Andrew Collins: An alien feeling – “I don’t know”

I'm unable to make up my mind what I thought of Prometheus

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What do I think of Prometheus? That’s a good question. Thanks for asking it. After all, Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel has been out for almost two weeks. I’ve seen it. I’m supposed to be a film critic. I’m supposed to have an opinion. It’s what I’m paid for. If anyone should be able to nail a new film with a star rating, it’s a professional film reviewer. But, to borrow the immortal words of Orville, I can’t. I don’t know what I think of Prometheus.

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Why? Well, it’s partly the disparity between my expectation of the film, and my actual experience of watching it. In a way, Ridley Scott was on a hiding to nothing, through no fault of his own. Understandably drawn back to the franchise that he helped create back in 1979 by the philosophical, existential and indeed theological possibilities of an “origins” story, Scott is one man who’s entitled to “go back to Titanic”, as it were. It’s his baby. And recruiting Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof to co-write the screenplay seemed a wise move indeed.

You know how excited certain glossy film magazines aimed at young men get, with their exclusive “first looks” and set visits to sci-fi/comic book blockbusters that aren’t due to be released for years? That’s how excited I had allowed myself to get about Prometheus. It’s nice to get that worked up at my age.

We all saw the trailer, didn’t we, with its tantalisingly Alien-esque glimpses of corridors and eggs and chambers and “that” spaceship? Except for those of us – the purists – who switched over when it was “premiered” with much fanfare during the first ad break of that episode of Homeland on C4. It did a great job of teasing fans of the franchise, which began with a masterclass in claustrophobia (Alien), and continued through a gung-ho military adventure (Aliens), a curate’s egg of a prison drama (Alien 3), and a slightly wonky, Oedipal French film (Alien Resurrection). There was a lot to build on, a certain amount to improve, and an entire spin-off, Alien Vs. Predator, to wipe from the record.

On paper, Prometheus ticked all the boxes. (Actually, where else do boxes usually get ticked?) It took the design template of the existing universe and then turned the clocks back. It enhanced what were once physical sets with state-of-the-art CGI, and literally added a new dimension with state-of-the-art 3D. It provided some answers to questions we didn’t even know we had, and it re-played the trump card of the original: throwing together a motley Anglo-American crew of scientists and engineers played by half-recognisable character actors.

So what did I think of it? I don’t know. I am unsure. I wouldn’t like to say. I certainly won’t stake my reputation on a star rating, that’s for sure. A high-end three? A low-end four? Please don’t make me choose! I don’t trust my own judgement.

And here’s why: because I saw Prometheus – like 54% of everybody who’s seen it according to studio estimates – in that state-of-the-art 3D. I envy the 46%. Because, once again, just like I did after Avatar and Tron: Legacy, I left the cinema thinking that 3D is a rotten idea. I know it’s designed to pull in the audiences and drag them away from various other screens. As such, it’s a gimmick, and it reeks of desperation. And it doesn’t make 2D films better. The only films that even benefit from it are computer animations, such as Up and Toy Story 3, and even then I can live without it.

Hence: I have formulated no useful opinion about Prometheus. And hence: I’m going back to see it again next week, in 2D, after which I’ll be able to judge it on its own merits, unencumbered by stupid, finger-marked wraparound shades that need constantly pushing up the bridge of your nose, and which prevent you from glancing round at your partner to share a smile or a grimace mid-film (a vital interaction that doesn’t need plugging in). The 3D glasses isolate you as a viewer, and make the viewing experience remote and surgical and, by contrast, murky and fidgety.

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I’ll report back next week. Boy, it will be a relief to have an opinion.