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Hype can be a dangerous thing and few movie releases this year have generated as much of it as Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s return to the universe of Alien which he helped create in his seminal 1979 masterpiece. Fans jaded by the sci-fi horror franchise’s fortunes following the first sequel have been rubbing their hands together in anticipation for his return to the saga, ready to banish the memories of Alien 3, Alien Resurrection and those disastrous crossovers with the Predator series. This one was bound to be a classic because Scott was on board and because the plot would finally be solving the great mystery of the Space Jockey.

The film, which finally released last weekend, has met mixed reaction. Despite being lauded for its visual design and world-building, the dialogue and relative lack of scares have not been so well-received. I don’t consider myself a hardcore Alien fan but like so many I love the first two films and placed the prequel into my Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2012, so which side of the fence do I fall on?

Yes Prometheus has its faults but the film is far better than Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection and a highly engaging and enjoyable piece of science-fiction cinema in its own right. The story concerns a mission funded by the Weyland Corporation to investigate a habitable moon in a solar system that has been mapped in ancient carvings and cave paintings created by numerous early civilizations on Earth.  Filling Ripley’s shoes is Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw, a religious scientist with a burning desire to discover the truth of mankind’s origins. Her crewmates include her other half Logan Marshall-Green, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender who plays this movie’s synthetic human David.

Not long after the Prometheus touches down on LV-223 the intrepid team set out to explore the dark passages of a giant pyramid, the interior of which is filled with air that is cleaner than Earth but as you might expect it isn’t long before they encounter certain entities that don’t take kindly to visitors. The strength of the visual design is plain throughout, the hostile set designs give a great sense of a long dead alien civilization but the creature design is, of course, the highlight, the film-makers largely shunning CGI for much more believable practical effects. But it’s not just LV-223 that looks good, the Prometheus itself is a masterful example of sleek imaginative future-tech. The whole film totally sells the look of its science fiction.

The cast generally do a very good job in their character roles but they largely aren’t as memorable as their counterparts in the original film or the gung-ho marines of Aliens. Theron’s Weyland employee is enjoyably hissable as the corporate type while Elba’s captain is fairly entertaining despite his rather limited screen time but Fassbender’s ambiguity is easily the highlight in the acting stakes. Rapace, meanwhile, will never be as iconic as Sigourney Weaver but still provides an interesting character worth caring about.

Unfortunately the script doesn’t hold a candle to the more naturalistic and believable dialogue of the original film. Here the talk is much more concerned with the big questions than the everyday realities of truckers in space and while a few of the crew are just there to do their jobs the main core of the intrepid are obsessed with discovering their origins and for some reason that’s just not as compelling as a commercial crew investigating a mystery signal to avoid forfeiture of shares.

There’s also a slight lack of really big scares but this is made up for by plenty of atmosphere and while there’s nothing to match the classic chest-burster moment one scene of surgery is sure to raise a few pulses. But the great strength of Prometheus is that it absorbs you, which in this case is a mark of a well-built world and a strong atmosphere. The film might not meet the hype and many fans will be left disappointed but if you give it a chance it’s a highly entertaining science fiction creation.

Verdict

Solid on all scores except the design which excels. A script with big questions comes up with largely satisfying answers but this long-awaited prequel, which has already proven divisive, is still short of the classics that spawned it. Nevertheless there are few movies of this ilk that come along so well-constructed.

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