In a small dark hotel room in Fort William no one can hear you scream. Except the guy sitting a few feet behind me who had just said ‘It’s probably in the shuttle with her’. The next thing he saw was the silhouette of a terrified teenager leaping from his chair, letting out a shriek of terror.
That was me, watching Alien for the first time. And until that brief loss of composure and dignity I thought the television was my only companion. But my reaction wasn’t entirely from being startled by another. Ridley Scott’s seminal masterpiece had grabbed me by my adolescent lapels and held me in a state of heightened nail biting anxiety from start to finish. I’d never seen anything like it.
And more than 30 years on I still haven’t. Perhaps with the lone exception of John Carpenter’s (strikingly similar) The Thing, which followed on a few years later there are almost no other science fiction horror films to compare it with. There are generations of imitations of course but nothing with the same simplicity of storytelling and direction stripped to the bone combined with Scott’s now trademark visual and aural elegance.
When it was announced that Scott was to direct an Alien prequel of sorts and more recently when a mouth-watering trailer emerged from the medias womb I doubted Prometheus would ever live up to the expectations generated by the original but I still went into the cinema like an excited schoolboy, crossing my fingers after giving my 3D glasses a good polish.
Sadly, although Prometheus might well have stolen fire from the gods, he didn’t in this instance seem to know what to do with it once he had it.
After a really tremendous opening sequence with the camera skimming over frozen alien landscapes to reveal... something, we cut to the well-known landmark The Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye. There a pair of futuristic archaeologists find an ancient star map pointing to the origins of mankind. And they’re not on Earth.
So far so Stargate and after The Nostromo and The Sulaco graced our screens comes Prometheus, the third large spaceship in the series to carry en exploratory team to the notorious planet.
So far so good and for the first thirty to forty minutes this was a five star movie exceeding all expectations. It looked fantastic, it looks in fact, much like Alien but given a 2012 style upgrade. And with an excellent cast in place, what could possibly go wrong?
Well landing on the planet for a start. At which point Prometheus stops knowing what story to tell and splits into multiple threads that never really get tied together. One such strand and the best of them is of Michael Fassbender’s robot David. Fascinated by human history and emotion he yearns for the soul that his creator couldn’t provide. It ties in neatly with the film’s main theme of ‘where do we come from?’ the big question that also doesn’t go anywhere.
It's also maddening to me that whenever something of tremendous significance happened, like discovering life or witnessing something very dangerous or unusual, no one seemed to bother informing anyone else half the time of what was happening or call for help and this lack of common sense drove me up a Giger-esque tunnel wall.
But Prometheus still manages to be a stunning cinematic spectacle from start to finish and should be seen and heard on a giant screen. The effects and 3D are top notch and Michael Fassbender as usual lifts the whole experience, although Noomi Rapace does eventually come into her own after enduring a gobsmacking reworking of John Hurt’s dinner scene.
So go for Giger’s designs and the art department. Go for the technology, the effects and the visual beauty. There are a few spine-tingling moments and a couple of healthy scares. On these counts you will be satisfied. If only Scott had also opted for the minimalist dialogue and plotting of Alien he might now have added another masterpiece to his CV.