Why 'Prometheus' had better be out of this world

Sat, Apr 14, 2012, 01:00

WHEN PROMETHEUS IS finally released in June it had better be the single greatest film ever made. No, the Alien prequel had better be greater than that. It would want to be the most important work of art of the past century. A Guernica mating with a Ulysses, before sucking the face of, and then bursting from the chest of, every one of The Beatles.

Why? Because it is almost a year since the film’s teaser campaign began, building anticipation to such rabid levels that if Prometheus were to be, say, an excellent, well-acted, beautifully edited and directed sci-fi epic that adds to the legacy of Ridley Scott’s original masterpiece of modern horror, that just won’t be enough to satisfy expectations.

It began as an IMDB rumour – Untitled Alien Prequel – followed by occasional nuggets from director Scott, and details of cast and possible title. In July of last year, the visual drip-drip began. That picture was only of an astronaut either floating, or falling, or leaping, or doing star jumps. But the paucity of the information contained therein set a trend that would continue through sci-fi conventions, online trailers, a terrible “TED talk from the future” by Guy Pearce’s corporate baddie, various half bits of plot and glimpses of characters . . . month after increasingly tortuous month. Until this week, when several journalists were invited to see the opening sections of the film, and some other scenes, and wrote long “what did we learn” pieces about what they glimpsed. We learned largely that they see no point in biting the hand of the alien that feeds off it.

A remarkable amount has been written, so that even as the trickle of facts only slowly developed into something close to being a stream, fanboys and press have been gushing for some time. Unsurprisingly, the Wikipedia entry for “Prometheus (film)” is now far times longer than that of the character of Greek myth.

Of its more traditional marketing, Prometheus’s trailers have been good, but are only the latest of those propelled along by a throbbing Hans Zimmer-esque soundtrack, in which the bass woofs as the pictures pulse. It was very effective with The Dark Knight five years ago; still pretty good with Inception two years ago; increasingly tiresome on Tron: Legacy last year; and now it has become lazy. You could add one of those soundtracks to pulsing images of a man ironing his underwear and it would look foreboding. Although, come to think of it . . .

Through a combination of all of this, though, Prometheus has made itself the ne plus ultra of teaser campaigns. Yet, as Scott understood so well in the original Alien (as taught by its famous, water-bound progenitor Jaws) the viewer’s imagination when offered only glimpses is often far more vivid than the whole as ultimately revealed. At least Scott has form in satisfying anticipation – the HR Giger alien is among modern culture’s most terrifying monsters – but this campaign runs the risk of terrible anti-climax.

There are warnings from recent history, such as the complex AI: Artificial Intelligence campaign followed by a dud film. And a few years ago, Cloverfield arrived with a magnificent trailer which at first appeared to be an indie flick about hip New Yorkers flouncing about at a loft party, until it was magnificently interrupted by distant explosions and the sudden arrival out of the night sky of the Statue of Liberty’s head. Its soundtrack was someone screaming “oh my God” repeatedly. While it was accompanied by a complex viral campaign involving slushies and fake Japanese brands and news footage of oil rigs being sucked into the ocean, its strength was that original, brilliant short film that doubled as a trailer. Except there was one fatal flaw: that original, clever, tantalising short film was the movie.

When people eventually went to see Cloverfield, they spent 15 minutes making get-on-with-it swirls with their fingers, as the hip New Yorkers went about their party as the only hipsters on the planet who didn’t realise that lady Liberty’s decapitation was imminent. After that, it was just a monster film. A decent found-footage monster film, but unable to live up to the adrenalin shock of that tightly edited two minutes of the trailer. Prometheus, though, isn’t a tightly edited two minutes: it’s a slow reveal. So slow that you wonder could it be sustained indefinitely, like a myth of a movie, an unfinished masterpiece, known only through stills and cast interviews and occasional viewings of random scenes.

Prometheus, with its intricate, thoughtful, long-game campaign, might eventually catch fire. But if it doesn’t, it could well be chained to a cinematic rock and have its liver pecked at by aggrieved critics.

At which point, we thank Wikipedia for facilitating that metaphor pile-up.

Twitter: @shanehegarty