The Point
Last updated: 24 April 2018. sky thinking for an open and diverse left

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Prometheus: more than just another summer blockbuster?

by Spacebound Ape

As a science fiction fan it was a golden time to be growing up in the seventies and eighties. The best SF was then, and still is, to be found in books. But for the first time in cinematic terms SF was moving beyond the geek lustre of B movies and late night television. Star Trek had come to the British airwaves, and though the effects now seem clunky and many of the stories naive, the adventures of Kirk, Spock et al on prime time television at last seemed to herald an era where the future – or potential futures - were to be taken seriously

Then came Star Wars, Close Encounters, Terminator, and the rest as we might say, was future history. The nature of popular cinema was changed forever. Both for the better and for the worse. For the better because vision, imagination and epic storytelling in the hands of skilful directors could now be given full visual realisation; for the worse in the sense that many inferior 'blockbusters' – designed to make money and based primarily on crash bang wallop spectacle – tended to marginalise more thoughtful and serious film-making.

Amongst this heady mix at the time, the director Ridley Scott made two notable contributions - Alien and Blade Runner. Both were breakthrough movies visually and conceptually and have since gained iconic status in the SF movie canon. Since then, despite having two movies that would make it into many people's top 10, Scott has avoided returning to the genre – until now.

Prometheus – a 'prequel' to Alien – has been in the cinemas for the last few weeks, preceded by a huge viral and online publicity campaign running for months and involving no less than three 'teaser' trailers. Fan and industry expectation was huge, but reaction, both critical and public has been mixed. I suspect some people have gone along to the cinema expecting to see a different film from the one they actually saw. Although Prometheus takes place in the same universe as Alien it is not an 'Alien' film. As Ridley Scott warned at the outset, this has wider themes and is much more about "gods and engineers".

Given the pleasure those other movies have given me over the years I went along both with a deal of expectation and not a little trepidation. But I needn't have worried. It is a fantastically entertaining film, and - I suspect - has hidden depths that will only reveal themselves on repeat viewings. While it pays due homage where it needs to (and, to be critical, once or twice when it doesn't need to) it's its own film and a tight, compressed, compelling epic in its own right.

The opening section was as beautiful and surprising as anything I've seen in an SF movie - though something is owed to Kubrick. The closing scene sets up Alien perfectly. Although the movie takes its time in its set up - as does Alien, James Cameron's Aliens sequel and Blade Runner - once it erupts the tension and drama are palpable and superbly done. As with both of Scott's previous forays into SF there are both moments of stomach churning horror and eerie poetic beauty.

The performances are very good, particularly Michael Fassbender as the enigmatic amoral android Michael. Noomi Rapace makes a good heroine as Doctor Elizabeth Shaw in the Sigourney Weaver/Ripley mould. Quibbles about her slightly Scandinavian 'English' accent can probably be set aside. It's 2093, man!

There are a more than a couple of unanswered questions left at the end... but I think that's set up for further movies. I suspect something bigger is being constructed here. There are some religious elements to the movie could make some people uncomfortable, and the Erich von Daniken background premise is jarring initially until Scott cleverly turns it on its head. Ultimately blind faith is challenged more than it is lionised. I think he's going somewhere else with this in the longer term.

Is it as good as Alien or Blade Runner? Only time will tell. Sometimes it takes time to become a classic...or to be exposed as being too one dimensional. It's worth remembering that Blade Runner was a box office flop on first release. Now it regularly tops polls as the best SF movie ever made, trumping Kubrick's 2001 which held that position for four decades.

Judge for yourself while it's still on the big screen, and if you can, see it in 3D.

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