across-the-board gorgeous design, and rightly so. It’s hardly going to be the first Ridley Scott movie to be accused of being all style over substance, but the look of it is 85% of the film. Its style pretty much is its substance. This is a story told, above all else, in visuals and tone.
If there is one actual, real problem with Prometheus, though, then that has been the marketing. It’s interesting; the cast have been tight-lipped in interviews leading up to the film’s release, always stating that they are under strict instructions not to give too much away. Meanwhile, multiple trailers – over two-and-a-half minutes in length – followed teasers and featurettes, viral videos and photographs, all of which, cumulatively, showed footage and images from just about every one of the movie’s key scenes, including the climactic ending. It has to be said that the incredibly spoilerific advertising has damaged the film’s ability to surprise an audience that is already au fait with all of its secrets. I know that trailers and such are built in mind only to herd people into the cinemas and nothing more, but if there is to be a Prometheus 2 – if the dampened reaction of a jaded cinema-going public results in below-expected box office tallies – I hope lessons are learnt.
Anyway. My overall initial thoughts, at this late early-early hour, is that even if Prometheus occasionally over-reaches and is a bit baggy here and there, so what. It is, above all else, a gripping, visually spectacular and very atmospheric bit of ‘hard’ SF. It’s rare that a film like this comes along, its touchstones being Forbidden Planet, Contact, Sunshine, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, 2010: the Year We Make Contact, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In their time most of those films were considered, by some, to be follies, and they though they continue to be divisive, it feels that opinion has gradually turned in the favour. Like those films, Prometheus is ambitious, beautiful and daring, and, I’m sure, will stand the test of time.