Saturday, 14 July 2012



I don't usually go back to see films in the cinema for a second time; if I do want to see them again I tend to wait for the DVD release. But I did go back to see Prometheus again purely to confirm that I was right about it being a masterpiece and the naysayers were wrong. Maybe I'd overreacted? Maybe it was merely okay but I'd seen so many lousy horror and SF movies that anything that was "okay" automatically seemed like a masterpiece by comparison? Maybe the naysayers were right to point out the logical holes and the clunky dialogue? Er, no. It's still a masterpiece. That's not to say it's perfect, but what is? It's still creepy, jumpy, nasty and wildly imaginative in precisely the right measures, it still looks fantastic and sounds fantastic and I did enjoy it every bit as much the second time around. It's still one of my favourites of the year, and I don't think that's entirely due to the abundance of mediocre or indifferent (or just plain terrible) movies that have formed the backbone of 2012's release schedule so far.

So why the hate? Why did Prometheus get kicked around so badly? Obviously one can't rule out personal taste entirely - the finest celery and onion sandwich in the world is nothing if you don't like celery and onions - but I think there are two reasons for its muted reception. Firstly, it's not our beloved Alien. It's in the same universe and it shares much of its DNA, but it is a completely different beast as a film; it's not in the same genre (SF/horror rather than plain SF), it's on a much larger scale with more than double the cast, it's about humanity rather than the monster. It's not even set on the same planet (indeed, Prometheus is set on a moon). Prometheus isn't even a direct prequel to Alien; it's at least a companion piece and cousin to Alien, and at it's best a pre-pre-prequel that might - might - eventually lead, two films later, to someone or something sending out the warning signal that is ultimately picked up by the Nostromo.

Secondly, I think the hype was so relentless and extensive that it raised expectations far beyond the film's ability to come anywhere near delivering. Trailers, clips, viral promotional stuff, reviews, articles, stills, interviews.... But since I looked at as little of this as was physically possible, since I refused to be sucked into the marketing vortex, I came to the film without all that baggage of what happens, what might happen, who says what to who, where when and whatever. The promotional juggernaut for Prometheus has fuelled my personal conviction that studio marketing departments should produce a couple of posters and a couple of trailers, and that's all. Behind the scenes footage and interviews should be kept back for the DVD extras, not plastered all over the planet months in advance in a desperate campaign to sell me something that doesn't even exist yet, and which I'll certainly go and see anyway when the damned thing finally comes out. But it raises expectations. It ramps up the excitement. And ultimately it's too much: we've been promised an earth-shattering gamechanger of a masterpiece but we're given a film that's merely very good or excellent, and thus it rates as a disappointment. On the other hand I didn't click on any links, I didn't read any articles and I avoided all the trailers, so I went into the film with as open and uncontaminated a mind as possible. It really is the best way.

Yes, there are some terrible lines of dialogue. Yes, some of the characters behave like idiots (though the same holds for the blessed Alien: Harry Dean Stanton in particular behaves like an utter halfwit and dies needlessly as a result). Yes, the reveal of Weyland still being alive and on the ship is fluffed, because they're not going to give Guy Pearce prominent billing if his only appearance is the video spiel near the start - obviously he's going to show up again. And on the subject of Weyland: yes, the old man make-up job is below par and yes, the secondary reveal that he's Vickers' dad is a meaningless throwaway. You could also ask how Shaw (Noomi Rapace) even gets to the medical pod thing when it's in a sideroom to Vickers' private quarters - unless they have two of them on board which is unlikely since there are only supposed to be twelve in existence.

Certainly Prometheus could have been made a bit better by losing some of the duff moments, maybe having a better score (Marc Streitenfeld and Harry Gregson-Williams have tried, but it's merely serviceable apart from the opening titles) and polishing some of the iffy dialogue. But personally I don't care. There are minor niggles in all the great movies: Blade Runner is rife with them, Dawn Of The Dead is rife with them, Star Wars is rife with them, Carry On Matron is absolutely riddled with them. So? Nothing and nobody is perfect. But I still think Prometheus is a terrific movie and significantly underrated.

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