At the World Premiere last night Ridley Scott told us frankly ‘I’m an art director – I’m more interested in the sets than the actors.’ A brave thing to admit before the start of his new film, and yet it showed admirable confidence, because with this prequel to ‘Alien’ we’re in safe hands once more. Forget the late cash-in crossovers, we’re going back to the universe of the first film to answer some questions and pose a lot of ones.
The original was a tense, unstoppable spiral of fear, with its tragic trajectory already locked in place before the start of the movie. If you remember, the cast emerged from hypersleep to find that the Weyland Corporation had already derailed their mission to find and return the alien, in effect dooming the entire cast before the opening credits.
‘Prometheus’ is the link that precedes this, and therefore has the more complex job of adding building blocks to explain how and why Weyland knew in the first place. There are relatively few concessions to newbies – it helps to be fairly up to speed with the original at least, but who isn’t? The complexity largely removes suspense because concentration is required, and some of the expository dialogue is clunky, like an unforgivable ‘Oops’ to explain a major incident. But there’s much to enjoy and the story unfolds on such an epic scope that it’s a pleasure even when you have no idea why people are acting as they do. And visually it’s breathtaking, with HR Giger referenced throughout.
Thematically there are plenty of reprises from the first film, so we have Charlize Theron as the ship’s by-the-book boss warning not to bring an injured man back inside the ship for fear of contamination, Noomi Rapace as an archeologist with the film’s most gruesome John Hurt moment (although this time it’s self-induced), Fassbender handling the Ash duties (a nice touch having him model himself on ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, directed by David Lean, whose unrealised project was ‘Nostromo’) some expendable engineers and the alien egg room, albeit in a very different form.
Thanks to the elaborately detailed CGI work, there are moments of genuine wonder that you’ll benefit from simply sitting back and allowing yourself to enjoy without worrying about convolutions of plot, knowing that it will all somehow fit together. What’s missing this time around is much monster mayhem, although there are a couple of genuinely grisly moments involving new stages in the pre-birth cycle. The size of the story and the frequent cutaways to action outside or in other parts of the ship mitigates against the simple drenching terror of the original, but in its place a backstory is hung on an idea very familiar to SF fans that could provide an interesting start-point for future episodes.
It feels as if Scott has wrestled back the control of his franchise and is once more in charge, giving us a rich experience that will benefit from several viewings. By the end of the film the stage has been set for a sequel that will plug the remaining gap between the events of this and the start of ‘Alien’.
As is increasingly usual, the 3D is entirely superfluous and film will play fine in 2D (although the sound at the Empire rocks). If you’re seeing it with friends, go for something to eat after – you’ll be arguing about the sequence of events, at least until the DVD comes out.