The most anticipated movie of the year, Ridley Scott's return to the Alien universe, has arrived.
How do you watch the most anticipated movie of the year? With the same level of expectation you have of any other blockbuster action flick? Or with the level of expectation built by Ridley Scott's return to sci-fi for the first time in 30 years, by a setting that is shared by a true classic of the genre, and by the steady release of some 26 trailers that were spread feverishly online?
It's kind of a big question; it inflects what you think of the Alien 'prequel' Prometheus, which is good, beautiful in many ways, transcendentally horrific, but probably isn't the great film it was hyped to be.
In the foreseeable future, 2089, archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) have uncovered a specific star map repeated in the cave art of disparate ancient cultures. Shaw believes that the messages were left by the extraterrestrial creators of the human race, which is just the kind of wacky hypothesis a wealthy industrialist — in this case, Peter Weyland (a very wizened Guy Pearce) of the Weyland Corporation — would philanthropise.
With a ragtag crew including Idris Elba as ship captain, Charlize Theron as the icy mission director, and Michael Fassbender as the resident android, they board the vessel Prometheus and head for the one habitable moon in the star map's radius. Once out of their snooze-optimising stasis pods, they explore the rock.
Through the framework of an archaeological expedition, a number of creepy clues consistent with the Alien aesthetic are dug up: what looks like an alien wine cellar, a temple, black sludge, corpses, and some mandatory, though primitive, face-hugging critters. What does it all mean? The most frustrating thing is that you're waiting on the edge of your seat for these things to be properly woven together, and they're not (much like in Lost, cowriter Damon Lindelof's previous project). The potted plot spills over into underdeveloped characters who are saddled with a fair few cliches. Prometheus's attempts to address the mystical over the mechanical, political, and social seem a net detriment.
Prometheus remains a cut above, combining an ambitious story, strong sense of conviction, and some excellent performances, particularly from Fassbender. The film also looks amazing, the classic, sinewy gothic of original designer HR Giger having been passed through a nouveau filter of Apple iOS and Scandinavian clean lines that really works. It's one of the richest, most vividly coloured 3D experiences around.
When we look back on Alien, it is with eyes that have seen film history bend around it, that can spot the break in design trends, and that deify Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) as not just a rare strong female character but a rare strong character full stop. We won't have the benefit of hindsight on Prometheus for some time. Perhaps it will be similarly loved and respected, but at this point that's not written in the stars.
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