RIDLEY SCOTT's much-anticipated "prequel" to his classic comes so overloaded with expectation that it seems almost cruel to compare it to his 1979 original — a sci-fi-horror hybrid that ultimately rewrote the rule book with both its casting and its double genres, while being roundly dismissed at the time of its release.
Scott's next sci-fi venture, 1982's , also tanked spectacularly when first released, but has twice been recut and reissued, and could also be revisited soon in the form of a sequel. is Scott's first venture back into space since the '80s.
A colossal tale both in scope and design, also marks the first time he has embraced 3D (and rather well, too). It begins benignly enough on the Isle of Skye in scenic north-west Scotland. A mysterious creature drinks from a waterfall, then topples to his untimely death. Years later, a team of archaeologists stumble upon ancient carvings nearby that point to the location of humanity's ancestors.
Our attention focuses on two of them, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), as they board a gigantic space ship, the Prometheus, heading for the apparent co-ordinates. The year is 2093 and they are cryogenically frozen for the long trip to their distant destination.
Odd things begin to occur. The creationist Dr Shaw is determined to find the origins of the human species (for us, that means the origins of the infamous chest-burster creation that is Alien). Her lover, Holloway, is mysteriously poisoned by an alien pod that has been brought on board by David, an Aryan-looking android played to perfection by Michael Fassbender (pictured, top, and above, with Marshall-Green and Rapace), who blends the air of a 1970s David Bowie with the movement of George Lucas' C-3PO. His performance is, without doubt, the highlight of the film.
Fuelling the mission is ailing zillionaire Peter Weyland (a heavily made-up Guy Pearce), who wants to reverse his neutron flow to live long and prosper. His trusty team leader, the ice-cold Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), is on board to ensure that happens. But David and a gung-ho second-in-command, Janek (Idris Elba), have other ideas.
Rapace stands out alongside Fassbender in a role a world away from her exemplary turn in the original — superior — version of . Pearce is typically reliable, if unrecognisable beneath all that make-up. Theron, though, feels largely wasted in an underwritten role.
And while Fassbender's malevolent android is a throwback to Kubrick, as is the wondrous look of this piece, there's precious little time for terrifying sequences until the final act, when, after a series of incoherent bumps, the film lurches towards a more standard sci-fi action finale, its poetic, lyrical mission seemingly fulfilled.
What is most baffling for the viewer during the sometime rambling narrative is the question of what exactly Scott is trying to achieve.
Scott has publicly emphasised that this prequel carries with it the DNA of that first film, nothing more. The good news is that the film does (partially, at least) explain where the original Alien came from. But given the heightened audience expectation, exacerbated by a cunning viral campaign from the studio, seems destined to fight an uphill battle. There is no Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), or any creature of her ilk, for us to relate to here.
Neither is there much going on when the team lands on alien ground. For all its grand designs and sweeping vistas, could simply do with a bit more story. Without more going on, and with quick-sketch characters at best, the production rambles and wavers, with no firm sense of direction or purpose.
A mooted follow-up may well fix that. For now, though, it's visually impressive but frustratingly underdeveloped.
Critical Rating: 6/10.
PROMETHEUS is now showing in cinemas.
First published in The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age.