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Gaze upon the face of your disappointed god and despair

dir: Ridley Scott

This film doesn’t need to exist. It didn’t need to be made. But I’m glad Ridley Scott made it, and I’m glad I watched it. I guess.

I even saw it in 3D, and not only did I pay for the experience by literally paying money, but also by incurring a headache from watching it that plagued me for hours afterwards. I don’t think, when our bodies were being Intelligently Designed by some kind of benevolent Creator, that our ocular physiology was ever designed to watch films in such a way. I think 3D is probably a form of blasphemy, and that it should be declared a mortal sin by the Vatican, or NASA, or the Stonecutters.

Even with the heavy toll I paid, I do have to admit that it looked utterly splendid, and that it used the 3D effectively to give both a sense of space and of the alienness of the two main locations in the film, being the ship called the Prometheus, and structures on the surface of an inhospitable planetoid.

The very first scenes of the film, before the title, show a somewhat luminous looking humanoid chap drinking something clearly not fit for human (or otherwise) consumption. The horripilating liquid, which looks like that foul Jagermeister stuff, comes in this totally manky cup, so we can safely assume it’s not very hygienic, whatever it is.

To fill in a little more detail, this chap strips almost naked next to a great rush of water, as some kind of space ship lifts up out of the planet’s atmosphere, and drinks. Immediately, like a dose of MoviPrep, it goes straight through him, making him feel somewhat poorly. His body starts breaking down, falling apart, and then we get a microscopic view of what’s happening to the cells in his body. Oh, he’s long dead, but even the DNA, if that’s what it is, breaks apart. As the rest of him dissolves to nothing in the raging waters he’s fallen into, we see images of that DNA reknitting itself into some new form.

Wow, they can do anything with science. The next exact scene has two adventurous scientists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and some other guy, knocking some rocks down and getting into a cave on the Isle of Skye, where they weep with joy over the discovery of a particular image carved into the wall.

Do you think the two scenes are related in any way? Does this prompt curious questions in your mind? Do you think the film will seek to answer them to your satisfaction, you poor deluded fool?

The film then cuts to a bunch of people flying on some kind of interstellar ship, making its way towards a planet, far, far away from earth. Only one person seems to be up and about on the ship, someone who’s clearly better than human. How did I brilliantly perceive this without help from anyone else? He rides around on a bike on a basketball court throwing three-pointers from the half-line, never missing a throw, with all the angles perfectly aligned.

And this chap called David is played by Michael Fassbender, and so you know he’s both awesome and that he’s going to be a fairly complicated figure in whatever goes on.

David is a synthetic, but don’t let that bother you. He loves humans, loves doing everything they do, and also loves Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, which he watches and mimics whenever his tight schedule allows. He even tries to style his hair like him, though he doesn’t try to get spanked by some sweaty Turks at a police station, so he’s not going all the way.

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He’s been stuck in this routine for two years, with no-one to talk to, no-one to do anything to, but it doesn't seem to have dulled his spirits, surrounded as he is by sleepers. At no stage does he bellow "Sleepers Awake!" or "No prisoners!", but then he's not programmed to. He learns new languages, eats gourmet food, and maintains his magnificent appearance. No, there's no nudity, ladies and interested gents, but that doesn't detract too badly from the overall experience.

The oddest thing he does is peer into the mind of a sleeping woman, sampling either her memories or dreams, as a child she speaks to her father about various stuff, including her mother's death, the existence of heaven or hell, and really, it's very confusing as to why this smiling, aloof creature is meddling with such things.

Bells and whistles ring and toot, and a destination has been arrived at. The sleepers awake, and the purpose of their journey is revealed, though it's going to be hard for you to discern, from what I've written or any of the ads/trailers, what the hell is really going on.

The dissolving chap at the beginning, the carved image in the cave, and a long journey through space all connect to a mystery, a very elemental mystery but not an elementary mystery. It's our origins that they're investigating, our origin as a species. You thought that the lecherous drunk Charles Darwin spoke the truth when he dreamed up his sinful theory of evolution. Apparently, he was wrong. That doesn't mean the religious nuts are right either, but that the pseudo-Creationists known as proponents of Intelligent Design were right: some alien species must have created humanity.

Those on this quest aren't trying to prove whether this happened or not, which perplexes me, since nothing we've seen thus far or will ever see during the film actually proves this: They're trying to find out why they did so. They, being the two scientists, Shaw and the other guy, have been bankrolled in this endeavour by the richest man in the universe, a crumbling old edifice of a man called Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), who greets a room full of awakened stereotypes with a holographic recording.

On the supposition of a couple of scientists, with virtually no concrete evidence for this theory to have any kind of sensible basis, this man Weyland has funded an expedition with a hope that makes no sense scientifically, but perhaps, to the audience, makes sense emotionally. The film is at its best when it is considering (and we’re thinking about) the impulses, the drivers it suggests we possess that compel us to find out more about the universe itself and our place in it, and the compulsion keeps some element of the story relatable.

Who wouldn’t want to speak to their creators? What child of adoption or genetic material donation doesn’t want to ‘know’ where they come from, by tracking down the source of their genetic uniqueness? In reality, probably a lot of people don’t bother, but in art everyone seems to have the same atavistic desire, whether it’s The Kids Are All Right or The Omen. Kids want to know who their ‘parents’ are.

