Songs I Love: ‘Never Let Me Down’ by David Bowie


EDIT: This article was originally under the heading ‘Great Songs from Bad Albums’, but in the meantime I have been won over by Never Let Me Down – yes, it’s still one of Bowie’s weakest, but I’m very fond of it for the most part, so please be aware that my original dismissal of the LP as seen below is no longer how I feel about it. 

David Bowie’s 1980’s, more than Neil Young’s 1980’s, more than Bob Dylan’s, Paul McCartney’s, Eric Clapton’s…even the Rolling Stones, are the most notorious example of a once-great artist cashing it in and losing untold levels of credibility. The thing is, Bowie’s 1980’s material has plenty of great things in amongst the mediocrity, but I reckon the lamentations are more to do with how much Bowie lost as opposed to the actual content of the newer songs themselves. I mean, I wasn’t alive during any of Bowie’s golden years, but it’s safe for me to assume that the guy was a legend unparalleled in popular music. Then he lost it. The crossroads between good and bad is usually cited as 1983’s massive Let’s Dance album – which did feature a killer first side and the overlooked ‘Criminal World’, but was also a major jump into the mainstream which displayed a less interesting, less exciting Bowie. Would he tread even further into these commercial waters? Such fears were confirmed with 1984’s Tonight LP, a mostly dreadful misfire that not even the fantastic ‘Blue Jean’ could salvage. After that came Never Let Me Down, an unfortunately titled disaster that, while not as rotten as Tonight, was nevertheless a depressingly anonymous and weak effort from an erstwhile genius. The problems were the standard rock-fodder material, the pitiful attempts to recapture past glories (‘Glass Spider’), the empty production and a rap-cameo from Mickey Rourke of all people.

The title track however, is the one to keep. Recorded separately from the rest of the album, it has a real spirit and joyous swing entirely absent from the other songs, and whilst no game-changer in itself, remains one of Bowie’s sweetest and fun tracks from the eighties. A simple song of love, sung in a honey-sweet John Lennon-style which sways and strolls with dreamy grace – listen to the way he sings ‘you danced a little a dance ‘til it made me cry’ in particular. According to Bowie, this was his most personal song to date, which is a bit weird because the radio-friendly sheen would be impersonal-sounding if it wasn’t played with such bounce. Love the chorus too – so very, very eighties, it hurts – at least it would if it didn’t sound so cool. Listen to the way the guitar struts and then the slap bass funks out for a second or two, and then Bowie’s lovely harmonica wails and sighs. I wish this song was on a better album. Ridiculously, it has also been neglected on Bowie retrospectives, only being available on various non-UK versions of his most famous best-ofs.

By the way, it’s not about a girlfriend or boyfriend, it’s about a friend, in this case Bowie’s long-time personal assistant Coco Schwab, who was with him all through the horrors of his LA years and redemptive European period, when Bowie was at an all-time low personally (and all-time high musically).

PS: Nice whistling on the outro too.

The Woman in Black (2011)


This new Woman in Black film is very jumpy. Lots of ‘BOO!’ moments, far too many to count. The adverts feature that thing that a lot of not-very-good horrors do, which is show footage of a bunch of wimps leaping out of their seats (sometimes in night-vision, which makes them look extra creepy), though for all we know they could have been watching something much scarier, like the new Jennifer Aniston movie. The idea behind these ads is – ‘look, you know all those trailers that tell you this is scary and you will be scared and all that. Don’t believe them. We’re the real deal. Look, here are people just like you pooping their pantaloons, and you will too’.

Well, as I said, the film is jumpy. Jumps are a guaranteed way to scare people. If it’s quiet and you’re reading a book, let’s say for example’s sake, The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, you’re lost in concentration and some twat pops a balloon right next to you, then you will jump. You may also get rather annoyed with said prankster. After a while, The Woman in Black feels like the work of a prankster. And you too may get annoyed. I did a little, it has to be said.

