Ridley Scott's space odyssey is more show than tell

If you type "What is Prometheus?” into a search engine, you’ll receive plenty of theories but little consensus.

Many will tell you that it’s the eponymous spaceship in Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien franchise which began in 1979, not to mention a much better title than Alien 5.

Others will speak of a figure from Greek mythology who stole fire for mankind and was punished by the gods.

An Anchorman fan suggests the following: “I could be wrong, but I believe Prometheus is an old wooden ship used during the Civil War era.”

Whichever you prefer, this is a film built on mysteries – whether it  actually solves any of them is another matter.

Based on a script by Jon Spaihts (The Darkest Hour) and Damon Lindelof, whose work on Lost has become a byword for philosophical prick teasing, Prometheus begins beautifully, like a David Attenborough special on the dawn of man.

In a ragged Ice Age landscape, a loin-clothed giant, or “Engineer”, opens what looks like a Fabergé passion fruit and swallows the contents.

Soon his cells are exploding in a shower of CG awesomeness, and his body washing downstream on warring currents.

What this sequence has to do with anything is debatable, but it’s an apt introduction to a film that teems with ideas.

Fast forward several millennia to the Isle of Skye in 2089, where geologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a cave painting of another Engineer scattering strange orbs.

Is it a map of the planets? Pearls before swine? A load of old balls?

Shaw and Holloway favour the first option, and soon we’ve skipped to space, 2093, where the Prometheus is about to touch down on LV-223, one of the worlds depicted.

The ship’s (motley) crew includes no-nonsense commander Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), who’s so tough she does press-ups straight out of stasis sleep. “How long?” she asks, then, “Has anyone died?”

Meanwhile, Captain Janek (Idris Elba) seems capable of anything except giving a shit, and snarling geologist Fifield (underrated UK actor Sean Harris) makes an early play for ship psycho.

Most intriguing of all is David (Michael Fassbender), a camp, Kryten-ish mandroid who styles himself after Peter O’Toole in Lawrence Of Arabia.

“The trick,” he parrots uncannily, “is not minding that it hurts.”

After some expository chat from the holographic Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), the film’s right where it should be: deep in the bowels of a dank pyramid looking for enlightenment in the neon-flecked dark.

Alive with awful possibilities, this part of Prometheus is by far the best Alien movie we’ve seen since 1986 – although anyone expecting the second half to match should keep David/Lawrence’s advice in mind.

Peerless at creating art-designed other-worlds, Scott’s never been great at taming wayward narratives, as the multiple versions of Blade Runner, Alien and Kingdom Of Heaven attest.

And it’s round about this point that Prometheus starts slipping from a five-star triumph to a three-star headscratcher.

Inventive body-horror abounds – the exploding Engineer, Fifield and Millburn (Rafe Spall) getting menaced by a slimy cock-serpent – and Shaw proves her kick-ass credentials by climbing into the Med Pod for some impromptu surgery.

It’s a useful bit of self-help kit that’s strangely absent from future films – “They only made a dozen,” explains someone, unconvincingly.

This is just one of many tantalising loose ends/inconsistencies, including, but not limited to, the following: why doesn’t anybody take any weapons to LV-223?

Why do highly trained scientists risk life and limb by removing their helmets in a potentially hostile environment, before proceeding to tramp all over potentially significant finds like members of a school field trip?

Why does David infect Holloway with an alien spore – is he annoyed because everyone thinks Logan looks like Tom Hardy?

Why is Guy Pearce dressed up like Mr Burns from The Simpsons?

Why would anyone attempt to make contact with alien lifeforms without taking precautions, or make a $130m movie without considering any of the above?

Frustratingly, the script is smart enough to inscribe some of its own flaws into the dialogue. “We made you because we could,” Holloway tells David, although it might as well be Scott explaining why he attempted such a belated prequel.

“Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?” is the all-too-pertinent response.

Yes, David, we can. There’s a chance that everything will be cleared up in later films/longer cuts, or perhaps sci-fi needs mystery like aliens need hosts, and we’ll be forever in the dark.

“There’s nothing to learn,” concludes a major character before slipping off towards the great sequel in the sky, as David bids them a bland, blond bon voyage.

