Alien origins get lost in space
PROMETHEUS Sci-fi. Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Sean Harris, Rafe Spall, Logan Marshall-Green. Directed by Ridley Scott. Cert 15A
Part of the problem faced by Prometheus is the expectation surrounding it. The idea of Ridley Scott returning to an origin story for his classic 1979 space-thriller Alien after all this time certainly whets the appetite.
That movie, and its James Cameron-directed 1986 sequel Aliens, set a new bar for sci-fi that was smart and magnificently presented, but also worked on a visceral level for audiences. Could Scott reach the same standard some 33 years later?
Alas, as Paul Newman's character in The Road to Perdition says: "It's the hope that kills you."
Without the added pressure, this would be a solid, if self-consciously cerebral, sci-fi movie.
Set some 30 years before Ellen Ripley and the crew of the Nostromo picked up a distress signal from LV-426, Prometheus follows a mission inspired by the work of Dr Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), a scientist whose discovery of a series of ancient 'star maps' leads the wealthy Weyland Corporation to fund an interstellar search for no less than the origins of mankind itself.
Despite Scott and his screenwriters' protests to the contrary, Prometheus is clearly a prequel to Alien but is at times an extremely flat and muddled piece of work, mostly down to a script which feels like it has been chopped and changed several times over the years.
That said, amid all the 'Who are we?/Why are we here?' chin-stroking, there's still a decent enough movie to be seen despite the unnecessary and frankly annoying 3D murk.
In Noomi Rapace, who played Lizbeth Salander in the Swedish Millennium trilogy, we have a worthy heroine after the Ripley mode. Michael Fassbender's android, David, has the sinister aspect of Ian Holm's Ash in the original, while Charlize Theron is equally impressive as the icy Weyland executive in charge of the mission.
After all the philosophical musings, Ridley Scott suddenly remembers that he's at the helm of a much-anticipated actioner, with the result that the last 20 minutes zip by in a frenzied effort to tie up the loose ends before the audience loses patience.
It feels rushed and forced, a bolted-on batch of thrills to a story which doesn't really hold together, but just about scrapes by through the skill of its cast and director.
HHHII ... at a stretch.
SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN Fantasy. Starring Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, Lily Cole. Directed by Rupert Sanders. Cert 12A
The second adaptation of the story of Snow White to arrive in our cinemas in a matter of months eschews the comic aspects of Mirror Mirror (in which Julia Roberts played the wicked stepmother for laughs) in favour of an initially more straightforward telling of the fairytale.
In a nicely stylish and Gothic pre-title sequence we see Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron in even icier mode than she is in Prometheus) kill her new husband, seize his kingdom and lock his young daughter away. Cut to several years later and Snow White (a suitably pale Kristen Stewart) escapes to the Dark Forest pursued by a mercenary huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) where she hooks up with a group of dwarves and plots to regain her kingdom.
Essentially we have three movies in one here, kicking off with a standard fairytale, morphing into a Lord of the Rings knock-off in the middle and winding up with Kristen Stewart in Joan of Arc mode. It all looks fine but, apart from Theron in panto-villain mode and the banter between the dwarves (several great English stalwarts among them), Stewart's moody, one-note performance holds the film back. HHIII
THE ANGELS' SHARE Drama/Comedy. Starring Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw, Gary Maitland, Jasmin Riggins, Siobhan Reilly. Directed by Ken Loach. Cert 15A
Ken Loach's latest Cannes prize-winner begins with a typical dose of social realism as Glaswegian Robbie (newcomer Paul Brannigan) narrowly escapes prison for a violent crime and is ordered to perform community service. He is determined to escape his background and provide for his girlfriend and young child.
As part of Robbie's service, his supervisor Harry (Loach regular John Henshaw) introduces his charges to the pleasures of whisky-tasting and Robbie discovers that he has the nose and palate of a natural expert.
In the second half the movie shifts gear entirely into an Ealing-esque heist caper. Loach and his regular scriptwriter Paul Laverty manage to balance the grit with the knockabout comedy and, while some may feel that the end result is somewhat slight by the director's standards, The Angels' Share has a great heart and warmth, aided in no small part by the performances of its largely unknown cast. HHHII
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Lovers of extreme arthouse will be drawn to The Turin Horse, HHHII, a slow, virtually dialogue-free black and white evocation of the monotonous existence of a carter and his daughter in a bleak, windswept cottage in the middle of nowhere. Two-and-a-half hours long, too.
Top Cat HIIII is a Mexican-made animation which takes the look of the classic '60s cartoon and does nothing with either the characters or the story. Avoid.