It also has to be said that the film is not scary, and I know that it’s a ‘12’, but what about Jaws, which used to be a ‘PG’ but is now a ‘12’ and yet manages to be scarier than a thousand ‘18’ films put together. The problem is that constant jump-scares are good for a laugh, and the haunted house where Harry Potter goes to stay to do some accounting is magnificently atmospheric and beautifully sepulchral (good word, that), but underneath the surface there’s nothing to haunt your dreams. The woman in black herself is not really threatening. I’ve had my fill of horrors where a mysterious figure looms in the distance – you know, she’s there one minute, do a double-take, then she’s not. The ending is supposed to be incredibly affecting, but it came off rather twee. There’s one good suspense bit involving a boggy marsh, a car and some rope, but neither the house and the woman in black are present, and they’re the main antagonists, so to speak.

The supporting cast is fine, a couple of good show-stealing actors here. Saying that, trying to steal the show from Daniel Radcliffe is like nicking a Snickers from a toddler. Radcliffe just doesn’t have enough range here. He’s in a constant state of perpetual mildly worried bemusement, and to prove he’s being serious, he only smiles maybe once in the film. I just wasn’t scared for him, he didn’t convey fear. The whole enterprise is as creaky as the haunted house itself. Don’t know why I was surprised. Haunted houses just aren’t scary any more. It’s all been done. Creaky stairs. Spooky old-fashioned toys. Windows slamming shut. Cold breezes. The lights never work. Zzzzzzzzz I mean, the haunted house shtick was old even back in the late seventies, which is why some guys thought to rework the idea and set it in space. That film was Alien. Go watch that instead.

Jaws (1975)

It’s Jaws. Need I say more? Yes. Lots more.


Jaws has been re-released and is still a classic. What more can be said about it? I think it’s safe to say that everyone born in the seventies and eighties has seen it. I would say 90’s kids too, but I’m worried that, when pushed for the first shark movie they ever saw, they’ll end up saying Deep Blue Sea or Mega Shark Vs Crocosaurus. As for 21st century kids, well, Jaws isn’t pulling in 30 million viewers like it did on its early eighties TV premiere, so it’s getting late-night screenings. Also, kids these days may find the shark too fake. I mean, it’s true we all thought the shark looked a little fake even back then, but we didn’t care. We were too busy getting scared. I wonder what today’s kids would think of Jaws?


As for me, Steven Spielberg’s best film (well, one of his best) is kind of like the cinematic equivalent of The Beatles – it’s always been there. Just like the earliest pop music I can remember was the Fab Four’s Blue Album, Jaws is one of the earliest films I remember watching. And re-watching. And re-watching. It was a horror film, I suppose, but it was a horror that everybody could watch. Now, Jaws is bloody and intense, but it’s a fantastic family film. Kids should see it. If it scares them, then that’s good. Besides, most of us loved the fact that Jaws scared us so much. The horror was also family-friendly because it was a shark doing all the killing, not Freddy or Jason. Jaws was somehow let off the hook, even though you see a little boy die in a fountain of gore, a man bit through the chest which causes him spit out blood, a head with no eye in a boat, and a severed leg drifting down to the bed of the sea. It was remarkably full-on for kids, but somehow, it got a ‘PG’. But not any more.


Yep, Jaws is now a ‘12’ certificate. This, along with last year’s Ghostbusters certificate revision, suggests that we 70’s/80’s kids were made of sterner stuff. Still, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared. Every, and I mean every, time I watched it I hoped that Quint would make it to the end, and dreaded the moment when the shark wrecks the boat and Quint slides right into his jaws. The gory icing on the cake was always the bit when the shark goes for one decisive chomp and we see Quint splutter a spray of blood in close-up. God, that bit was nasty. When you’re younger, you enjoy the film on a purely visceral level – and naturally when you’re older, the scares aren’t so vivid. The opening sequence has gone down in history as a classic scene – in fact, is there a more popular, acclaimed, iconic, famous, etc. opening sequence in cinema history? Now this sequence, for me, just can’t have the same impact it once did – I’ve watched it as part of the movie dozens of times, the whole set-up has been repeated and parodied time and time again…. Likewise, the head in the boat shock – as ‘beloved’ a scare as the hand coming out of the grave in Carrie – did not make me jump this time. And that’s on a huge screen in big fat Dolby stereo. I have to admit, at times, I was getting worried that Jaws was going to be the equivalent of that song you can’t bear to listen to again because you’ve just heard it too much. But no, it’s just too beautifully made for it to become stale, and yeah, I’ve become immune to some of the scares, but not all of them. Besides, this film is about more than scares. It’s wonderfully performed, beautifully cinematic, chillingly dark, funny and extremely entertaining. Seeing it on a big screen is a wonderful thing, and it makes you realise just how beautifully directed it is.


