Prometheus (15)

Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof

Reviewed by Kev McCready 10/10/2012

As it skulks shamelessly onto DVD, Prometheus looks more and more like the ruination of successful franchise. To quote Kim Newman, if Star Wars was The Beatles, Alien was The Rolling Stones. I enjoy the Star Wars films, the prequels less so. The Alien films vary in quality, the most recent being the filmic equivalent of an empty birthday present, but have a greater cultural significance in terms of how they portray women, their depiction of the working classes, their politics.

On paper, Alien has its roots in the films of the time, suspense thrillers like Jaws, the stalk ‘n’ slash of Halloween. Look at a little closer, and you will see something different, blue collar slobs sent to their deaths by an evil corporation (“The Company”, or Weyland-Yutani as any fanboy will tell you). This theme, the callousness of the corporate mind is repeated throughout the series. However, it’s never more apparent as it is here. These are the crew of a freighter on their way from a long space voyage, the ship itself is called The Nostromo, one of the series many allusions to the sea-faring novels of Joseph Conrad. The implication is that the working classes are cannon fodder for the ruling class.

The Alien itself is an interesting creature, a perfectly adapted, murderous beast. As the android Ash says “a survivor, unclouded by conscience, remorse or delusions of morality”. Designed by the Swiss artist HR Giger it resembles, let’s be blunt about it, a penis on legs. The “facehugger” which creates it, has what looks to be a vaginal opening. The Alien is born from a living host, in some grotesque parody of birth. All this is a summation of the Freudian fear of sex and death. Prometheus continues this sort of Cronenbergian “body horror”, though not as successfully or as subtlety, with a parasite transmitted through sex. Alien is a lurking reminder of the psycho-sexual disgust of sexual contact, and all that it entails.

Let’s not forget that all the films have a female protagonist, most notably and classically Sigourney Weaver as Ripley. A woman, yes but also a Mother, who is born and re-born, literally and metaphorically throughout the series. Aliens sees her dealing with the death of her daughter, eight years old when she left Earth half a century ago. She becomes a surrogate Mother to Newt, and battles another Mother, The Alien Queen. Two 'women' in biomechanical suits, fighting for the soul of a small girl. This is some kind of divine cross, as if someone had decided to write radical feminist manga. Later in the series, Ripley sees The Alien as tenderly as a past lover, and relishes the strength that the cross of her own/Alien DNA gives her.

With such rich, intelligent, political themes, it remains a mystery why Prometheus remains such a huge, clunking, expensive disappointment. It nods to the myths and legends of the previous films, but leaves that in favour of character actors getting brutally murdered. The main reason the film exists seems to be for what is called 'ret-con' (retro-active continuity, explaining events in a later film by way of a prequel). After two tiresome hours, it conveniently leaves the airlock open for yet another prequel. Despite underwhelming box-office, Paradise is slated for release in 2014.

The film’s saving grace is Michael Fassbender as the ship’s android, David. Although just as duplicitous as previous models, he is curious of humanity, learning Arabic by watching Laurence of Arabia, both supportive and inquisitive of the crew. It is an effortless, curious brave performance from a talented actor, but it doesn’t make up for the sheer, cack-handed, mess of a film that it is. Prometheus was unnecessary, a dumb piece of a cinema without a shred of its parents' intelligence.

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