Sunday 3 June 2012
Top row: Prometheus promotional posters. Bottom row: Splash panel from the original Heavy Metal comic album of ALIEN (left) and the discovery of the "original" spcae jockey in Mario Bava's PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (right).
The Girl With The Alien Tattoo
Prometheus USA 2012
Directed by Sir Ridley Scott
Playing at UK cinemas now
Warning: Yeah, there are marginal spoilers in here.
Hmmm... this really is going to be a bit of a mixed bag of a review, methinks.
Before going into this properly, though, it’s probably useful to you to know how I feel about the six previous ALIEN movies so you can gauge how I compare to your own opinions of these films and judge this review on that basis.
I never got to see the first ALIEN film at the cinema in 1979, the year it came out (although I certainly made up for that years later). I was too young at 11 years old to successfully sneak into an X certificate movie... so I had to stay with my nan while my parents went out for a very rare cinema trip to see it. They came back with glowing reports which further fuelled my desire to see it. I did however have the Heavy Metal comics adaptation of the movie to read (plus the making of book) and, believe me, that comic strip was far more vivid and violent than the on-screen counterpart. When I did get to see the movie just a few years later, the chest burster scene seemed extremely tame to my teenage brain and I wondered what all the fuss was about in terms of any violent content, considering the version depicted in said comic book was an absolute gore-fest! And since comic strip adaptations of films are often done from the scripts while the movie is still being shot, it also included scenes in it which I wouldn’t see on screen until they started to put deleted scenes on videos and DVD (Sir Ridley brought out his “new” cut of the movie with these sequences put back in but to the detriment of the movie since he also took out a load of stuff to speed up the action for... well... for the MTV generation). When I did see it, of course, although it was a lot tamer than I could have possibly imagined, it easily became on of my favourite sci-fi movies. The “atmosphere of the everyday” that Scott had created in meticulous detail was worth the price of admission alone. And of course, H. R. Giger’s designs and Goldsmith’s score were the cherry and icing on the biomechanical cake.
When ALIENS arrived at cinemas in 1986, we were all geared up for it and it kinda worked because it wasn’t trying to imitate the atmosphere of the original movie. Now, I have to go on record here that I found Cameron’s entry in the series to be the weakest of the four solo outings of the ALIEN species... but I don’t mean to say it’s not a good entry. It is. All the initial solo ALIEN movies are quality products and it’s a shame that Cameron had to cut this one down for its initial release as the scenes he added back later lost their impact due to knowledge of the way the scenes were going to play out. It’s a marvellous film, easily Cameron’s masterpiece... just the weakest of the initial four. Lifted quite a lot by James Horner’s score... back in the day when everybody my age thought he was an original and “the new hope” of the soundtrack composing community... as opposed to what he’s revealed himself to be over the years.
When Alien 3 (or Alien Cubed as it quickly became known) was released, there seemed to be a big backlash against the movie... although a lot of people, myself included, really loved the finished product. Sure it has big problems, not least of which is a completely redesigned “dog” version of the ALIEN which doesn’t match up to any of the “man in suit” close up shots. This is a film where communication with the second unit and effects guys seems to have gotten the better of Fincher... but still, the rich gothic atmosphere supported and enhanced by Goldenthal’s absolutely superb pseudo-religious scoring is everything in this movie and lifts it to the heavens despite its flawed nature. It also features the death of the main character of the initial series, Ellen Ripley, who sacrifices her life to kill the creature as it jumps from her chest... bit of a dramatic ending on this one.
And then we have the celebrated French director Jeunet’s Alien Resurrection, in which Ripley returns as a superpowered Alien-hybrid clone of herself and much continental quirkiness is afoot. Good movie, very bad, flawed new ALIEN design for the ending which, it has to be said, looks more like Casper The Friendly Ghost than something which is supposedly the spawn of something created by Giger (and I don’t think Giger was anywhere near this production, so that kinda explains it). Still, I liked this movie a lot (obviously better than Cameron’s entry) and John Frizzel’s score, which is almost like John Barry filtered through the ALIEN universe style, was another good piece of scoring. I was just waiting for the studio to follow this movie up with The Adventures Of Ripley-clone on Earth!
