Ridley Scott’s new film, Prometheus, has been released to mainly lukewarm reviews. Apparently it is not a bad film. but it isn’t seen as living up to the heritage of Alien and is being castigated for it. That seems remarkably unfair: part of what makes Alien so good are the unexpected moments of when we first see the Alien and revelations about some of the crew. The nature of film publicity these days, as well as the fact that Alien is now so well known and its twists so familiar and largely expected, means that Prometheus could never really succeed as a thriller type horror and carry the same surprises. Moreover, for it to inhabit the same cinematic reality as Alien it has to be familiar and retread a lot of the same ground.
I think there is a larger problem of being seen to revisit or retread old ground. Alien was innovative and brought us a grimy space ship and a largely blue collar cast of astronauts. It had great shocks and surprises. And it was something, prior to Prometheus, Scott had never gone back to. In fact, his work has been very eclectic: Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, Gladiator, Black Rain, Kingdom of Heaven, Body of Lies and American Gangster amongst others. However, Blade Runner aside, how many of them have been truly great?
I know this is a minority view, but I really don’t rate Gladiator. The scenes with the grass seem largely pointless. A lot of it is obviously studio shot and the ending is obviously tacked on and seems to undermine the film as it is a jarring tonal shift and undermines a lot of the film’s earlier drama.
Robin Hood, featuring Crowe and again set in a historical mileu, is also underwhelming (although many more people seem to agree with me on that one) and Kingdom of Haven is nearly instantly forgettable.
Of more contemporary films, there is no sense of them being about much of anything. There is no great sense of myth, no greater story, no sense of scale. They’re all competently done and well told, but they don’t speak to me or say anything about humanity. I just feel a director held in such high regard should have something to say and touch me.
And that leaves Blade Runner. When I saw Inception, which I genuinely think is one of the best films ever made, I said it was the best film since Blade Runner. Blade Runner transcends both science fiction and pulp detective fiction and is both primal and mythic: desperation causes androids to escape, to live their limited lives to the full and the film is both about their immediate fears and needs and a rumination on what makes us human. And it provides no easy answers, but one of the best scenes of all time: Rutger Hauer’s speech about what he has seen and experienced.
Worryingly, Ridley Scott also plans to revisit Blade Runner.