Well, I was tempted to write a blog about a blog, but I shall pull back from any such blatant solipsism. Suffice to say, last week’s blog entry, in which I decided to make a virtue of my own indecision about the merits of the Alien “prequel” Prometheus and “confess” it, drew an unprecedented level of flack (“I can only assume there was a deadline and you had to come up with something quick,” ran one comment; “How much were you paid for writing this?” ran another; “Well Andrew, lucky we don’t give a f***,” ran the nastiest of all, not that I have any intention of raking over old ground).
For those of you who shared my critical quandary – was Prometheus a crashing disappointment due to our own overinflated sense of expectation, or was it just ruined by the 3D? – I am happy to report my more concrete feelings based upon the promised return viewing in 2D. (Oh, and I paid to see it, if anyone doubts my “man of the people” status, and nobody was paying me to review it.)
SPOILER ALERT: in order to set out my reasons for disenchantment, I will be forced to allude to certain plot details. If you have yet to see Prometheus, look away now. (I’m going to have to number these; hope this doesn’t make it too clinical.)
1. The similarities to Alien.
Ridley Scott directed Alien, which is still the original and best Alien movie, made on a relatively modest budget and showing us for the first time the revolutionary production design (Scott had drawn up initial storyboards and sketches, and Michael Seymour, Roger Christian and Les Dilley were key in the art dept., but it was Swiss artist HR Giger who was responsible for the alien environments and the various creatures; while Ron Cobb and Chris Foss worked on the suits and the ship). If anyone can revisit the basic templates with a degree of stewardship, it’s Scott. And yet, because it predates Alien and shares many of the original designs and concepts, Prometheus never lets us stop thinking about Alien, or Aliens. In this regard, it begs us to compare. And comparing was never going to work out in the new film’s favour. Every time one of the – again – crumpled, offbeat crew pokes around in a dark chamber, or slams their hand against an airlock door to open it, we are transported back (or forward) to the Nostromo. Comparisons can only be odious.
2. The plot holes.
Without going into forensic detail, many questions are left hanging (and not just the existential creationist one that we assume will be answered but isn’t). How come, to pluck one example, when Noomi Rapace’s scientist survives a self-op, laser-guided caesarian to remove a foreign body from her womb (we’ll accept that she could survive it at all, on trust), her clear distress, all the blood and the ruddy great stapled scar across her stomach don’t arouse any probing questions from the other crew members? She’s wearing a bandage bikini, for heaven’s sake, and nobody even shrugs. Because this comes at a frantic, action-stations juncture of the story, we let it go. But how can such a major incident pass without comment?
3. Idris Elba’s Texan accent.
Who doesn’t love Idris Elba? His success on TV and in Hollywood should warm the cockles of all our hearts. And yet … he can’t do a Texan accent. He can do a cool space captain, no problem, which is what he is called upon to do, and he fills the screen with grunting, antihero charisma just standing there, or playing an accordion, or manning the controls like Rick Wakeman. But every time he speaks, you’re willing him to crack the accent, and it’s so painful when he doesn’t. It’s Ridley’s film; couldn’t he have let Idris play a captain from Hackney? (Similarly, Noomi Rapace, again an actor who packs a lot of natural magnetism and was superb in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo films, is Swedish, and yet she plays an English archaeologist. Why? It’s not her natural accent and she struggles to convince in it. Couldn’t she have done it Scandinavian? If anything, that would be hipper than her character being English.)
4. Guy Pearce.
No problem with him either, but he plays an ancient, doddery, lined old man, seen in both holographic form and corporeal, expensively and ingeniously made up by experts to make him look really, really old. (Five hours to apply; one hour to scrape off.) But he is never seen in flashback as his younger self, so why cast 44-year-old Pearce in the first place? Other than for reasons of vanity and the sheer fun of playing a really, really old man? Are there no wrinkly, 90-year-old actors in the Screen Actors’ Guild?
5. The running away from the spaceship.
If you’ve seen it, you’ll know that the big action climax involves Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron running away from a stricken spaceship so as not to be crushed to death by it. Neither seems to try to run sideways, which might have saved their lives. Instead, they run in the same direction as the horseshoe-shaped craft is falling. You might ordinarily be able to suspend your disbelief for this anomaly (I believed Bruce Willis might be chased in a truck by a fighter plane in Die Hard 4, for instance), but not at this late stage, when so much goodwill has been squandered. I think this illustrates the desperation of Prometheus to give us a “big” ending, because of which it basically ends about three times. It’s more like Armageddon or Deep Impact: big for big’s sake. Even Aliens, which was big and loud and brash, only really had two endings: the escape from the planet, and the stowing away of the alien. That’s narrative economy!
Oh, and I was right: the 3D – for me – made the film murky and distracting. It was much better in 2D. It looked clean and dramatic, and it didn’t need a third dimension. What it needed was a bit more attention to the screenplay, and a bit less genuflection towards state-of-the-art CGI spectacle for its own sake.
I watched Alien and Aliens on ITV4. Both remain incredible, intelligent sci-fi entertainments.
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