However, rather than continue the series in this manner, the studio decided to go the way of the Universal Pictures monster rallies of the 1940s (a sure sign that studios have lost faith in the ability of their solo characters to pull in crowds on their own) by making a “double sequel” movie to both the Alien and Predator franchises. AVP: Alien Vs Predator is actually quite a fun film (and certainly my favourite of the lamentable Predator movies) but seriously screws up continuity with the series. I can just about justify the Aliens appearing on Earth hundreds of years before they’re discovered in the future, for example, because their appearance then could have been the reason why the shadowy Weyland-Yutani corporation had an interest in pursuing them in the future, but the fact that they killed off Lance Henrikson in the present day, when we already know he turns up as exactly the same “real life” version of the character at the end of Alien 3, is a real clunker and I don’t understand why they allowed this to happen. The movie is quite fun and watchable though, supported by a competent score which doesn’t really let the side down... which doesn’t make what happened next any less of a bitter pill to swallow...
What happened next was the incredibly awful Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem which was not just the worst ALIEN or Predator movie in the collective franchises... it was also a bad film in general. This movie manages to take the classic ALIEN creatures and dilute them down to nothing by putting them slap bang in the middle of what seems to be a teen-slasher movie. Seriously, the ALIEN is nothing more than a roving serial killer to bring out all the tired old genre tropes which kiddie audiences seem to be so comfortable with. A truly dreadful end to the series and a true insult to Giger and Scott’s original creation... it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. The only good thing about it was up and coming composer Brian Tyler’s exemplary score, which was way more than the visuals he was given to work with deserved.
So now you know how I feel about the last six movies in the franchise, I suppose I’d better get on with reviewing the prequel, I guess.
If you’re on the same wavelength as me, you’ll probably twig that I hold Scott’s initial ALIEN (especially in its original cut) up as being the absolute best in the series... that much hasn’t changed after seeing Prometheus, I’m afraid. Scott goes back to the original “scene of the crime” of his first film by having a team of Earth archeologists, looking for the origins of man, finding the original “space jockey” ship... plus some biological weapons they were creating, plus a space jockey himself who is not the peaceful saviour that the central protagonists had hoped him to be.
The film starts off with one of these aliens (who look like an old bald headed humanoid from one of the earliest episodes of the original Star Trek) taking some kind of biochemical cocktail which destroys his DNA (in a “penetrating” close up shot that Dario Argento will just love when he sees it as it could almost have been lifted from one of his films) and disintegrates him into a big river... I think this must be what brings these specific aliens their initial downfall, but I’m just guessing as it’s really not made implicit in the film. The first thing I thought when watching this first scene though was... What is this? Star Trek 5?
I thought both this sequence and the next one, where the team of Archaeologists in Scotland fronted by Doctor Elizabeth Shaw (Any Pertwee era Doctor Who fans here guess why I was pulled out of the movie when I first heard this character name?), as played by the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace, find another artefact depicting a specific star map where the human race is supposed to go ... were quite pedestrian in the way they’d been handled and not what I’d expect from a director with Sir Ridley’s usually impeccable visual taste. Also, although this plot point makes a great hook, it seems to be unlikely that the “space jockeys” have, as yet, visited Earth (if I’m interpreting the story correctly), so what the "buggery-F" these little constellation maps dotted throughout human history are having any business being here is anybody’s guess... again, it doesn’t seem to have been made implicit in the final cut of the movie.
Okay, so I had problems with the first ten minutes but from here on in the film was a flawed but thoroughly interesting ride. Scott’s rich visual style resurfaces after the first ten minutes or so and we’re treated to an absolutely beautiful sequence where the android Dave is alone on the ship (watching over the crew in suspended animation) and it’s very reminiscent (and almost equally as strong) as Kubrik’s sequence of another famous “sci-fi” Dave watching over a crew in suspended animation in 2001: A Space Odyssey... Fassbinder is excellent in it and so is Peter O’Toole... I’ll not elabourate if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Go see it for yourself.
When the crew awake and go to the planet, the horror/sci-fi movie starts proper and there are thrill and spills and an almost unbearable tension as Sir Ridley stretches out the suspense... you know something bad is going to happen... and he knows you know, so he’s obviously going to play to that. He does it very well and you cant fault him for delivering a very entertaining “screen excitement” as they used to say back in the day. Visually rich, brilliant performances all round and a definite recommendation of a night out at the cinema from me...