So, what still stands out? Well, the death of the boy early on is an astonishing example of editing, suspense, music and uncompromising brutality. Just look at the editing, the way we get closer and closer towards Brody as other people walk past the camera. The use deep focus as Brody ignores his friend to concentrate on what’s going on in the sea. The reverse-zoom effect as Brody realises what’s happened, an effect that was pioneered by Hitchcock in Vertigo but is used to even greater effect here. It’s still the best example of this technique that I’ve ever seen. The almost surreal image of the shark turning over as the boy is devoured, followed by a horrific geyser of stark red blood is given greater impact by filming it from a distance, out of reach, with us, like Brody, powerless to help.

You also have the last ten minutes, which throws in the classic sequence where Hooper gets in the ‘anti-shark cage’ which proves to be anything but, the unbearable shark Vs. Quint face off and of course, the ending, where Brody gets his target whilst lying on an increasingly sinking mast. I used to go crazy during this bit. It was the fact that Brody only has an edge on the shark whilst that mast is above water and he was sinking more and more by the second. I can see why people went nuts about the water about this film. It’s just so overwhelming, powerful and you’re nothing but a tiny dot in the middle of it.


You also have Murray Hamilton’s excellent Mayor Vaughan, a selfish, greedy and hopeless authority figure if ever there was one. But you know how this kind of character is usually a cartoonish punch-bag who we’re meant to love to hate? Well, Hamilton does wonders with this role. He’s not sympathetic at all, but you believe him, if that makes sense. Lorraine Gary is pretty much the token-wife, not totally disposable, but all she’s here for is to support Brody. Which she does. Until he goes off with the guys to get the shark. Strangely, the Brody kids are not annoying. This is very rare in Hollywood. What else? The attack in the pond is a shocker. This is when we first see the shark, and it’s one of its most effective appearances as we still can’t fully see it. The shot of the severed leg drifting to the bottom of the pond is still a horrific sight, and there’s something about that scary point of view shot as the shark swims past Sean that sends shivers down me. It’s also the shots where the camera tries to keep its head above water, and we’re right there with it. When we’re that close to the water, I just want to get away. More? There’s the grisly discovery of the first victim, her subsequent autopsy, the dissection of the shark, Quint’s first scene where he states his price. The utter brutality of the moment where the Mayor coerces the family to go in the water. The two kids with the cardboard fin. The absolutely adorable bit when Brody’s younger son copies his actions. Oh yes, even that bit. Yes, Spielberg can be sentimental, but this scene is such a beaut. It’s not overdone, it’s just simple and sweet. Even more? Oh yeah, the ‘Swim, Charley!’ bit. The ‘slow ahead’ bit. The little incidental characters and random bits of dialogue.


The film is also very funny. You’ve got Dreyfuss’s stand-off with the Mayor. Ben Gardner’s unintelligible rant amongst the hopeless and explosive expedition to catch the shark, something about ‘wishing their mothers had never met their fathers’. Quint downing and crushing a can of beer, followed by Hooper doing the same with a cup of water. And of course, the drinking scene. God, this bit is so good. You know, you can’t have action all the time. You got to slow down. You’ve got to spend time with these characters. The drinking scene in Jaws is possibly the best example of this scene in a blockbuster. Wonderfully, naturally performed, full of macho bullshit, convincing drunk banter and of course, the monologue to end all monologues with Quint’s terrifying tale of the USS Indianapolis. Robert Shaw should have won awards for this moment. You can’t look away. This scene is scarier than anything else in Jaws, scarier than almost anything else in cinema.


Speaking of Shaw, he’s one of three performances which perfectly complement each other. Each is vital to the mission. True to Spielberg form, it’s the everyday, average Brody who succeeds when Quint’s brawn and Hooper’s brain fail to save the day. Roy Scheider’s Brody is one of the best of all Spielberg leads. It’s an unshowy performance, but a beautifully judged one. Shaw is fantastic here – mostly absent for the first half of the film, he takes the action onto a whole new level as soon as he takes charge. There’s real joy in his utter disdain for Hooper, who is delightfully played by Richard Dreyfuss.


