Tuesday, 5 June 2012
Conceptually, Prometheus is pretty wonderful. The lead dick of the Alien franchise's evil corporation hustles together an elite team of scientists to investigate a series of prehistoric cave paintings that point off into the heavens. After a couple of years of hyper-sleep, the team finds a planet spotted with unused Alien concept art, and a progenitor race of marble headed scumbags. Prometheus proposes a scenario equal parts Erich von Däniken's Chariots of the Gods?, and Yoshiki Takaya's Bio Booster Armor Guyver - humanity as an experimental building block in a chain of biomechanical monstrosities. It's an enticing proposition that organically feeds into the lifecycle shock established by Ridley Scott's last trip to the stars; unfortunately this slither of excellence is buried in mulch.
Prometheus had a well documented dance with the American ratings board, pinballing back and forth between PG-13 and R certificates. With ratings, there's the idea that the difference between them is minor, amounting to little more than dressing. PG-13 affords you one 'fuck' and some bloodless pounding. Score an R and you can have as much unsexualised mafia swearing as you like, with a glut of dismemberment to match. This is wrong. Ratings damage at the conceptual stage, affecting tone and even structure. Despite the certificate Prometheus ended up with, it is clear that the film began life as a kid friendly summer blockbuster. This isn't a film for adults. The mechanics are much too insulting. The characters, despite their apparently world beating scientific credentials, are buffoons. How else to explain a biologist who blanks the skull of an alien astronaut to run around like a headless chicken in the dark? With two members of his crew stranded in an inhospitable, murder pyramid, how might you expect the ship's captain to react when he gets a lifeform reading in their neighbourhood? Why, he'd laugh and slink off to boff the nearest blonde of course. These aren't world class brains struggling through an existential horror, they're teenagers inclined to froth until the danger becomes explicit. It's interstellar exploration as a drunken Friday night in the park.
Despite Scott's rambling about DNA shares, Prometheus doesn't remotely resemble Alien. That film posited a fairly believable situation in which a gang of space truckers utterly failed to cope with first contact. The crew argued, fought, and whimpered in the face of the insectile rapist that haunted their ship. The staff of the Prometheus are numb by comparison. No-one bothers to follow up an episode in which one of the crew hijacks an executive surgery pod to abort her squid offspring. The doctors she beats senseless in the process don't even blink when she rocks up two scenes later clutching her gut - they're too busy nursing a wildly unexpected plot development back to health. Everything in Prometheus is weightless. Rather than track one accidental infection and how it impacts a close-knit group, the film juggles several, playing them like aces when they suspect the attention of their childish audience is starting to drift. There's no sense of tension or claustrophobia, just witless downtime while we await the next creature attack or unheralded twist. Prometheus is a fumble. The unknowable, fossilised horrors of Alien repackaged as dull, meandering murderers in a film ordered like a Friday the 13th kill flick; sequel stings strung haphazardly throughout the credits.