Ridley Scott is a name synonymous with science fiction brilliance after his two behemoth fan favourites - Alien and Blade Runner. Don't get me wrong, he's considered an 'all-round' director, but his other features - Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, American Gangster and Body of Lies - are all great films, but are completely eclipsed by his early career dabble in sci-fi. Luckily for us, Scott returned to the genre and has turned out a fantastically eerie shocker in Prometheus. His latest space outing has taken a critical mauling all over the place, but as a fanboy and a sic-fi nut, I can only recommend you ignore or avoid the critical masses, as Prometheus is a bloody great movie.
The film begins with a controversial genesis to life on Earth - disputable for Christians like myself (and Dr Shaw), but believable and extremely well-filmed, we see a giant humanoid alien drinking a black mass and disintegrating to form a biogenetic bond with other cells creating life on Earth. It's easy to miss the point of this opening, and a I noticed a few people scratching their heads, but it's all there and easy to catch if you think about it. I don't want to be spoilerific, but this opening is integral to the plot, as we then fast forward thousands of years to 2089 where scientist doctors Shaw and Holloway (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green) are discovering new cave paintings and markings showing humans worshipping a giant human(oid) pointing to a particular planetary constellation. Like Kubrick's 2001, the film starts with a trail of clues on Earth, and seeing this as an invitation, a team of scientists (and canon-fodder) head to planet LV-223 to find these giant beings or Engineers (we know them from the dead 'space jockey' discovered in the ship at the beginning of Alien), and more importantly, the origins of the Xenomorph - the most feared creature to ever enter our screens.
We were told in the almightily PR build-up that there would be something to parallel the shock and awe of John Hurt's chest-burster scene in Alien, and boy they weren't kidding! Introducing us to a medical pod early on - a booth in which the user can undergo complicated surgery without additional human assistance - was a stroke of genius, as there's no way such an invention was going to be used for anything mundane or predictable.
In showing us this bleak pod early on, Scott allows the tension to build until 'that scene' (certainly the most memorable in the film), and he doesn't disappoint. Your imagination can nay run wild until you see Shaw's harrowing experience inside the capsule. And that isn't all, there are plenty of alien shock-scenes (immediately thinking of four shockers off the top of my head), and this is where Prometheus pulls away from Alien territory, as Scott is showing us another world of creations and reactions, somewhere so far and different from our planet that there was no way an scientists, archaeologists or doctors could possibly have predicted what would happen. The outcome: total carnage and annihilation; as Dr Shaw points out in the trailer voiceover - "we were wrong, we were so wrong". The human/alien conflicts in Prometheus are something of a cinematic revelation - especially on the IMAX - with some gruesome and unpredictable outcomes for our new crew.
Speaking of the crew, Scott's casting is somewhat muddled, with one stand-out performance surrounded by some underused and frankly paper-thin characters. As has been written on the walls, Michael Fassbender is a revelation in Prometheus, as well as all other films he's been in, and his part as David the android is one of his best acting roles, if not his very finest (yeah that good, and yes, I've seen Shame and Hunger). The androgynous and calculated David is the ship's maintenance man, and during the crew's 3 years in cyber-sleep, we follow David (in an excellent continual panning shot) as he forlornly moves around the ship occupying his time and carrying out vital tasks for the upkeep of the ship. The scene is a master-class in cinematography and camerawork, and Fassbender's calm demeanour and precise actions mirror his idol, Peter O'Toole's Lawrence of Arabia, whom he models himself upon. The ship's captain, Janek, is played by the sterling Idris Elba, although sadly he is grossly underused here, although always a pleasure to watch Elba in action, as he brings so much more charisma and swagger to a role than many of his peers. Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers - a character so devoid of any personality or charm, that one can only assume the casting call described the role as: stereotypical corporate ice bitch. She doesn't do a lot other than propel the plot forward as the 'corporate suit' in charge of the mission.
After these leads (of which I've already mentioned lead scientists Shaw and Holloway), the casting turns a little to canon-fodder, with the excellent Rafe Spall as biologist Millburn, and the God-awful Sean Harris (a man completely devoid of any talent as an actor other than as a psychopath) as geologist Fifield - the most annoying cast member and a very contradictory character, followed by a load of forgettables who we may or may not learn their names....
Like Alien before it, Scott has entered new territory and broken down boundaries in the name of science to produce a wonderfully imaginative and seductive piece. Prometheus may not have all the answers, but science-fiction by it's very nature is the element of unknown and will always remain inconsistent with what we know from Earth. Space truly is the final frontier, and our brains can't begin the fathom the mystical secrets of otherworldly species and substances, which gives Scott a perfect quip to all the plothole-hunters out there. Admittedly, there are many questions to be answered when considering Prometheus in the Alien universe (both on different planets by the way) which is likely why Scott started to distance the pieces from each other in the run-up to Prometheus' release date.
Deconstructing a film due to a few paper-thin characters (never hurt any of the classics - see Predator, Aliens, The Thing) and some questions left unanswered, is an unfair assessment. The simple fact is that as a stand-alone science-fiction film, Prometheus is a superbly visceral and imaginative piece which can sit up there with some of the greats. Certainly the best proper science-fiction of recent years (think Avatar, Moon, Inception, Source Code) and one that actually concerns itself with strange lands, grotesque aliens, and a combination of big questions, huge ideas and massive shocks - a perfect recipe for cinematic enjoyment.