Spoiler Alert – this will contain spoilers. Probably from the next sentence.
So, I didn’t like Prometheus. Which annoyed me. Mr Dillon, my erstwhile podcast partner and lover of movies involving The Aliens, declared on the Twitters that he didn’t think for a second that I would like it, but I thought I would. While I deny the existence of any Alien movie after the second (although I occasionally, when drunk, admit to having seen ‘a work print’ of the third one that showed it could have been decent but was luckily never shown in cinemas. Which It Wasn’t. In my world) the idea of a film to explore the rest of Ridley Scott’s universe outside of direct involvement with the previously titular beasties was something that I was rather looking forward to. What is the earth like in the future? Who are the Space Jockeys? How have we managed to advance quite so far technologically in the next 80 years? Didn’t anyone find out that the whole Alien v Predator thing happened? Twice? However, despite the film offering the answers, or at least the beginning of the answers, to at least one of those questions it came out rather unsatisfactory.
The question in question is the Space Jockeys – the race of giants of whom one member is seen in the original movie, strapped into some kind of gigantic space gun, now properly christened as The Engineers. Included in the film with no explanation as to his origins and almost excised due to studio request, and the basis of Scott’s jump back into the world of Alien. According to the interview he did with Kermode and Mayo last week he often wondered why noone had asked about the Jockey, and kept quiet until such a time as he could get back on the horse and build up a film around them. This he has done, creating the sparks of an interesting new mythos, introducing a new race into the sparse Alien universe (increasingly non-canonical novels and comic books aside) and starting to explain the origins of more than just the xenomorphs.
The film itself is intriguing and has most of the elements that I would hope. Firstly, it is beautiful – from the initial scenes of Icelandic waterfalls to landfall on LV223, from the interiors of the Prometheus to the undersurface tunnels, it has wide vistas and claustrophobic spaces down pat, with excellent atmosphere. Secondly it is packed with interesting ideas – the origin of humankind, the intentions of the Engineers, and the nature of the soul, faith, religion, life and death. Thirdly it has some good acting – Michael Fassbender is the obvious star of the movie, taking a well-earned place in the pantheon of unnerving movie robots, with the rest of the cast doing pretty well. However, points two and three are also indicative of the main problem with the film – the script.
The acting may be good, but the actors have to wrestle with some of the shonkiest dialogue I’ve heard for a while. No ’show don’t tell’ here when a quick blast of exposition from Fassbender’s David will do instead; no need to give a character background when you can announce character traits moments before the events that require the audience to know them; why bother revealing details that can lead to the audience working things out when you can just have a character announce plot points and save time? The supporting characters are empty shells given lines that attempt to hark back to the banter from both Alien and Aliens but never really get close, instead jumping to simple one dimensional descriptions of their motivations almost every time they open their mouths. The final nail in the coffin of characterisation is the stupidity of each and every one of them. The mission is expensive and you’d hope that Charlize Theron’s obsessive and calculating mission director would have chosen a decent group of people to come along but instead she seems to have assembled the biggest group of bunglers she could. From removing their helmets as soon as someone suggests that there is breathable air, to ignoring safety protocol that would have been beaten into any planetary explorer, they line themselves up and ask for the environment of the film to assault them. Unfortunately due to the character painting of the script I found their dropping off the radar a positive thing, relieving me of any further burden of trying to work out why the filmmakers both wanted them in the film and wanted me to care about them.
Strangely, after some mental wrestling, I think the story is pretty good and certainly fits in with the sort of thing I was hoping from the movie. However the way it is stuck together leaves gaps, holes and strange juxtapositions that don’t seem to make sense. Ridley Scott has said that he is already considering a Director’s Cut of some kind, and it doesn’t surprise me that there is material still left on the cutting room floor. There is confusion of the alien technology (goo that causes cellular destruction and death, as well as forming alien beings that seem to be both proto face huggers and zombie makers), bits of pop-up plot that are unexplored and feel tacked on or macguffiny (the presence of Weyland on the ship, David’s watching of Shaw’s dreams, the lifeboat apartment), and general bits and pieces that don’t quite join up (Weyland’s belief that the Engineers can heal him, why Charlize Theron is there at all, the medical pod, pretty much everything about David).
So, in conclusion – it’s a bit rubbish. Beauty, good acting and the beginnings of good ideas can’t make up for a confused and badly written mess of a script. Despite that I hope that there’s a sequel – the Alien universe is one of those that I want to see more of and if the worst comes to worst I can always read the synopses on Wikipedia…