Prometheus is a prequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 cult classic, Alien. In Prometheus, a space crew travel to a distant planet in search of an alien race they believe created human life on Earth. This species (known in Prometheus as the Engineers) first appeared in Alien as the fossilised crew of a crashed space ship that becomes the scene of a violent alien contamination. Prometheus attempts to explain how the Engineers became infected with the gut-splurging alien larvae that define the film series. In doing this, Prometheus detracts from some of the original mystery of Alien. Perhaps a worthwhile sacrifice if Prometheus reinvigorates the Alien franchise?

The 1979 Alien was a suspenseful, atmospheric and frightening film set in a claustrophobic environment – Prometheus has an entirely different style

The 1979 Alien was a suspenseful, atmospheric and frightening film set in a claustrophobic environment of dark rooms and narrow passages on board Nostromo. Prometheus has an entirely different style. While the interiors of the Prometheus ship look visually similar to those in the first Alien movie, the rooms are much larger, lighter and more polished. There’s also a self contained ‘lifeboat’ with its own bar and enormous cinema screen. The action moves between the ship and epic planet vistas where some of the air is even breathable. Within this space and luxury its difficult to feel claustrophobic or, with a much larger crew on board, remotely isolated.

Unlike Alien, Prometheus doesn’t leave much to the audience’s imagination. There’s a lot of back story including an early scene in Scotland before a significant time jump and a  presentation explaining the mission. Early on, Prometheus signposts far too many events that come later, such as the automated surgery pod, which spoil surprises later on. These ‘spell it out for the audience’ moments are a feature of many modern blockbusters but don’t compare with simply throwing the audience in and steadily building atmosphere through visuals and sound – an approach that worked superbly in Alien.

Instead of scaring its audience, Prometheus chooses to raise theoretical issues and life-altering questions about the origin of our species. The script is so bogged down in irrelevant sub-plots there simply isn’t time to build suspense or atmosphere. Prometheus wouldn’t be an Alien film without some horrifying stomach ripping moments and it delivers these, but they are formulaic and, although gory, their timing is predictable.

Alien’s well drawn but cleverly understated characters are replaced in Prometheus by vocal cliches whose actions and backstories are predictable and dull. In the unnecessary character of elderly Weyland (Guy Pearce), eager to meet the Engineers to prevent his own death, Prometheus meanders into the ridiculous.

The shining star of the casting is Michael Fassbender, incredible as robot David, he brings an originality and vitality to Prometheus where other characters fail. Fassbender is utterly convincing, eliminating all elements of human personality from his expression and behaviour. His posture is impeccable and he moves with a rigid purposefulness, speaking in a spine-tingling version of old fashioned Queen’s English.

Prometheus looks epic and its 3D works well. A vast sandstorm and spectacular crash scene stand out as particularly brilliant. The volume of CGI on the big screen today makes it difficult for current film makers to provide audiences with something that’s both new and frightening but, in the alien larvae, Prometheus delivers something interesting. The Engineers, however, are uninspiring once their helmets are removed and their inclusion in the opening credits, although dramatic, has little relevance to the rest of the film.

Written as a summer blockbuster, Prometheus’ bid for epic status works against atmosphere and suspense. Don’t expect the spine-chilling fear and mystery of the original Alien, instead be prepared for large scale CGI with a big orchestral score. Despite unflattering comparisons with the 1979 classic, Prometheus is worth the ticket price. While there are a few nods to the original for Alien fans, Prometheus is likely to be best enjoyed by newcomers to the series.

VERDICT: ✪ ✪ ✪

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