Don’t ask me how, but I managed to get a ticket to the Cast & Crew Premiere of Prometheus at the Empire Cinema in London’s Leicester Square last night. Though it was disappointing not to see director Ridley Scott or the cast, who are probably saving themselves for tomorrow’s red carpet Premiere (a part of me was hoping I’d get to sit next to Charlize Theron, you can probably guess which part), the experience of going to see a film with nothing but film fans and people who respect the art, in a stunning cinema, was amazing, even if there was a bit of a post-movie crowd crushing to retrieve handed-in phones afterwards. Plus, I saw it three days before the rest of the general public, which makes me feel special.
In 2089 a group of scientists, led by Shaw and Holloway (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green) discover ancient cave paintings on the Isle of Skye depicting giant humanoids reaching up to 6 orbs in the sky. The drawing matches others found all over the world, and point towards a distant planet that may hold some key to the origins of mankind. Four years later, the scientists arrive at the planet LV223 as part of a 17-man crew aboard the Peter Weyland-funded ship Prometheus. Once there, the crew find traces of alien life, but are the answers they receive the ones they were hoping for?
Two girls, a turquoise 1966 T-Bird convertible, a weekend vacation at a friend’s cabin up in the mountains, what could go wrong? Well, in Ridley Scott’s feminist road movie, a heck of a lot, as henpecked housewife Thelma (Geena Davis) and her world-weary waitress best friend Louise (Susan Sarandon) head out from their humdrum lives on more of an adventure than they bargained for, after a run-in with a would-be rapist at a country bar of ill repute.
The titular roles could not be more different, yet both remain well rounded characters, thanks in part to the able performances by the two leads. Though it is the men that seem to shepherd our heroines on the run, they always find a way of fighting back or turning the tables, be it on Harvey Keitel’s cop on their trail (assisted by Stephen Tobolowsky!), Michael Madsen as Louise’s boyfriend Jimmy, Brad Pitt’s first major film role as clothes-shedding hitchhiker J.D. or Christopher McDonald as Thelma’s boorish husband Darryl, eager to get his wife back so she can start making his dinner again.
There’s some great comedy – Darryl unable to watch his beloved football because the cops tapping his phone are too engrossed with Cary Grant in Penny Serenade – and though the story and ending may have been ruined by an overabundance of pop-culture spoofs and references, it is still a very good story. The accents begin to grate after a while, particularly Davis’ pronunciation of Loo-eese, but try to look beyond that at a journey that starts with an accident, and builds to become two strong female characters exploring their own limits, surprising themselves and everyone else.
One of my favourite movie subgenres is the limited cast, limited locations films, where, for whatever reason, only a handful of characters are involved, and are confined to a small number, preferably one or two, of areas. This is best seen in 12 Angry Men, as previously discussed, where the principle cast are the 12 jurors on a case, and the principle sets are the jury room and its adjacent restroom. Similarly, Alien sees the seven crew members of the mining spaceship Nostromo largely confined to the ship and a planet it docks at in response to a distress signal. Things take a turn for the worse when, upon docking, the ship picks up an alien lifeform (later known as a Xenomorph), whose main ambition in life seems to be removing it from other creatures.
The film shows an interesting depiction of the future far removed from the more utopian worlds of more classic science fiction. Here, men seem to have retained dominance (shown by the exclusion of women from any decision making), and where class separation is still rife (the two engineers, Parker and Brett, are paid half as much as everyone else on board). The ship’s design is a far cry from the gleaming visuals of, say, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Nostromo is, after all, a mining craft, so the ship’s functional, mechanical nature is only to be expected, although the overly futuristic sleeping pods do jar with the rest of the ship.
Aside from the infamous ‘chestburster’ scene (of which you can now by lifesize plush toys!), I couldn’t remember most of the film, although in my memory it does tend to blend with the other films from the franchise, as my only previous viewing was in marathon format. That said, there is much that sticks in the mind now, from Hurt’s descent into the alien nest, littered with giant eggs covered in a mysterious fog, or Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) seeing off an 8 ft alien with molecular acid for blood and far too many sets of teeth dressed only in vest and knickers (Ripley’s wearing the knickers, not the alien).
Having seen many survival films, where the cast is slowly whittled down one by one until the final confrontation, I noticed that with Alien it is not immediately obvious who the main character, and therefore the final survivor, is. Most of the characters are given fairly equal screen time, characterisation and dialogue, so it is not until the numbers start to dwindle that it is clear Ripley is the heroine, as earlier in the film she seemed to be the more heartless, professional crewmember, condemning Hurt’s Kane to death by refusing him entry onto the ship without a proper scan. That being said, she does become stupid later on, stopping to put two suffering crewmembers out of their misery minutes before the entire ship, them included, will be blown up (I’ve never understood this, why do ships have self-destruct mechanisms? Were they expecting an alien lifeform to come aboard, and the only way to kill it would be to blow the whole ship up? If so, surely some other defence mechanisms could be implemented instead?), and then she goes back for the cat, kept on board purely to jump out at random moments to scare the bejesus out of anyone in the vicinity.