Every prequel is a badly told joke; the kind where the comedian shoehorns-in extra details, adding “oh yeah, and the penguin was Jewish” after the punch-line. Prequels are even worse than a bad joke, in fact, because what they add is always unnecessary. They’re the story before the story, based on a false premise: that the audience cares what happened before. This is the worst kind of craven, Hollywood-thinking. In effect, a prequel says: we’re so out of ideas, so lacking in integrity, we’re not even satisfied with copying good ideas (in sequels) any more. We need a new way to defame the original, so we’ve come up with this: the prequel, wholly useless and asked-for by no-one. I give you: Prometheus.
On an unnamed planet, an unnamed alien swallows some black goop and disintegrates. (Is his suicide a criticism of Ridley Scott’s film?) What follows is a movie which “shares some DNA” with the Alien series, the same way a Big Mac “shares some DNA” with fillet mignon. A group of scientists touchdown on an alien world (one strangely familiar to the audience). They are searching for evidence that God was an astronaut. Among them are the all the usual suspects in an Alien film: a sneaky cyborg, a spunky heroine, and a corporate slime-ball. Sure enough, something nasty is impregnated in someone’s womb. Fluids spurt. Sexual neurosis explodes. And the best advice – to nuke the site from orbit – gets ignored.
I think it was a mistake to hire Lost-scribe Damon Lindelof to doctor this script. Lindelof has only got one set of ideas and his cack-handed attempt to re-cycle them is patently obvious in Prometheus. The mysterious island from Lost is now a forbidden planet. The passengers of the downed aircraft (in Lost) are much like the spaceship’s crew. Prometheus has all the pseudo-“spiritual” baloney that crippled Lost in its final seasons, plus all the plot holes and “that’ll do” approach that led to the worst final episode of a TV series you could think of. Even the misguided folk who want answers from the Alien series are going to be bitterly disappointed with what they get. There’s no substitute for H.R. Giger’s opium-dream, man-size penis-monster in Prometheus. The bad guy aliens are big bald white men… with great abs. They’re more like a sauna gone wrong than something that scuttled darkly out of our collective unconscious.
Ridley Scott is getting old, and like all old directors (Clint Eastwood, Clint Eastwood) he’s let his standards slip. The seasoned professional is still in him, and Prometheus is the work of a skilled craftsman. It moves along at a brisk pace and the jumpy bits make you jump. It’s just that… there’s nothing he (and sure as hell not Damon Lindelof) can do to improve on Alien. We’re already seen the best version of this idea. Prometheus was misconceived from the get-go with its gormless Erich von Daniken plot and its shameless lack of conviction. Neither Scott nor Lindelof has a clue why anything happened in the original movie, they just know Twentieth Century Fox has a lucrative opening in its summer release schedule.
The only good idea in this film is to cast Michael Fassbender as a cyborg. Better still, a cyborg who worships Lawrence of Arabia (as played, inimitably, by Peter O’Toole). There’s no-one who can match Fassbender when he displays supercilious contempt for lesser beings. His chin is as unyielding as the future. He’s merciless, a supermodel… he looks like that, and he’s Irish, too. Even though he gets brutally decapitated in this movie, he still gets the girl. The grateful look he gives Noomi Rapace, as she pops his severed head in a holdall, is the one moment of sweetness Fassbender’s character allows himself. Otherwise, he looks at people like he’s into something kinky. What Schwarzenegger was to guns; Fassbender is to sex.
David Fincher described making Alien 3 as a “baptism of fire”. “I’d always had this naive idea that everybody wants to make movies as good as they can be, which is stupid,” he once said. “[The producers] would say, ‘Look, you could have somebody piss against the wall for two hours and call it Alien 3 and it would still do 30 million dollars’ worth of business.” Not much has changed in twenty years, except now it’s the director, Ridley Scott, who doesn’t give a shit. Prometheus has a brilliant marketing campaign, but it’s a major disappointment when you see the film. This Alien has no guts, no brains, no balls. It’s a prequel. Not even an afterthought. To paraphrase Ellen Ripley: “Get away from the original, you bitch!”