Prometheus, Ridley Scott, 125 mins (15) The Angels' Share, Ken Loach, 101 mins Snow White and the Huntsman, Rupert Sanders, 120 mins (12A)

'Alien' was all killer and no filler – what a pity Ridley Scott's prequel is dazzled by its own good looks

Nicholas Barber
Wednesday 06 June 2012 14:01
Michael Fassbender is fantastic but his shipmates are a strange bunch in Prometheus
Michael Fassbender is fantastic but his shipmates are a strange bunch in Prometheus

The last time a director made a prequel to his own seminal, 1970s science-fiction film, it was The Phantom Menace, so maybe we should be relieved that Prometheus is a Jar Jar Binks-free zone. On the other hand, the announcement that Ridley Scott would be revisiting Alien, 33 years on, was so intoxicating to the world's sci-fi geeks (e.g. me) that they've been gearing themselves up for a work of genius – and Prometheus definitely isn't that. What it is, is a remake of the original film with a far higher budget, a thick coating of mysticism, and a screenplay that seems to be cobbled together from a dozen different drafts. Not as far removed from The Phantom Menace as it might have been, then.

As in the first Alien, a spaceship full of cryogenically frozen astronauts finds its way to a distant moon where there may be something nasty lurking in the woodshed. The Sigourney Weaver substitute is Noomi Rapace, who plays an English archaeologist, despite her Swedish accent. Among the other crew members are Charlize Theron as a laughably villainous corporate ice maiden, and Michael Fassbender as a fastidious robot with an appreciation of Peter O'Toole. Fassbender, as ever, is fantastic. But his shipmates are a strange, irrational bunch.

In some scenes, they get upset over nothing, while in others they shrug off a gory killing as if it hasn't happened. And then there's a scientist who uncovers the awe-inspiring remnants of an alien civilisation, and reacts with the depressive question, "Do you think we wasted our time coming here?"

It's all a bit of a muddle. Whereas Alien had the streamlined simplicity of its three-word pitch – "Jaws in space" – Prometheus keeps hopping back and forth between the spaceship and the moon's surface, while the protagonists meet their fates in all sorts of confusing, contradictory ways, the tone veering between cod-philosophical solemnity and monster-movie trashiness. That's not to say that there aren't a couple of good, grisly shocks. And the breathtaking design, similar as it is to the first film's, is breathtaking all the same. But if Alien was intended as a spooky little horror movie, only for it to turn out to be a visionary classic, Prometheus gets things the other way round.

The Angels' Share is the new film from one of Scott's contemporaries, Ken Loach (or rather, Ken Loach and Paul Laverty, as the director and screenwriter have been collaborators for decades). It's the story of a hoodlum (Paul Brannigan, a real find) who sniffs a way out of his dead-end situation when he's introduced to the delights of Scotch whisky by his community service officer, John Henshaw. It's a well-meaning comedy-drama, with plenty of earthy jokes and an uplifting sense of optimism. But from its slapped-together sloppiness, you wouldn't guess it had been made by a feted veteran, so much as by a community film group sponsored by a distillery.

To begin with, it's an uncompromising examination of life without prospects on Glasgow's toughest council estates. But then, after about half an hour, it becomes a light-hearted docu-drama about whisky-tasting: much as the young hero of Kes discovered a talent for falconry, Brannigan has a nose for single malts. And then, just as we're adjusting to this feelgood tale, the film changes tack again, and suddenly – a full hour into proceedings – it becomes a wacky 1980s crime caper, complete with kilts, a coachful of nuns, and The Proclaimers on the soundtrack. None of these various ingredients is given room to breathe: the heist feels like an afterthought, Brannigan's flair for whisky identification is irrelevant, and the other characters don't have anything to do except hang around with him. In Scotch terms, you'd say that The Angels' Share had a measure of single malt in it, but some Irn Bru and a pint of lager too.

The year's second live-action retelling of Snow White wants us to forget that it was ever a fairy tale. We're supposed to see Snow White and The Huntsman as an epic – a rain-drenched, mud-spattered epic, full of siege engines, burning villages, and all sorts of borrowings from The Lord of the Rings and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It's certainly spectacular – the director, like Ridley Scott before him, has come straight from making adverts – but it's also a glum, pompous trudge of a film. Kristen Stewart plays Snow White as the same awkward wallflower that she usually plays. And the wicked queen (Charlize Theron, again) is less wicked than endlessly, repetitively angst-ridden. I'm at a loss as to who's going to enjoy it. It's too miserable for Disney Princess collectors, and yet, beneath the Tolkienesque trappings, the story remains as saccharine as when Uncle Walt told it, so it's hardly going to satisfy Game of Thrones devotees. And we don't even meet the dwarves until halfway through. As fun as it is when we finally bump into a cockney gang played by Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Nick Frost et al, we have to endure a lot of rain, mud, and maggot-riddled bird corpses first.

Critic's Choice

Tales of the Night, from Michel Ocelot, is a bewitching children's animation in shadow-puppet style exploring the joys of narrative and myth. Expect eye-popping colour schemes and 3D design of dazzling artistry. An Algerian immigrant joins the French Resistance in Free Men, a tough, revealing war drama by Ismaël Ferroukhi. Tahar Rahim, from A Prophet, is the charismatic lead.

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