Reviewed by: David Graham

After a veritable striptease of a marketing campaign that's bred the most fevered online speculation since Cloverfield's canny viral drip-feed, the good ship Prometheus finally lands on our shores, impregnated with the impossible expectations of over 30 years of Alien-fostered adulation. It's difficult to drop such baggage when approaching Ridley Scott's much-touted return to the sci-fi genre he revolutionised a second time in almost as many years with his third feature Blade Runner; the director himself has tried to distance his new baby from its predecessors while throwing out unmistakable references to them in order to reel us all in hook, line and sinker. Could any film possibly live up to this level of expectation? Arguably not, but whatever your attitude going in or opinion coming out, one thing's for sure: no-one could have expected anything like this, which is inevitably a good and a bad thing.

Geological digs all over the world have been uncovering eerily similar murals depicting ancient civilisations worshiping over-sized humanoids, pointing a gesturing digit towards the heavens. The similarity between the illustrated constellations leads optimistic explorer Dr Elizabeth Shaw and her partner Charlie Holloway to propose a voyage beyond the stars to meet the race who may well have been our makers. Bankrolled by the dubiously motivated Weyland Corps - represented by chilly suit Diana Vickers and her Lawrence Of Arabia-fixated serve-bot David - a motley crew is assembled to journey aboard the starcraft Prometheus to the 2-years-distant moon that could hopefully answer some of humanity's burning questions about its own origins. Initially thrilled to find what appears to be evidence of intelligent culture, the team are soon disappointed to see they've stumbled upon what appears to be a mass grave. They may yet get their wish, however, as their presence is awakening forces beyond their comprehension that threaten not only their party but the entire human race.

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Opening with ominous shots of barren, pre-life landscapes that echo Tree Of Life's indulgent diversions, Prometheus' early stretch strains to be taken seriously, with its grand themes, leisurely build-up and 2001-style scene-setting. Anticipation is stoked by Shaw and Holloway's naive enthusiasm, mirroring the audience's excitement in a charming fashion that recalls the brave new world excitement that Jurassic Park generated with its inauguration of CGI wizardry. Scott offers plenty of brain food as well as eye candy to feast on in the film's first third, even if the mix will be a little too reliant on the latter for some tastes.

Beneath all the bluster, however, Prometheus is all too eager to descend into B-movie madness; it's got more in common with the films that cashed in on Alien - the likes of Roger Corman's quickie schlocker Forbidden World or sleazoid Brit trash-piece Inseminoid - than with Scott's own Kubrick-indebted original. Returning to the unexplained tunnels of HR Giger's still monumental design, the early exploration invokes a tangible sense of both wonder and dread, but the characters' reactions and attitudes increasingly ring alarm bells. Lost creator Damon Lindelof's script is about a million light years from Dann O'Bannon's refined 1979 effort, while the ensemble here are about twice the size they need to be and half as subtle as they should be.

The new visual design sits especially uneasily in such a familiar framework, with much of the Engineer-related imagery lifted wholesale from Rene Laloux's Fantastic Planet and plopped crudely over the top of Giger's biometal canvasses come to life. It's as if a child has scribbled all over the exact thing that made this world frightening in the first place; by the time the Engineers are using Close Encounters-style musical flute cues, many sci-fi fans will be scratching their heads and screaming inside at just how shambolic it all seems.

The action has the heightened melodrama of recent smart/stoopid hybrid Splice, with bold ideas jostling uncomfortably with the bone-headed to lead to frequent unintentional laughs. Much of the would-be crowd-pleasing banter is merely cringe-worthy, while Lindelof's pathetic attempt to shoehorn in pertinent themes also puts his script closer to the gimmicky, jokey tone of the much derided Alien Resurrection (in fact, it's unflattering to see him wrestling with many of that film's intriguing ideas as well as the by-now tiresome Western fear of terrorism). Alien transcended the monster-movie/haunted-house trappings it toyed with through sheer class and style; this is the opposite end of the canon.

The cast are a real mixed bag, with Noomi Rapace giving her all despite her character's occasional lapses in accent and logical behaviour. Michael Fassbender is also an enjoyable presence, but much of his performance covers the same ground as the likes of Wall-E and Kubrick's pet project A.I., while his character's constantly flipping behaviour remains irritatingly inscrutable to the end. Charlize Theron brings a pleasurable snarl of pantomime villainy, while Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green and Sean Harris all chew scenery and spit out their lines with a slight disdain that perhaps betrays their awareness of the script's soapy shortcomings.

Besides that lot, there are far too many extraneous xeno-victims, characters who aren't even graced with names let alone dialogue, while several sequences are similarly superfluous, seemingly stirred in to little purpose and even less effect. Pleasing ambiguities are swallowed up by yawning plot-holes as if Lindelof is making it up as he goes along, a frustrating feeling that will be all too familiar to fans of Lost. By the time Guy Pearce turns up in sub-Trash Humpers make-up to usher in a climax that steals shamelessly from last year's reboot of The Thing, any hope of audiences taking Scott seriously will have been undermined by the script's dolly mixture approach.

It's a real shame, as the veteran director drapes the screen with mesmerising images, and the batshit-crazy mid-section is genuinely exciting despite being fundamentally idiotic. The film is definitely enhanced by the IMAX experience, with immersive but unobtrusive 3D and the scale of the impressive set design really shining through. Even giving Prometheus that chance may backfire for some viewers however, as the louder volume and larger screen will highlight how overbearingly atmosphere-scuppering the score is and how jarringly hyperactive some of the editing is.

Some will leave shouting obscenities at the screen, others will leave aching to see what happens next, while most will have to compromise the two feelings to quell their nagging disappointment. There are plenty of thought-provoking ideas and fruity flourishes, while the many set pieces deliver an abundance of spectacle if not exactly tension, but Prometheus is ultimately a bit of a bastard creation, Lindelof undeserving of a director of this calibre although Scott should really have known better himself.

Reviewed on: 08 Jun 2012
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Exploration to the dark reaches of space, to discover the origins of mankind. It doesn't go well.
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Read more Prometheus reviews:

Anton Bitel ****

Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof

Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Logan Marshall-Green, Sean Harris, Rafe Spall, Emun Elliott, Benedict Wong, Kate Dickie, Patrick Wilson, Lucy Hutchinson

Year: 2012

Runtime: 124 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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