After an elongated weekend of casually accepted voluntary serfdom it was nice to know that, somewhere out there, beyond the perky red, white and blue vista; far away from the cheery plastic bunting plucked from supermarket bargain bins and draped willy-nilly over every house, shop and child; beyond the RSI inducing damp flag wavery and octogenarian inspired sycophantic warblings of our best and brightest nobodies; beyond all this someone, thankfully was looking again at issues that matter to us all, striving to find answers to the biggest questions that face humankind, issues other than the infectious vicissitudes of a ninety-year-old casual racist’s bladder. Who are we? Where do we come from? Were we created, way back when, by a race of space travelling alien beings? What exactly is the seemingly half-human half extra-terrestrial ‘Space Jockey’ glimpsed at the beginning of Ridley Scott’s classic 1979 Sci-Fi Horror film Alien? These questions, which all men have asked since the dawn of time were, it seemed, on the verge of being answered.
The trailers for Prometheus looked good. On the internet a gentle buzz had been building gradually over many months until finally, at the end of May 2012, reaching cacophonous levels of excited fan-boy hand rubbing, and the clickety-clack of Sci-Fi nerds on official forums typing stuff like this: ‘Just over 48 hours to go and i’m still like an excited 10 year old at Christmas and will not be swayed at all, anyone esle feel the same?’ And this: ‘Here’s wishing everyone the most wonderful, mind blowing experience when you see P R O M E T H E U S!’
And so, as the cogs and flywheels of Hollywood’s geek-fuelled promotion engine span faster and more noisily, blasting off from the web and out into the consciousness range of real-life TV ogling consumer-bots, the unstoppable Xenomorphs from planet hype crept steadily – Blip… blip… blip… – above the ceiling tiles of innocuous, cheery, bunting’d living rooms and sports halls, marching to the beat of their heinous queen, waiting for the order to pounce…
The weekend was over, the bunting had blown away. Prince Philip’s knackered bladder hadn’t exploded, and everyone (with the probable exceptions of the Queen, the Royal family, and any peasants with a degree of taste, self respect or dislike of being soaked to the bone) had had a thoroughly bloody good time. I, for one, had loved it. But, with the excitement of the Jubilee over, many of us needed a new fix of media generated imaginary fun to keep the wolves of economic despair and impending poverty from the increasingly battered door. There was a gap in my soul that ached to be filled, a gap the exact same shape and size of Prometheus… in 3D. Standing in front of the ticket machine in my local Odeon, I pressed the appropriate parts of the touch-screen, breathing my hot, excited breath on to cold fingers when the machine wouldn’t respond quick enough to my impatience. Finally I held my Debit Card before the slot… and I stopped. Why the hell would I want to pay so much money to see some stupid, over-hyped crap about Aliens and stuff? In a lucid moment of desperate clarity I turned and left, ticket-less, for home.
But something else happened that day that made me change my mind. Ray Bradbury, the ninety-one year-old American author of such classic and brilliant science fiction books as Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man, had died. This news was the first thing I read when I got home from my failure/refusal to throw myself into a multi-dimensional consumerist cine-binge, and the first thing I did was flick through the first few pages of our paperback copy of the Martian Chronicles. The first story in that themed collection of strange, beautiful, funny tales of Humanity’s repeated attempts to colonise the notoriously red 4th planet is called Rocket Summer, and is only one page long. In this single page Bradbury somehow manages to crystallise not only what’s great about the very best science fiction writing, he encapsulates what is best and boldest in people, in the optimism of 20th Century American Modernism, in humanity’s quest to better itself through learning, through discovery, through a sense of wonder at the universe, at the stars. For a rare moment all my cynicism faded and, like a ten-year-old boy reading his first Asimov, Clarke or, indeed, Bradbury story, I found the vastness and mystery of infinite empty space exciting. And at that moment the only valid course of action available to me, I thought, was to go and see Prometheus. In 3D!
I’m not going to say much about the twists the film’s plot; anyone interested in Prometheus will no doubt see it and make up their own mind about it. In fact, anyone with half a functioning mind or bladder will be able to figure out the events of the film almost word-for-word just by watching the trailer a couple of times and then looking up the word Prometheus on Wikipedia.
The feel of the film is easy to sum up though. Imagine the plot of 2001: A Space Odyssey minus all the thoughtful, unanswerable mystery and brain-hammeringly trippy camera effects, combined with the graphic design of Alien and Aliens minus the horror and action, all shot through with patronising Hollywood japery, distractingly 3D-friendly action sequences, and boring, self-important cod-philosophy.
The ten-year-old boy that Bradbury’s perfect one-page tale had awakened in me was being bludgeoned back into cynical, dreamless slumber by the pomposity of a film which, even though not actually all that long, felt sprawling and unnecessary – probably due to its muddled failure to focus for more than a few minutes on any one particular plot line before being dazzled and shattered once more by an obsession with the director’s Big Idea. Watching Prometheus, I remembered Hemingway’s advice to “Eschew the monumental. Shun the Epic. All the guys who can paint great big pictures can paint great small ones.” But even my imaginary ten-year-old self, having read just one page of science fiction, recognised the overarching naffness of the writing (admittedly, while sitting back and very much enjoying the flawless special effects and the exploits of the cool, mysterious and possibly deadly robot David as played by the cool, mysterious and certainly daftly named Michael Fassbender). Next to the genius of Ray Bradbury, this film was guff.
One last point. The director’s Big Idea is, of course, not the director’s idea at all, but one that, as the film’s title makes over-abundantly clear, is borrowed from mythology – although what the title doesn’t make clear is that versions of this Big Idea have probably been a staple of imaginative fiction since time immemorial. Clarke did it with Kubrick. Erich von Däniken did it in a chariot. Lovecraft did it with Cthulu. Scientology is doing it right now. By Prince Philip’s infected nonagenarian bladder !, even Star trek did it!… But in space no-one can hear you plagiarise.