I do have nits to pick with this film. There’s a stretch of action that takes place after the ‘Show Me the Way to Go Home’ singalong and before Hooper enters the shark cage which does drag a little, slackening the tightly coiled suspense a little too much with too much floating barrel shenanigans. The music during some of the second half occasionally lapses into near swashbuckling, high-seas fun territory when I’d have preferred something a little scarier. Also, fantastic as the pond sequence is – seriously, would Brody have let his son swim in the pond when it links directly into the sea? Jaws is out there, waiting! Don’t even let your kids run a bath! Keep them away from the water! But that’s it, and these flaws are only more glaring because the rest of the film is so damned brilliant.


Jaws was the first summer blockbuster, yet is not as high-octane as the energy-drink fuelled mania that goes a hundred miles a minute kind of entertainment we get these days. It knows when to be loud, it knows when to be quiet. Notice how, despite John Williams’ score being as magnificent as it is, it’s never overused. It knows when to pump up the tension, it knows when to take it easy. It’s an experience. And despite it being inadvertently responsible for every single ‘event’ movie afterwards, there’s still nothing like it. And I do include the sequels when I state that.


The Durutti Column: Stories for Pauline (1983/2012)

Post-punk band finally release ‘long-lost’ album recorded in-between LP#3 and #4.


Manchester’s The Durutti Column were one of the key bands in Factory Records’ initial late seventies/early eighties artistic flourish, although as time went on, the ‘band’ became more a vehicle for one man – Vini Reilly, the supremely gifted guitarist who still makes and releases music under the Durutti Column title. For me, the DC’s latter-day music is still undeniably strong, if a bit samey – Reilly’ style of playing is unmistakable, and what began as utterly unique has now become a bit overly familiar. I think Reilly’s peak was his first five or so years as the Durutti Column – more specifically, the run of albums and accompanying singles/EP releases beginning with the wryly titled 1980 debut The Return of the Durutti Column to the epic contemporary classical experimentation of 1984’s Without Mercy. That first album was a beautifully spare, delicate series of instrumentals, wonderfully produced by Martin Hannett who provided ethereal, ghostly atmospherics to Reilly’s light but evocative, bittersweet playing. Hannett wasn’t around for follow-up album LC, but amazingly it was even stronger, with fuller, richer production, even stronger tunes and the welcome addition of longtime percussive collaborator Bruce Mitchell, who added strength to Reilly’s sweetness. The band’s palette became more colourful on the lovely Another Setting, which brought in a wider range of emotional textures, not to mention more of Reilly’s singing voice. Entirely absent from the debut but there in patches on LC, Reilly’s vocals are a contentious issue with some. Simply put, he’s not got an incredibly versatile or strong voice, and you wouldn’t imagine him belting out pop tunes or rocking out in any measure. However, they do work very nicely within the sound of his own music, and the vocals on these early albums are tenderly fragile, melancholic and, thanks to his noticeably soft, yet dry Manchester accent, down-to-earth and free of pretence.

Now, after Another Setting, Reilly made a not-quite fourth full-length release made up of two EP length collections – Amigos em Portugal and Dedications for Jacqueline, which were released under the title of the former, and were focusing on piano to a greater degree than ever before. Notably, two pieces – ‘Favourite Descending Intervals’ and ‘Estoril a Noite’ – would, in different forms, become part of Reilly’s Without Mercy project, a classically-inspired LP that comprised of two full-length pieces and was his most ambitious and at times, most heartbreakingly gorgeous work ever. This was the Durutti’s fourth album proper, and Reilly and Co. were back on Factory, but there’s more to that album’ genesis than two earlier pieces released on an obscure label, for there was an alternative fourth album proper that was pretty much completed before being scrapped in favour of Without Mercy. That album was Short Stories for Pauline, and it was Factory maestro Tony Wilson’s admiration for second track ‘Duet’ that made him suggest to Reilly that said piece could benefit from expanding into something even bigger. So Without Mercy was born, using ‘Duet’, the afore-mentioned Amigos pieces and various other Pauline pieces as a starting point, whilst the Pauline album itself vanished, becoming a ‘lost’ album in the process, of which there are many in rock and pop music.


