Sinking into Prometheus

It wasn't perfect. But when a film looks as sensational as Prometheus it seems churlish to complain.

I saw Ridley Scott's prequel to his 1970s space horror Alien yesterday evening, long one of my favourite films. My tuppenceworth: much of the dialogue of the new film is forgettable, many of the characters irritating and eminently disposable alien fodder, and it certainly doesn't have the same intense, claustrophobic horror of the original release.

But like that first film it is quite visually remarkable. It is suffused with a beautiful palette of subdued blue and golden light, a tone set in the opening sequence, with a low camera flight over an ancient volcanic landscape (I believe much of the filming took place in Iceland). And the set designs - and the aliens themselves - extend the vision of Alien, which originated in the nightmares of the Swiss designer HR Giger.

There's also a fine, otherwordly performance by Michael Fassbender, who invests the character of David with the same unsettling, quasi-Aryan persona David Bowie brought to The Man Who Fell to Earth. The name is surely not coincidental.

The film has greater pretensions than the original Alien. That was a viscerally effective horror, a forceful counter to the sentimentality of other - nonetheless enjoyable - sci-fi movies of the same era, such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET, which imagined alien life as essentially benign: Alien observed that what might actually be out there could be unimaginably horrible. Prometheus is only incidentally concerned with scaring us: it takes on the big questions explored by intelligent sci-fi: how did life on Earth start, how did civilisation emerge, do other life forms exist, is there life after death. It is actually much more in the tradition of 2001: A Space Odyssey than its predecessors.

And that I think is its essential problem: it's trying to explore issues of ultimate concern, but still has one foot in the horror genre: one feels that the grisly scenes in Prometheus are rather tacked on: it's not quite sure where the aliens themselves fit in. That's an inevitable problem I suppose if Scott is going to return to the world of Alien as a context for the serious matters he is wishing to explore.

As I say though, those are incidental concerns. The film is a wonder of design. It is a film to sink into and wallow in. I recommend the 2D version: the cinematography doesn't need to be propped up by 3D gimmicks. You can watch trailers on the Prometheus website.

Categories: