The search for our beginning could lead to our end
More than three decades after introducing cinemagoers to the queasy delights of chestbursters and face-huggers, Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created in Alien with the 3D sci-fi epic Prometheus. It’s not exactly a prequel to the 1979 original but, in Scott’s own words, definitely has ‘strands’ of its DNA.
One significant strand is, of course, a strong female heroine, and Noomi Rapace’s archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw proves a ballsy heir to Sigourney Weaver’s iconic Ripley. She differs from her predecessor, however, in a crucial aspect. In the original film, Ripley only slowly emerged as the central figure, but Rapace’s Shaw drives the plot forward from the very beginning.
This takes place in 2089, just over 30 years before the events of Alien, when Shaw and her scientist boyfriend Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Greene) discover on the Isle of Skye a 35,00-year-old cave painting that depicts humans worshipping a giant alien. The figure is pointing towards a star map – a gesture Shaw interprets as an invitation ‘to come and find them’.
A grisly standout scene
Four years later, bankrolled by trillionaire industrialist Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), Shaw and her partner are on board the spaceship Prometheus en route to planet Zeta 2 Reticuli to find out whether her hunch is correct. Needless to say, the mission doesn’t end happily for everyone on board.
How, though, does it work out for the viewer? Well, any film that arrives with the weight of anticipation borne by Prometheus is bound to find it hard to live up to expectations and, while not exactly anti-climactic, Scott’s new film can’t claim to be anywhere near as groundbreaking as the original.
Nor is it anywhere near as scary – there’s nothing here to match either the visceral shock in Alien of seeing John Hurt’s chest explode or that film’s clammy haunted-house-in-space claustrophobia. By now, the Alien films’ repertoire of shocks has been done to death, although Scott does deliver a grisly standout scene involving Rapace that brilliantly exploit the series’ recurring themes of body horror and fear of birth, and which will have most viewers squirming.
As for the new film’s more expansive mood, that can be explained by a vastly bigger budget, which has tempted Scott to emerge beyond the confines of a single spaceship. He’s certainly put that budget to good use, though: Prometheus looks stunning, particularly when seen on a massive Imax screen.
Scott also has a bigger cast to play with this time, though that’s not necessarily a good thing. With more people on board the Prometheus, there’s less time to create the vivid characters of Alien’s Nostromo crew, which included Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Yaphet Kotto and Veronica Cartwright.
Those that do stand out are Idris Elba’s tough, nonchalant captain, Charlize Theron’s corporate ice queen and, best of all, Michael Fassbender’s robot David, the ship’s blond android, whose eerily aloof manner is quite possibly the creepiest thing in the film.
On general release from Friday 1st June.