It’s pretty much everything else in the flick that doesn’t make sense, or that seems like it’s from another film. Prometheus works beautifully when it is focussed on the wonder some of these people feel in the face of such an alien puzzle, or when many of the better actors in this are acting with awe towards each other. There are scenes where David’s complete deference and disinterest towards most of the humans on the ship is frightening, but energising at the same time. There are scenes where Shaw’s need to know why the Engineers ‘created’ us, and, later on, why, like an Old Testament God, they grew to hate their own creation, that are genuinely powerful, as is her decision at the end of the film, harebrained as it is.
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Unfortunately, there’s a lot of shit that doesn’t belong in the mix as well. The legacy of what Ridley Scott is working with allows for some very lazy work on the part of the screenwriters, who were forced, I think, to add some action-y elements that don’t work, don’t really make sense, and result in characters spouting stuff they couldn’t know in order to alleviate our confusion at what stupid stuff is going on.

Stupid is a pretty unhelpful term, I’m sure. It’s not very descriptive. Let’s just say, so I don’t spoil much of anything, that there’s a lot of stuff that happens that doesn’t belong in the film and doesn’t enhance it. It doesn’t enhance our understanding of the story or Scott’s point in making the film or our overall enjoyment.

The flick has the burden of being seen as the prequel to Alien, to the whole Aliens franchise, for good or ill, and to emphasise that it does a bunch of stuff that’s familiar to those of us who’ve seen all those other films (including the completely leotarded Alien vs Predator flicks), and maybe they embiggen the whole universe, or get us to think of it differently. That doesn’t mean the stupid scenes of pointless violence come across any less stupid.

It’s also inconsistent in its manner of upping the tension, of showing us how inhospitable the rest of the universe could be with how inherently dangerous it is for humans to go offworld. Whether we were designed by aliens from a film, or whether our form arose from millions of years of evolution (whichever is more likely), our bodies only thrive in one place, so seeing just how fragile our existence can be on another planet is gratifying. Overembellishing that by adding crazy stupid mutant humans and other stuff seems unnecessary to me.

There’s this stuff, the Jagermeister stuff I referred to at the beginning of the review, which magically does whatever the story wants, from turning people crazy, to mutating shit within their bodies, to making them impregnate infertile people, to turning them into angry zombies, to making them create this type of creature, and then that kind of creature, and it might as well be magic that’s doing it. Have a fairy flitting about with a wand doing all this stuff, making people happy here, monstrously mutated there, and it would make about as much sense.

Of course, why would you need a magical fairy when you can just treat technology like magic anyway? Really drilling down into a lot of the stuff that happens, especially in the latter stages of the film, brings no benefit to anyone. It’s a fruitless endeavour to compile the instances of stuff that don’t make any sense, or to explain them or try to think differently about them. They’re just there, and you just have to accept that they’re there, like extra testicles on the face of someone who’d otherwise be quite attractive.

So much stuff just makes no sense, in this or any other universe, least of all the actions of most of the crew, the people behind the expedition, the idiots on the expedition, the Engineers, the people in the audience, Ridley Scott, everyone. I don’t mind too much, and can forgive much of it because of the elements that are intriguing, but, really, nothing excuses intelligent people doing such stupid stuff (like the two scientists getting lost in a corridor they’ve already mapped) only so that there can be a little action. It's what nearly sank the Danny Boyle flick Sunshine, and they do the same dumb "crazed killer will spice things up" shit here too.

Let me differentiate between the stuff that’s just not explained, or which the characters think they have explanations for but might be wrong about, and the stuff that just happens which makes no sense and for which no explanation matters. There’s plenty of both. Worst of all for me is the stuff people do, whether it's sensible or not, for which there is little if any motivation. I'm not talking about David's actions, which sometimes seem malevolent for a being incapable of malevolence, it's moreso stuff like the captain's actions at the end, or any of the stuff the Engineer does, or the Weyland character, or his daughter, and I could just go on...

The one true consistent through-line throughout these films is also the most potent. It's something you'd associate more with someone like David Cronenberg, yet for me the major horror element these films have always maintained beyond the terror inspired by an acid-blooded, many-toothed, super-fast predator is the more visceral fear of penetration which is the really unsettling visual image and concept. From Alien onwards, the worst fate of a character is not being chewed up or torn apart by a creature with two mouths; it's the far more gruesome fate of those whose body gets penetrated by these various xenomorphic manifestations, only to be threatened with a 'birth' that will kill them most horribly.

That is the truly horrifying part of the flick. Not to spoil anything, or to belabour the fear of motherhood these films are obviously based on, but at least the flick is pro-choice, as we see in a particularly brutal self-surgery scene.
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If it gets some stuff right, and too much other stuff wrong, well, I didn’t care too much by the end. I enjoyed the ominous and portentous soundtrack, the stellar performance by Michael Fassbender, and the very good pseudo-Ripley by Noomi Rapace, who shows she has far more range than just as the star of the Swedish Girl With The etc movies. She’s the human face in the story, because she’s about the only real human in it. Everyone else is inhuman in their intentions, in their origins or their actions, or they’ve neither the characters nor the qualities required to differentiate one from each other.

The quieter moments in the flick, the conversational moments, are the film’s strongest moments, although having said that, David’s solo investigations into the Engineers are great as well. The set design is familiar enough from the earlier (later) films, but looks tremendous, especially in 3D. Inhuman and grandiose in the Engineer places, downscale and deliberately clunky looking on the ship, which deliberately and deftly meshes the latest in technology with the look of the Nostromo from the first Alien film. Very well done, monkeys and starving grad students who did the art and set design, well done.

In the end, I walked out with more questions than answers, confused about what the point was, and with a whopping headache. I think it was from the 3D glasses, but it could have just as easily been from a script only a former writer from that terrible tv show Lost could conjure up.

Maybe Ridley Scott needs a few more director’s cuts or sequel-prequels to get it just right, just like George Lucas. You never know.

6 times In space no-one can hear your groans of disappointment out of 10

"There is nothing in the desert and no man needs nothing." - from some better film, perhaps - Prometheus