And that’s Prometheus in a nutshell: it may leave all the big questions unanswered, but it’s one hell of a trip.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • spid2411

      Oct 5th 2012, 10:15


      "one hell of a trip"? Were you watching the same film as everyone else? It was awful! So very, very bad. And " the script is smart enough to inscribe some of its own flaws" ?? Really? You think it had a smart script? Think you need to give me some of whatever you were on when you watched that turkey so I can go back and watch Howard the Duck again and give it 5 stars and rave about the complexity if its script.

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    • Jareth64

      Oct 8th 2012, 11:43


      A quick scan online reveals the truth about this film. I've no idea what TotalFilm are playing at here but they're, once again, proving unreliable. The film is awful. It's a convoluted, turgid mess. "The script is smart enough to inscribe some of its own flaws" - have you lot been bribed to write a positive review? The script is one of the worst parts of the film. Well... save your money, everyone. Rent it once and then consign it to the waste bin of Bad Films.

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    • spid2411

      Oct 8th 2012, 12:28

      well said Jareth64 - I have often wondered if studios throw a few quid the way of the main film reviewers to make sure a piece of cr@p gets a great write up. Fair enough, film is a matter of taste and opinion but in some cases a film is just very badly made and has a script that appears to have been written in crayon e.g. Prometheus. Maybe it is a case of denial as we saw with the George Lucas prequels getting solid reviews despite being terrible - people WANT them to be good and the same applies to a sci-fi movie made by the guy who created a couple of classics in that genre. But that was an awful long time ago (similar to Lucas and Star Wars in that respect) and the fact is that this was the most disappointing film of the year.

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    • ChrisWootton

      Oct 8th 2012, 12:52


      Of course they do. I saw a clip online where Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are presenting Cowboys and Aliens at a screening, they thank the studio and all that sort of stuff but then they actually thank Empire Magazine as well.. (they gave it 4 stars where everyone else gave it 2.. as it was s**t). Everyone has to make their money and magazines are no different, it's just a shame that it's got to the stage where you can't trust a magazine to give an honest critique anymore making them almost redundant. Prometheus (in my opinion) was awful, but there are plenty of people who liked it.. I just don't understand how.. definitely the most disappointing movie of this year and in recent memory.

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    • Hadouken76

      Oct 8th 2012, 14:08

      "Damon Lindelof, whose work on Lost has become a byword for philosophical prick teasing." Translation : Don't bother explaining the mysterious bolloques, so that pseuds may pick over it looking for hidden meanings. Another easy payday for master bullsh/ter Lindedof.

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    • smellyhands

      Oct 8th 2012, 15:14

      "And it’s round about this point that Prometheus starts slipping from a five-star triumph to a three-star headscratcher." So when did climb its way up to a four star?

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    • johnclarkson

      Oct 9th 2012, 4:52

      Gotta agree with everyone above. Props to Prometheus looking great but the script was DOA. It wasn't that it was bad out of sheer incompetence; it was bad out of a twisted, self-satisfied smugness and inept over-use of a handful of writer's crutches: misdirection, dead-ends, cutesy convenient events, stupid (when needed) characters, over-reaching assumptions, and superfluous scenes. OK. That is sheer incompetence. The flow and momentum of the story are key. You drift away from that when you start littering the movie with extra garbage (I watch your dreams, I can't have a baby, I've lost my faith, I wanna live forever.) To a screenwriter who doesn't know better, he thinks these are nuanced reversals and subtle subtext and solid character development. Wrong. All that stuff rings false (and was not well written, to boot.) If you feel it is essential to include, show us, don't tell us. (Sorry, I got angry there at the end. This movie p**ses me off on more than one level.)

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    • FBSHeldberg

      Oct 11th 2012, 21:45

      Thanks for the review Matt. Although it sounds like you enjoyed the film, there is definitely a different view going on in the discussion. It’s undeniable that there have been mixed feelings on this movie, but they are at opposite ends of the scale. I’m always interested in seeing a love it or hate it movie, especially with a good cast. I’ve been good about not reading too much of the story, so I don’t spoil it for myself, and coworkers of mine from DISH have said that regardless of negative response this is a movie I need to see. My passion for buying movies is sweet and sour like the drama behind the camera; I love the smell of a new Blu-ray, it’s an addicting, but expensive habit. The decision to start renting from Blockbuster @Home has given me the freedom to save a lot of money, but the best part is that I’ve tripled the amount of movies I can afford to watch in a month.

