The wait is finally over; Ridley Scott's Alien prequel Prometheus (and it is a prequel, no matter what he says) hit UK cinemas last Friday. The film isn't nearly as terrifying as the trailers made it seem, but it is certainly an interesting and well executed re-imagining of the origins of the Alien, and of the human race...
A group of archaelogists, geologists, astronauts and corporate types head off into space aboard the good ship Prometheus, bound for an obscure and far away solar system, drawings of which have mysteriously cropped up in ancient cave paintings on Earth. They have no idea what they will find, but the theory is that the human race did not evolve from apes, nor were we created by God, but in fact, we were 'engineered' by an Alien species and then dumped onto planet Earth.
Upon arrival at their destination planet, which has been given the snappy name of LV-426 (those of you who are fans of the franchise will of course be familiar with that name - that planet should have a flashing neon sign on it) they discover a vast cavernous complex built by the Engineers, who are the 'space jockey' species from the first film - although underneath their weird helmets they look almost human and, as scientist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) discovers, they share our DNA. However, they all appear to have been wiped out by something - and nobody knows what. Luckily, none of our space adventurers is a chronic geek and/or film fan - if they had been, they would have left LV-426 immediately at this point, and we would have had no movie.
While exploring the complex, our heroes discover a bunch of metal, egg-like objects containing some intriguing-looking goo. David (Michael Fassbender), your friendly neighbourhood android, helpfully collects one of the 'eggs' and brings it back to the ship (flashing neon sign). Meanwhile, two other crew members have got themselves lost in the complex, and one of their probes starts to malfunction - it begins to pick up a life form, but that's impossible, seeing as the planet is deserted apart from the human crew (FLASHING NEON SIGN). From then on, gloriously sickening slimy CGI hell breaks loose on LV-426...
Prometheus is most certainly an Alien film. All the classic pieces are there: the tough, spunky heroine; the mysterious alien planet; the cold, clinical robot; the evil corporation stirring things up; the invasive, infectious, penetrative nature of the danger, and some true body-horror that makes everyone in the audience (especially the women) want to spend the rest of their lives gritting their teeth while crunched into the tightest foetal position humanly possible. Combining the origins of the Alien with the quest for the origins of our own species is a stroke of genius, and I'll try not to spoil it for you, but once the true beginning of the Alien species is revealed, it seems horrifying - yet expected.
The CGI is very good, but not too spectacular - this seems intentional, and is perhaps an attempt to continue the 'truckers in space' look from the first film (which was also directed by Scott). Even so, the Alien films were never really meant to be huge action blockbusters - they were meant to be what Alfred Hitchcock would have come up with if he'd ever got around to setting a film in space, or gritty war films full of grunts fighting for their lives. Even 'not too spectacular' CGI seems like overkill, and overshadows characterisation and drama. Only a few of the characters in the group are given any true depth - and even then some of it misfires (we could have done without Shaw's possible Christianity, for instance).
One character who really stands out is Michael Fassbender's David. He makes for a truly unsettling android, with no moral qualms and some heartless research methods - he's also obsessed with the film Lawrence of Arabia, a wonderfully clever touch of humanity. Guy pearce also deserves an honourable mention for his great performance as Peter Weyland, even though he is hampered by some ridiculous facial putty to make him look about a billion years old.
People expecting a homage to Alien will be disappointed by Prometheus, as will people expecting a terrifying horror film, and probably most hardcore fans of the franchise who were hoping that Prometheus would save the series from itself. However, if you go into the cinema expecting to see what is probably the best film that Ridley Scott has directed since Gladiator, along with some spine-chilling body horror, some interesting philosophical concepts and a few juicy references to a film you may have enjoyed in the past, you will come out again without feeling that you have wasted your Odeon Premiere points.
*UPDATE* After some thought, several strange discrepancies present in Prometheus have forced me to revise my opinion of the film somewhat. Apparently the planet they are on is not LV-426, but LV-223, which completely passed me by. This clears up some plot-holes, but creates a whole load more. Basically, the script of Prometheus is so complex and badly written that a single viewing is not nearly enough to be able to comprehend it.