Now, the shrewd and canny will have already been able to create their own version of Pauline thanks to all of the songs being made available over various compilations/re-releases across the years, but it’s nice to have it all here in one straightforward package. Speaking of packaging, this release of Pauline has some pretty uninspired artwork. The photography, consisting of pictures of Reilly and his band, is all decent enough, but considering the era it was recorded in, when Durutti albums and singles were awash with gorgeous, inspired imagery, this final result is somewhat drab and unoriginal and not in-keeping with the times. There’s no inner artwork or additional liner note information (we get band member details on the reverse cover), just a functional white sleeve. It would have been nice to have some history on the complex history of the album, or maybe Reilly’s thoughts on the album (which I’ll bet would have been negative, given his penchant for self-criticism).


But what about the music? Well, it’s a mostly great album. Fans of early Durutti will love it – especially fans of Another Setting, Amigos em Portugal and Without Mercy, the latter in particular, since many of these pieces would be reworked to fit in with that album’s framework. You can, however, almost see how it wasn’t released, given how a couple of pieces would form part of Without Mercy, these being ‘Duet’ and ‘Invitations’. If Pauline had been released, Without Mercy’s impact would have been blunted as the fans would have already heard some of it in other versions. Well, I say impact – the Durutti Column were far from a big-selling band, but they did have their audience and their fans, and impact is impact, whether you’re one of many millions of fans, or if you’re the only one in your circle of friends who even knows this music, let alone loves it. Now, confusingly, the titles of some of these pieces have are different from the identical versions found on earlier compilations. One cursory glance at the track listing from a halfway-dedicated fan might think that this Pauline album has far more unknown tracks than it really does. The fact is that everything here has already been released, so Pauline is only a ‘lost’ album in regards to structure. I’m not sure if these alternate titles are the true original names or new ones devised for this release, but on a superficial level, I don’t really rate ‘College’ and ‘A Room in Southport’ over the far more evocative ‘The Sea Wall’ and ‘Snowflakes’ respectively.

Sorry, I’ve digressed from the actual music again. No more side-tracks, here we go! This album exudes wintry landscapes, bracing sea air under grey skies, but also exquisitely melancholic chamber music from centuries ago, but then again, we’re not too lost in the past as we’ve got some of-the-time electronics and drum beats to bring it back in the present. There’s nothing as initially jarring as the lapse into electronic-funk that came out of nowhere on Without Mercy’s second side, but you can tell at times that this was made in the 1980s. I must add, this is not a bad thing. The most immediately beautiful thing here is ‘Duet’ (formerly ‘La Doleur’), which is the piece that ultimately led to this album being buried. God, this is so gorgeous, a windswept, achingly pretty and exquisitely romantic retro-classical piece that trembles with emotion, reaching a mighty peak at around 1:10, when Blaine L. Reininger’s viola and (I can only assume Reilly) on piano form some kind of quiet ecstasy together. The result is spellbinding. No wonder Tony Wilson was so taken with this piece.

You also get the ripples and rushes of ‘College’ (‘formerly ‘The Sea Wall’) and ‘Journeys by Vespa’, which are both in line with the gently hair-raising thrills of earlier tracks like ‘Madeleine’ and ‘Danny’, where Reilly’s guitar weaves complex, dazzling textures, the down-tempo, desolate spaces of opener ‘At First Sight’, which does sound a lot like Without Mercy, although not identically so. ‘Destroy, She Said’ is one of a few pieces which ties the album to the year it was made, but like I said, not in a negative way. You know, in that a sitar in a pop song is most likely going to be a mid-1960’s song….just because a song is immediately recognisable from a particular era, doesn’t mean it has dated. Anyway, despite all of what I just said, ‘Destroy, She Said’ is not one of my favourite pieces here, erring closer to the jazzier spectrum of Durutti that I’m not so keen on. ‘Model’ (formerly ‘Little Horses of Tarquina’) is a brief and gorgeously spectral guitar solo. ‘Take Some Time Out’ and ‘A Silence’ both have vocals – the former is a lighter than average creation, though Reilly’s singing can’t help but conjure an air of downtrodden misery! The latter is not as good, a bit Durutti-by-numbers. ‘Mirror A’ and ‘Mirror B’ are quite different pieces, ‘A’ being a decent if lightweight, fully electronic piece with vocals by ‘Pauline’, and ‘B’ a piano-led dirge, punctuated by Eric Sleichim’s saxophone, not one of my favourite elements of the Durutti sound circa this time, I have to say.  In-between those two pieces we get ‘Cocktail’, which is lighter than ‘Mirror B’ but has the same saxophone problems, and ‘Telephone Call’ which has saxophone too, but used to much better effect. This piece is quite jazzy actually, but the more melancholic, late-night, drowsy side of jazz. It’s good! The album concludes with ‘A Room in Southport‘ (formerly ‘Snowflakes’), a very gentle, shuffling thing of beauty, with some lovely harp playing from Anne Van Den Troost.

