It’s been years since a truly great horror has been made. Paranormal Activity came close to placing itself on the canon, amongst movies such as Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, and The Thing, but it lacked the compelling characters and exciting plots which make those three so terrifying to watch. So it’s no surprise, then, that so many fans of Alien were (as I myself was) buoyed by the prospect of the Xenomorphic mythology being revived by the man who began the Alien series. Ridley Scott, who, like the genres he made his best work in (Blade Runner and Alien) is in dire need of a great movie to remind us of the artistry and filmmaking craft he (and Sci-Fi and Horror) can bring to audiences. It’s been twelve years since Gladiator, and thirty years since Blade Runner. It’s been even longer since Alien.
So what is Prometheus? Named after the titan of Greek mythology (Prometheus is ancient Greek for ‘Forethinker’) who gave humanity its first technology (fire) Prometheus tries to ask the questions (or at least Scott and screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof wanted it to try) about the meaning of life – where did we come from? And how did we come to be? They’ve stated this in interviews and promotional talks. Prometheus is based on the theory that humanity benefited from a ‘Prometheus’ race in its evolution through Earth’s exposure to Alien DNA. The principal character of Prometheus, Dr Elizabeth Shaw (played by Noomi Rapace), along with her doctor boyfriend Dr Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), discovers cave paintings around the world which suggest the Prometheus theory. Funding from the ever-present Weyland corporation (Yes, them. Bells should ring for the Alien fans out there) enables Shaw and Holloway to explore their theory to LV 223, a planet with similar conditions to Earth’s, to find out where mankind came from. Meanwhile, an android named David (Michael Fassbender) and the Weyland representative Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) oversee the expedition. What happens in a horror movie? Things go awry, horrifically so. Prometheus is no exception.
The questions are never asked troubling enough to disturb. I went through the movie without feeling that something profound was being addressed. A movie, interesting it may be on its own has to have a bearing to the current reality of the audience to thoroughly touch them. I didn’t feel that in Prometheus. I did in Alien; it didn’t try to ask those vague questions, ones a toddler can ask, the type of questions so many artists fall for (Terence Malick’s worst movie? The Tree of life. What was its premise? The Origins of Man). Is there any other question so solipsistic, so open to interpretation and superstition? The aim of a movie, essentially, is to convince the audience of something. Why then would a director take on something that cannot be argued importantly?
Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay for Alien was based on the artwork of the Dutch Surrealist H.R. Giger, master of the grotesque. He found the artwork sexually horrific, and wanted to create a monster which would conjure up the disgusting nature of rape, of sexuality gone wrong. The history of the first Alien film is like the history of a soft-core Porn film; the eggs of the iconic facehuggers originally opened into two flaps, instead of the flower like four. Twentieth Century Fox ordered Scott’s team to change the bi-segmented, obviously vaginal egg opening to the quadruple-segmented organism. At the British censoring committee the reason given for the 18+ rating of the movie was not the violence or the horror of the movie. It was due to the movie being seen as too sexual for younger people. The connotations of rape are evident in the design of the alien and the script. The facehugger literally ‘rapes’ the face, forcibly impregnating the Alien’s future host, and the victim dies horrifically in the trauma of the ‘childbirth’ of a phallic-shaped Alien which bursts through the chest. Android Ash speaks with near sexual love of the murderous adult alien. If questions about sex aren’t raised in Alien, it certainly gives people the shits about unprotected intercourse,
But the visceral is dumped in Prometheus. Instead, we get a comparatively dry movie without the disgust of the original Ridley movie. Dan O’Bannon is dead, and the writers of such illustrious creations as Lost (Lindelof), flagship for all things ridiculous, and The Darkest Hour (Spaihts), a movie lucky enough to get 11% at rotten tomatoes, are at the wheel. Ridley could have got vastly superior screenwriters for such an ambitious project. What about Alex Garland, writer of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine? Hell, Duncan Jones and Nathan Parker from Moon? A Ridley Sci-Fi movie should have received more respect than it did, and Scott should have had more self-respect. Or was it studio pressure? Either way, the screenplay doesn’t add up. The more I think about this movie I find more flaws, plot holes and character inconsistencies. The continuity errors alone are stupefying (I’ve also set a mini-gauntlet for you readers. I’m not going to reveal them for the sake of spoiler-prevention, so you’ll you’ll have to find them for yourself). After the movie finished I left the cinema disappointed. Now I think it’s a miracle Prometheus in its current form got made. I bet its screenplay looks like a badly sewn patchwork of first drafts, written by more than the two writers of Spaihts and Lindelof. Were it not for the excellent cast and the special effects, we’d have a movie on our hands that’d rival the calamity of Godzilla (1998).
Ridley’s direction in Prometheus has nothing of the claustrophobic intensity of Alien; it’s pretty standard horror-fare here. Michael Fassbender is the best actor by far. As David, he has the chilly exterior of a machine, but there is a childlike yearning for something more substantial in his dealings with the other human characters and his involvement in the Prometheus project. One of the opening scenes in the movie -very well done (one of the few) - gives so much potential for the character, and gives so much for Fassbender. He doesn’t waste, but he, like everyone else in Prometheus gets dogged down by the shoddy craftsmanship of Lindelof and Spaihts. Elizabeth Shaw is a nonentity. However much the writers and Scott insist audiences will conclude Ripley’s inevitable tepid reincarnation arrives in Noomi Rapace’s character. She’s a bit weak here though. But again this is down to the writing. Too many times we are reminded of the main flaw in so many modern horror movies. We even have stupid-character syndrome as a common affliction. It’s the kind where horror-fodder for teenagers walks into a clearly dangerous situation with the reckless oblivion suggestive of Harry and Lloyd in Dumb and Dumber.
Does Ridley get his great movie? Do the genres of Sci-Fi and Horror get their much needed revitalisation? No. A little more effort and the thing could have taken off. Just fire those damn screenwriters.
By Rob Horsfield