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Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012)
Ridley Scott’s return to science fiction, thirty years after Blade Runner, would be a big deal on its own. That he has returned with a revisitation of the universe of his other science fiction classic, Alien, makes this an even more enticing prospect. Yet there’s a reason the trailers have soft-pedalled the connection to the 1979 film: Prometheus is quite a different film in both intent and execution.
It takes place before Alien, and follows a deep space mission to find a star system that had been depicted in ancient cave paintings. Led by archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and the improbably icy project sponsor Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), the mission hopes to uncover secrets about Earth’s origins. The team lands on a moon, finds and enters an ancient alien structure, and undertakes an orderly, well organised series of explorations in relative safety things start to go disastrously wrong.
Scott’s original Alien took a very similar opening set-up and turned it into a single-minded exercise in suspense and occasional visceral horror. Prometheus, commendably, is more ambitious. There’s a strong element of Alien-style menace, but Scott also wants to have a try at more thoughtful, idea-driven science-fiction. The film works to some extent on both fronts, but never really gels as a whole: it’s a film more interesting and laudable for what it attempts than what it actually manages.
Blade Runner (along with Close Encounters) has always been the textbook film demonstrating both the benefits and the pitfalls of preparing revised versions of classic films. The benefits are clear because the Director’s Cut is so clearly a better version. Yet it also illustrated the problems these director’s versions can produce: there are usually compromises involved in making the director’s cut, which may create new problems or shortcomings, and the original cut (which remains historically important and for some might be the preferred version) can fall out of circulation. So for years it was hard to get the original version of Blade Runner; other films, like Close Encounters, Apocalypse Now, Star Wars and Touch of Evil are locked in similar limbo.