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The long-expected prequel to the Alien saga, by the director of the first of the four films, is a visual feast but with some irritating loose ends in the story.
Charlize Theron in Prometheus. | Photo courtesy of Image.net
The storyline of the four Alien films, of men - or women - giving birth to alien monsters and then spending the next few hours trying to defeat them takes a surprising twist in this prequel, which is based round the idea that the aliens in the Alien films were in fact created for us by our own creators.
The backing of a couple of hundred million dollars would have been enough for many directors to turn this ingenious idea into an ingenious film.
But what’s expected of a prequel to the Alien cinematic wonder of three decades ago is that you surpass those legendary films.
Despite fathering some groundbreaking works in film history, such as Blade Runner, in the past 20 years Ridley Scott did not shape film history in such dramatic fashion.
What is not irrelevant, however, is that Scott has never made a truly bad film, so, from a production point of view Prometheus was in the safe hands of a director who might not make a masterpiece, but certainly won’t make a flop.
The film opens in prehistoric Earth. The choice of Dariusz Wolski, who filmed Pirates of the Caribbean and some Tim Burton films, as director of photography, was a wise decision on Scott’s part.
The opening shots are made with stunning precision and appear completely natural, almost like a documentary. No filters have been used, as Scott is a hardcore fan of pre-digital effects filming. The result is a world as ascetic and bare as can be seen in an old BBC documentary on some northern wilderness.
Shortly after we are treated to another little piece of film brilliance, as we see android David, played by Michael Fassbender, spending time on a spaceship while the others are sleeping.
He plays basketball from a bike in the metal halls of the space vessel while moments later he is dying his hair blonde as he watches 1950s film classics from which he learns about mankind.
This solemn, almost contemplative, beginning makes the first 15 minutes of Prometheus as much a film classic as Alien, if not more.
Ridley Scott shoot the film with 3D cameras. | Photo courtesy of Image.net
But once the ship lands, things change for the worse – and not only for the crew who discover that their quest to find answers about mankind’s creation can, in alien worlds, come up against philosophies far less humanist than our own.
It is also the case for viewers who witness a highly sophisticated sci-fi turning into an action flick.
Scott was persuaded by his director of photography to shoot the film with 3D cameras.
For the first time since Avatar we get a depth that almost feels three-dimensional. All movements are natural and there are no glitches of the kind we experience in many films shot with regular cameras and then converted into 3D in postproduction.
What remained a challenge after the shoot was to dim the strong light needed for the 3D shooting, since dark shadows are prevalent in the underground corridors in which most of the action takes place.
This has been done admirably and at no point is the light in the film used less than perfectly.
It is arguable whether the actors are another strong point.
The spirits of Sigourney Weaver and John Hurt still roam the landscape of the planet where they first made contact with the most famous onscreen monster of all time. Fassbender, Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron do their best, but something still feels missing.
Nothing is missing, however, with the side characters. They are developed down to the tiniest detail and serve as a backdrop worthy of the original film.
There is also great continuity in terms of physical appearance between the alien ship from the 1979 film and the vessel where most of the action takes place in Prometheus - an attention to detail that is likely to win praise from Alien fans.
The twist at the end of the film clearly announces a sequel to this prequel.
Questions about reasons for spending hundreds of millions of dollars on any one film have never been popular in Hollywood and no doubt studio bosses will gladly give fans yet another film in the series.
The first Alien was made for a picky audience and only became a blockbuster after its release. The second film, directed by James Cameron, was basically an action blockbuster made to feed the masses who had flocked to see the first film.
Alien 3 was the most poetic part of the saga and in my opinion the only film to match the quality of the first film.
Alien Resurrection in 1997 attempted to join artistic and commercial approaches but did not succeed fully.
This is something that Prometheus is also trying to do throughout. But it, too, does not succeed. Fully.
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