Monday, 4 June 2012

More Forethought needed

Yesterday I avoided Jubilee toadying by going to see Ridley Scott's Alien prequel Prometheus. This was a film I had been really looking forward to, and there are precious few of those these days - Hollywood has become a slave to massive, empty, effects-driven machines, generally involving superheroes (which I find too silly - it's the costumes, chiefly). Unfortunately, Prometheus seems to have absorbed some of the same nanite virus and has ended up as Alien cross-bred with <insert mega blocbuster here>. In mythology, Prometheus was the titan who stole fire from the Gods and gave it to mankind, and who was punished by being chained to a rock having his liver pecked out by eagles every day, and a similar fate awaited most of the characters in the film. In Greek, Prometheus means 'forethought'; I ended up feeling that more of that could have gone into the script. Spoilers follow...

I know that sequels have to refer back to the originals, and the odd line of dialogue being repeated is more of a knowing wink from the director, but really: a spaceship with a cold, English android, a slacker captain, some surly blue collar engineers and a feisty brunette (and an icy dominatrix as added optional extra, although you could tell she was always for it). This is just Alien, surely? Alien signal pointing us at distant, windswept planet - check. Evil corporation moving behind the scenes - check. Ship infiltrated by alien biohorrors courtesy of said English android - check. Android's head torn off but keeps talking - check. Feisty heroine last to be eliminated - check. At least there were no cats. Being a prequel, and having watched Alien again the day before, I did briefly wonder how technology ended up going backwards in the intervening years, so that Ripley and co were running a space freighter using DOS, but heck, the Nostromo was the equivalent of a tramp steamer, not the cutting edge research ship that Prometheus is.

And what has changed in the intervening 30 years are the resources at Scott's disposal, and to be fair he deploys them to great effect. The film looks stunning. The 3D computer graphic as the remote drones explore the complex is beautiful, the wide alien vistas and the Nazca Lines meets Alien Hive base complex looks stunning. Being an Alien fanboy I suspect that these latter re-use some design sketches Giger did for the original Alien film which there wasn't enough money to create first time around (but which Scott/Fox presumably still owned the rights to). The scenes within the alien 'Space Jockey' spaceship, and the exterior shots of it in flight (and crashing) are amazing. It is a perfectly rendered version of the one from Alien, but done with modern photorealistic CGI and not just a dimly-lit model in a Pinewood back lot. I would have paid my £5 just for those bits, to be honest.

However, in order to propel the plot the allegedly clever scientists and corporates begin with some schoolboy errors. Anyone who has played in Jim Wallman's Universe campaign (which borrows a lot from the Alien universe) knows that (a) you never take your helmet off in an environment that might have alien bio-contaminants in (in this case an entire alien nano-virus manufacturing facility, apparently), (b) you always bring the Marines with you first time around, rather than waiting for the sequel, because by then you will be dead, and (c) if in doubt, take off and nuke the site from orbit. A few pistols and a flamethrower are not going to cut it against giants and squids and nanite plagues. The scientists also exhibit amazing lack of curiosity to anything not directly concerned with the mission, eg: "It's -12 degrees, so what is this gooey liquid - it can't be water?" "Whatever". "What's this strange black gunk coming out of the vases?" "Dunno. Probably not important."

From there the movie runs predictably into The Thing territory, with alien bio-horrors, a thinly-sketched cast being decapitated one by one, lots of running down corridors (I was amazed Scott had the self-discipline not to include a self-destruct countdown) and much ickiness. There are interesting ideas in there struggling to escape, from the Von Daniken-esque Engineers (Forerunners) and their motives both for creating and apparently wanting to destroy humanity, the old man searching for an alien Elixir of Life, the Christian scientist trying to reconcile her faith and science, the robot being a substitute son for the old man against the daughter (the ice cold blonde) who he is estranged from, etc, but these are drowned out in the running and shouting and explosions bit. Noomi Rapace directing the auto-doc to perform an emergency caesarian is an especially silly as well as gory scene. One of the few interesting points - that the Engineers/Space Jockeys are actually giant humans in space suits and appear to share 99.9% of our DNA - is completely wasted, since when one is finally awakened from cryo-sleep, rather than helping provide plot explanation, it just goes berserk and starts killing things and simply becomes another monster. Ho hum. I was never quite sure where the squids came into it, either.

I guess no movie ever lives up to its own hype. In spite of all, it's an entertaining enough two hours. But you just felt it was a bit... lazy somehow, and it could have so much more.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Richard,

    this was my first reaction the movie

    And here I return to the plot of Prometheus and all its problems. People responded to my post above and I'm much more informed now, if not enlightened. Did anybody say spoilers?