It’s a shame the album isn’t on CD, as the more exposure the better as far as I’m concerned, but at least you can download it separately on plenty of online shops. It’s not perfect – the second side is definitely patchier than the first, and fans of Durutti may unwittingly already have the whole thing spread over various CDs, but it’s great to see this music together again, as it always should have been.

So…how would you have compiled Short Stories for Pauline in the past… well, you would have needed was 1991’s compilation Lips That Would Kiss, the very rare 1998 edition of Without Mercy and the 2007 edition of Durutti’s fifth album Circuses and Bread. I must say that Lips That Would Kiss is an absolutely fantastic release, gathering arguably the best of the Pauline tracks, as well as all three pieces from the Deux Triangles EP of 1981, as well as the various single-only releases.

  1. ‘At First Sight’ Released under same title on Lips That Would Kiss
  2. ‘Duet’ Released as ‘La Doleur’ on Lips That Would Kiss
  3. ‘College’ Released as ‘The Sea Wall’, featured on Lips That Would Kiss, bonus track on 1998 issue of Without Mercy.
  4. ‘Invitations’ Released as ‘The Square’ on Lips That Would Kiss
  5. ‘Destroy, She Said’ Released under same title on Lips That Would Kiss
  6. ‘Model’ Released as ‘Little Horses of Tarquina’ on Lips That Would Kiss
  7. ‘Journeys by Vespa’ Released under same title on Lips That Would Kiss
  8. ‘Take Some Time Out’ Released under same title on Lips That Would Kiss
  9. ‘A Silence’ Released under same title as bonus track on 2007 issue of Circuses and Bread
  10. ‘Mirror A’ Released under same title as bonus track on 2007 issue of Circuses and Bread
  11. ‘Cocktail’ Released under same title as bonus track on 2007 issue of Circuses and Bread
  12. 12.   ‘The Telephone Call’ Released under same title as bonus track on 2007 issue of Circuses and Bread
  13. ‘Mirror B’ Released under same title as bonus track on 2007 issue of Circuses and Bread
  14. ‘A Room in Southport’ Released as ‘Snowflakes’ on Lips That Would Kiss

‘Duet’ (‘The Sea Wall’), ‘Destroy, She Said’ and ‘Take Some Time Out’ were also made available on Richard Jobson’s compilation Un Hommage A Marguerite Dumas, but that’s not easy to come by as far as I’m aware.

Prometheus (2012)


Plot Synopsis: Set before the events of 1979’s Alien, Prometheus explains the history of the planet where the crew of the Nostromo set down and discovered the derelict spaceship and nest of alien eggs that kick-started the horror to follow. A pair of scientists are convinced that a series of ancient subterranean drawings are a message from a distant planet, a belief that sees them onboard the spaceship Prometheus, where they and the crew discover the horrifying truth behind the ‘messages’.

Prequels. Are they ever any good? Let’s not count Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – the fact that it’s a prequel really doesn’t make any difference to how we approach it, and even though a good chunk of The Godfather Part II is set before Part I, a lot of it is set after, so it’s not a textbook prequel per se.

When it comes to prequels, the big bloated daddies are undoubtedly the almighty trilogy of pointlessness that is the Star Wars prequel films, which had zero tension because we knew EXACTLY where they were heading, and only offered to answer questions raised in the original trilogy that when, revealed, weren’t too interesting after all the build-up. The Star Wars prequels didn’t work because they ruined the powerful thing that almost all films (and especially the original Star Wars trilogy) use, and that’s backstory.

