****This post contains plot spoilers****
It has taken me three years to get around to watching a film that it seems like everyone else has already seen. I was reluctant to go to see it at the cinema (silly me), and decided to wait until it was cheaply available on DVD. As luck would have it, it was then advertised as being shown on TV that very weekend, so I didn’t even have to buy it.
In a nutshell, this film is a prequel to the original 1979 film ‘Alien’, and is made by the same British director, Ridley Scott. As it is set so long before the first story, Sigourney Weaver is notable by her absence, as presumably Ripley had not yet been born. If you have never seen any of the ‘Alien’ series of films, you may not be reading this anyway, but my own relationship with them has been on and off over the decades. When the 1979 film was released, I thought that it was simply amazing. The idea, the cast, the sets, and the special effects, were all just wonderful. It was like some other films before, but far better than any of them. Aged 27 at the time, I thought it was one of the best things I had ever seen, and it set the benchmark for sci-fi horror from that moment.
In 1986, American director James Cameron made the sequel, ‘Aliens’. I dutifully trotted along to see it, more out of curiosity as to where they could take the story. They took it to a bigger place, with a larger cast, more aliens, more weapons, and huge explosions. And it wasn’t at all bad, as the frantic pace and suitably claustrophobic sets kept us viewers on the edge of our seats long enough to forget that it was much the same thing again. But bigger. Six years later, and the estimable David Fincher made the third film in the series, unimaginatively called ‘Alien 3’. This was a very different animal. It looked as if the budget had been pared down to a minimum. The sets appeared to come from an old episode of ‘Doctor Who’, and the cast of mainly British character actors gave it the feel of WW2 prison camp film, set in the future. (And it is set in a prison) It was hard to take seriously, and even harder to like. For me, it was redeemed by the novelty of that British cast, but I had my doubts as to whether any others should follow. It seemed that this third outing was a film too far. The studios didn’t agree though, and five years later, Jean-Pierre Jeunet brought ‘Alien Resurrection’ to the screen, again starring Weaver, and set two hundred years after the last film. To explain her longevity, Ripley is actually a clone, as is the unborn alien queen she is carrying inside her. I didn’t really get this one, and thought that they were struggling to find a good reason to cash in on the franchise, so came up with this, jotted down on a beer-mat. The script, and most of the cast, are forgettable, and it even managed to make ‘Alien 3’ look more than acceptable.
There were other attempts to milk the idea. Hitting on the success of the ‘Predator’ films, they combined the two ideas, bringing us ‘Alien vs Predator’ in 2004, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. (Why do they have to have all those extra initials?) I actually didn’t mind this film, and without Ripley, it was mostly about the monsters, which made a change at least. In 2007, they tried a sequel to this idea, with ‘Alien vs Predator:Requiem’. By now, they should have known better.
Five years later, and Ridley Scott finally gets out his long-awaited project, ‘Prometheus’. I had well had enough by then, and had no intention of rushing out to see it. Although Scott directed two of my all-time favourite films; ‘The Duellists’ (1977), and ‘Blade Runner’ (1982), I presumed that he was just ‘taking the money’ with ‘Prometheus’, and I set myself against it. My fears were confirmed when I read some surprisingly lukewarm reviews, and occasionally saw it panned by critics. But I was wrong, and so were they. We were all wrong, because it is simply a prefect prequel. In every way that you want to see the origins of a well-known series, it just works, and works exceptionally well. Even on TV it is impressive, and perfectly captures the mood and feel of the original 1979 film. My hat is off to you, Mr Scott. (If I had one on to take off) If I could have written the perfect story to explain the build-up to the events in ‘Alien’, it would be this. I was looking for flaws and inconsistencies, but could find few, and none large enough to divert my viewing pleasure. From the opening scenes of the over-sized humanoid presumably populating a planet, I was completely hooked.
The plot is simple enough. An elderly and sick billionaire (played by an almost unrecognisable Guy Pearce) wants to fund an expedition to a far-off planet. Some anthropologists have found cave paintings in Scotland that suggest a divine being creating mankind, and there is even a star map to show the way to his planet.(These possibly omnipotent beings are referred to throughout as the ‘Engineers’.) The billionaire gets them together with a mixed bag of technicians and spaceship crew, all headed up by the dominatrix-like figure of Vickers, played by a very lean Charlize Theron.
There are no great surprises. Michael Fassbender makes a very good, slightly detached android. As in the other films, he is shown to have a hidden agenda. In this case, impregnating the lead anthropologist (Logan Marshall-Green. I know, who?) with some kind of alien seed/dna. I liked Fassbender in this, as he studiously avoided any attempt at ‘humanising’ his android character. There is a good crop of British actors too. The talented, and much under-used Benedict Wong has a role as a co-pilot, and Sean Harris, the current go-to man for maniacs and psychos in British drama, plays a suspicious crew member, who is horribly invaded by the original aliens. Idris Elba, marvellous as ‘Luther’ in the UK TV series, coasts a little as the laconic ship’s captain, prepared to sacrifice himself to stop the ‘Engineers’ getting to Earth.
The big reveals are few, and not too dramatic. Pearce’s billionaire character has actually been along for the ride the whole time, and wants the secret of eternal life from the Engineers. Oh, and Vickers (Theron) is his daughter. That’s a ‘why?’ moment. The female lead, and main anthropologist, is played by Noomi Rapace. It could have been anyone really, so she is as good as any. Her character is religious, presumably significant. She is also impregnated by her boyfriend, after he is infected with alien dna by the android. This is harping back to Ripley in the earlier films, so to be expected. Once they meet the potentially benign Engineer, it doesn’t go so well. He kills the billionaire, and others, and becomes a real problem for the survivors. Alongside him is Rapace’s alien child, born prematurely as she tries to terminate it. This is soon reminiscent of a huge octopus, and rampaging on the spaceship’s rescue pod. It is all going wrong, and the crew are falling like flies, either to the alien, the Engineer, or each other, as the infected members try to get back on board.
The big discovery is that the aliens we know so well from the original, are little more than a ‘biological weapon’, developed by the Engineers, to get rid of any of the created races they are unhappy with. And planet Earth could be next. The only solution to stop the huge humanoid leaving on his mission to destroy Earth, is for Idris Elba and his sidekick to crash Prometheus into the alien craft, which he does without a second thought. Rapace’s character is eventually left to fight the humanoid, which she does by using her alien spawn to kill him. The android, head ripped from his body but still able to function (sound familiar?) persuades Rapace to take him along. Using a second alien ship, they head off in search of their creators. Everyone else is dead, including the humanoid, who ‘gives birth’ to the alien we know and love from the original film. The circle is complete, and we are set for 1979.
Despite my tongue-in-cheek appraisal, it is all rather very good. The sets are familiar, the alien is familiar, and it is really apparent just how we arrived at the first film. The perfect prequel, without doubt. Here is the short official trailer. And be advised, Prometheus 2 and Alien 5 are both on the way! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34cEo0VhfGE