It’s a bit of a flawed masterpiece in my opinion and I know that will probably rub some people up the wrong way. If you’re doing comparisons to the original ALIEN, for example, the acting is strong but the original had relative unknowns and Prometheus is filled with famous actors. It tries to be an ensemble piece but, even though it’s filled with big names... in addition to Fassbender and Rapace there are Idris Elba, Guy Pierce and Charlize Theron (I was a bit upset her character name wasn’t ALIEN Wuornos to be honest) who are also in the mix... Fassbender and Rapace’s characters definitely dominated the show here. It was very much their movie and they seemed to be the characters showcased more than the others... although, as I said before, all the performances were exemplary.
Another problem I had with it was the tone. There were some sequences of the movie, especially those involving Idris Elba, which could have been wrenched directly from the first film in in terms of the almost haphazard, naturalistic, “caught moments” way they had been shot. Just like a proper 70s movie! But these were juxtaposed and cross cut with more set piece motivated sequences, much less reminiscent of that style. It just about kind of worked but I felt it diluted the power of a lot of those shots and I would have liked it to be more like the shooting style of the original ALIEN all the way through... but that’s just a personal preference I guess.
The other thing was... well look. The way I described it to a friend was this...
“The first ten minutes of the movie are rubbish... as are the last twenty minutes or so. All the stuff between this is really excellent.”
And that’s how I feel. I’ve explained my reaction to the first ten minutes but the reason I didn’t think much of the last twenty was because... well... there’s an absolutely brilliant stand out scene where Noomi Rapace is in a small medical container with a “creature”. I don’t want to give away too much about what happens in this scene, other than to say that it is a) incredible in it’s execution and suspense and b) something you wouldn’t expect one of the characters involved to recover from... let alone run around doing run, jump, survive and get half beaten up scenes when the character is obviously in such a frail state. Dr. Liz Shaw, I don’t care how pumped full of futuristic space drugs you are... I don’t buy you, as a human being, being able to handle anything else that happens after this point in this movie. It just stretches the credibility too much and it was at this moment I failed to hold my “suspension of disbelief” for Scott. The rest of the movie, though nice to look at, stopped packing any punch for me and I was disappointed... especially at the tagged on, final revelation where baby royalty makes her first appearance (years in our future, thus rendering the Alien/Predator films even less a part of the same series). Talking of which... didn’t the crew of the Nostromo in ALIEN find the original “space jockey” in the chair with its ribs exploded outwards to indicate a chest burster had gotten to it... have a think about that when you go and see this movie. Did Sir Ridley even watch his original film again before rolling cameras on this one?
The film has a fifteen rating but I think it could have gotten away with a 12A. There’s very little, if any, blood in this movie and there’s certainly nothing as frightening or strong as the scenes that play out in Scott’s original masterpiece. There’s a lot of suspense in it and he really knows how to ratchet up the tension (his suspense dial goes up to eleven)... but when the denouement of each of each of these set pieces come, they seem to be somewhat underwhelming, I thought, and in the end I concluded that the movie was something considerably less than it’s glittery, shining parts.
Also, Scott came under a lot of flack after the first one for a lot of it being a kind of reworking of Mario Bava’s Planet Of The Vampires, so I thought he’d have avoided any obvious material for comparison this time around. Not so. Maybe his writers were working against him a little on this but fans of Bava’s original will certainly enjoy the, even more, blatant references in this one. I won’t give too much away but lets just say that the aliens in both movies share a musical interest.
Talking about music... the score sounds good in places and rather humdrum in others. I’d need to hear it away from the movie to make a proper judgement on it but I must say I wasn’t best amused when one of Jerry Goldsmith’s original themes for the series was subverted and used to recreate it as as a new leitmotif signature of the Weyland-Yutani company. Not worth doing, either, in my opinion.
All in all, though, a really nice looking movie... but I think it was a mistake trying to tie this into the original ALIEN franchise in general... and when I say mistake I mean a cold-blooded bid for money off the back of the old series by the suits at Fox... that’s what I mean. Not that I can blame Scott and co for going for the cash... just wish they’d have left it alone and introduced an entirely new set of creature (which in some ways they kinda did I suppose, in a Cthulhuesque kind of way). Certainly worth some of your time and money because it’s quite astonishing to look at in places (the projected, running “space jockeys” are particularly unnerving) but don’t go in their expecting something as cool as ALIEN... if you do you’re going to be sorely disappointed.