Sunday 3 June 2012

Prometheus: An Alien Paradise

This weekend witnesses the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in the UK. However, John Rivers takes timeout from the festivities to explore the dark depths of LV-223...

Guest post by John Rivers

The story of Ridley Scott’s Alien was one I knew long before I actually saw the film [Likewise - Ed]. My Dad had the adaptation by Alan Dean Foster* and as a 10 year old I enjoyed taking it to primary school and enlightening my fellow pupils with the new swear words it contained.

I also used to be able to recite the crew and the order in which they died: Kane first, then Brett, Dallas etc. The story became a collection of images that I thought I knew. When I actually saw the movie of Alien aged 16, I was astounded by how slow the opening was, how Scott rushed nothing, took his time through the images - a dark and empty spaceship, John Hurt gets up in a series of slow dissolves, emphasising the brief amnesia of waking from a long sleep. It was therefore a joy to watch Ridley repeat the sequence in Prometheus albeit this time from the point of view of David, Michael Fassbender’s wonderfully creepy and yet somehow loveable robot.

That’s just one example of how Prometheus echoes Alien, there are lots of other moments that hark back to the 1979 movie, that’s half the fun of having a prequel. It is, however, where Prometheus differs that the movie gets more interesting. A scientific crew is sent to investigate LV-223 which, according to a longshot archaeological guess, may be where humanity has come from. They poke an ant hill with a big stick and guess what happens next? Well, perhaps not quite what you were expecting, and that is why I think so many reviewers felt disappointed.

Prometheus wants us to consider some big SF questions: about the nature of humanity, its origins and future. I quite liked this approach and coupled with the impressive visuals of the planet and the naturally Giger-esque interior I found myself thinking more of 2001: A Space Odyssey that any of the Alien franchise. I considered this to be a good thing indeed, as this genuinely felt like the only sequel since Alien3 to try something different.

The film needs to be re-edited, perhaps with more latitude to ramp-up the tension in the final third (which feels a little messy and disjointed in terms of pace). It also suffers badly from ‘leaving you unanswered questions for a sequel syndrome’: half of this is entirely intentional, the other half comes from poor plotting or perhaps there was more left on the cutting room floor as Scott delivered the 2 hour movie the studio no doubt requested [The Blu-ray disc release may include an extended edition - Ed].

Overall Prometheus is worth seeing and an enjoyable experience in 3D. As part of the Alien franchise it doesn’t feel like it’s on the periphery, it’s simply widened the scope of the Alien universe or perhaps in this case, with Scott experimenting with 3D, given it much more depth.

*My Dad’s bookcase was an exercise in terrifying books: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, Firestarter by Stephen King, The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheately were all there alongside Emmanuelle which was scary for different reasons.

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