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    • tonyskitch

      Oct 15th 2012, 9:58


      I'm sorry, but this film just doesn't float my boat... It Is a pile of absolute s**te compared to the first alien movie. The script is c**p, the whole plot is flawed and it doesn't follow the actual event line of the original. What do they think we are, bloody idiots? The Space Jockey is nowhere near large enough, the alien itself is pathetic and tiny. Also, the alien bursts out of the Space Jockey's chest in the wrong place, not to mention the face that in Prometheus the alien completely destroys his chest, wheras in Alien, it only leaves a small hole and a few burst ribs... and Alien was made over 30 years ago. Pathetic if you ask me. Never been more dissapointed in my entire life, I swear down. This movie is just awful for anyone blessed with the gift of a brain...

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    • RaveyDaveyGravy

      Oct 15th 2012, 13:22


      Got to disagree with the above. I left it till DVD to escape the worst case of over hyping I have ever seen. So glad I did. Loved it.

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    • RidleyS91

      Oct 15th 2012, 21:00


      First: This ain't Alien and that's why people moans. Second: If this movie was a re-make or traditional prequel to Alien, people would have moaned Third: When a movie leaves loose ends in order to answer them in a possible sequel, people moans. Fourth: When a movie answers every single plot thread, people moans. Then: every time there would be someone who moans because a movie didn't delivered what they expected. I love Alien. I really do, but this movie is a different beast altogether. People praises the script for the first Alien but they seem to miss that it's actually just another slasher movie that was bought at first by Roger Corman! Yes, Prometheus had its flaws but when you people star nitpicking everything then things get miles away from criticism to downright trolling. All in all, this is one of the very best Sci-fi movies from recent years if not for their achievements, at least for bloody trying!

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    • royceearnestjr

      Oct 19th 2012, 12:22


      A glorious return to the sci-fi genre, a riveting film thats also brilliant, epic, haunting, bold and truly amazing. Director, Ridley Scott has crafted yet his most excellent and extroadinary masterpiece yet. Scott returns to full form in the genre that made him famous and brings something truly incrediable to the screen again and it delivers. A true original. A groundbreaking roller-coaster ride thats filled with eye-popping special effects and spectacular action. It`s bone-chilling, intensely gripping and insanely heart-pounding. A mind-blowing thrill-machine that will take your breath away. It grabs you and shakes you, delving you deep into the horror of space and the Alien universe along with some awesome suspense and terrifying moments. A brilliantly entertaining and explosive movie experiance. A total must-see for any fan of the genre. A pulse-pounding and adrenaline-charged edge of your seat ride. It has a gifted and great all-star cast. Michael Fassbender gives an extroadinary performance as the cyborg, David. Fassbender totally embodies this character and makes it his own. Naomi Rapace is terrific, shes breaking out just fine in her Hollywood performances. Charlize Theron is excellent. Idris Elba is fantastic. I loved it. And delivers a jaw-dropping ending that will make you want to see it again.

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    • will73

      Oct 21st 2012, 19:36


      The previous review reads a bit like some marketing by the studio behind this shambles of a movie.The only thing jaw-dropping about it was how utterly c**p it was. Nobody was terrific in it as the script was so bad nobody could be. And there was nothing chilling or exciting about it either - seen it all before but done far better. And as for what way exactly? Any sci-fi fan who enjoyed films like Blade Runner, Forbidden Planet, The Thing (1982 version), District 9 etc will detest this vacuous mess.

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    • Igrayne

      Dec 28th 2012, 20:50

      I thought Prometheus just deserved it's four stars but to say Rapace was "terrific" and Elba was "fantastic"? Nonsense, Rapace was good and Elba was not involved in anything except the unconvincing scene where he manages to seduce Vickers. Excellent cinematography, soundtrack, visuals and good acting from the main cast. First half definitely superior to the second but still good all around. They did bring weapons by the way shotgun type weapons and flame throwers, plus the droid was there for protection as well as its other duties. The suggestion was that the droid had been on his own too long and had began to develop questions about himself and his meaning, hence Lawrence of Arabia. Agree about the dvd comment, Prometheus had been all but ruined for me by opinions of cinema goers and over hype, enjoyed it tohoroughly on dvd. More please now newly underrated Sir Ridley Scott.

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    • Igrayne

      Dec 28th 2012, 20:51



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    • sashashapiro

      Feb 17th 2013, 15:03


      I didn't really know how to take this film. On one hand i expected it to be a prequel to the alien films, instead i got something completely different.

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