Backstory is necessary. We enter the film at its logical plot starting point, and the backstory is given to us so that we can fill in the blanks. When backstory is effectively used, we essentially expand the plot’s universe in our head without the filmmakers having to spend hours and hours telling us in detail what happened before the opening credits. We can only imagine what happened before the first shot, and by doing so we help to give the film an extra, personal dimension by bringing our own imagination to the proceedings. Take the first (or fourth… know, the 1977 one) Star Wars, which has a huge amount of backstory. Three films worth in fact. Us fans would speculate on all the stuff mentioned but never shown – all that Clone Wars malarkey, what Luke’s father was like before he went all asthmatic, and so forth. Then the rumours of the prequel films got us all excited – all the stuff we had to resort to our imaginations with, now would be made real, and all our pitiful daydream versions would be consigned to the rubbish bin. Oh, but wait, the real things turned out to be massively disappointing. Not really worth it in the end. Essentially, the prequel films were always going to be lesser – after all, if they had stronger stories than Episodes V-VI, then why were those films not made instead back in the seventies? No, the reason is because George Lucas did a smart thing – he consigned those films to where they belonged in the form of backstory, and started his series at the best possible point. Then he went and ballsed it all up by making that backstory a trilogy in itself, and because he couldn’t resist the lure of modern special effects, totally ruined the visual element by having a bunch of films set before the first lot that looked three thousand times more sophisticated. Seriously, how can you flow easily from the end of Revenge of the Sith to the beginning of A New Hope without wondering what happened to all the technology and the haircuts in-between?

Ridley Scott’s hugely awaited Prometheus is set before the series of Alien films that started with Scott’s own original back in 1979. That film was, and still is, a terrific SF horror that spawned an incredible sequel, a butchered but eventually salvaged and ultimately underrated third chapter and a muddled, weak fourth instalment (not to mention the Alien Vs Predator offshoots) that expanded the Alien universe exponentially. For a while though, there was just Alien, and it could have logically remained a one-off. It used backstory, and tantalisingly featured many unexplained moments, but there was nothing that left you frustrated. In fact, the unexplained presence of the alien spaceship, and that bizarre looking pilot inside, made it all the more mysterious. So, did we need a film thirty years later telling us what really happened before Alien? Not really, but the Alien franchise sells tickets, so on we go. Prometheus is quite enjoyable as a bit of SF nonsense, but it’s a waste of time as an Alien movie. And this is a film set in the Alien universe that deliberately ties events to earlier films, so it belongs in that series’ timeline. And yet, like Lucas, Scott has seriously compromised the continuity of the series by featuring ludicrously advanced technology that makes the endearingly clunky, relatively unsophisticated hardware of Alien look like it was set a thousand years before Prometheus, not after. If Scott had stuck to the logical timeline of things, we’d have had a film where all computer screens were black with green lettering, where state-of-the-art meant using what looked like a chunky microchip board into a load of messy wiring in order to access the top secret communications room (which is made up thousands of very impressive but ultimately pointless miniature light bulbs). And it would have looked like a film from 1979 as a result. Hardly big-budget 2012 blockbuster material. Yet the film geek in me wanted it to look like that. By having everything super-modern and amazing looking, you end up making something that doesn’t feel part of the Alien chronology at all. It’s a compromise that many won’t mind, but I hate it.

Anyway, if the film was exciting, tense, scary and whatnot, I would have been far more forgiving of these aesthetic lapses – but Prometheus is merely decent, fair, okay, alright. It’s a three star movie. There are great things about it – for all the compromising of the series continuity, the film does look fantastic, and special effects are mostly fine (with one exceptional element – read on) and the deliberately slow build-up is nicely choreographed. Michael Fassbender (yes, him again) is really delightful for the most part as the token ‘artificial person’ who is on board the ship. Every Alien film has a robot on board, and Fassbender is almost as classic a robot as Ian Holm and Lance Henriksen were in their own synthetic roles. He’ll make you forget about Winona Ryder’s bloody appalling turn in Alien Resurrection, that’s for sure. He’s got the attempts to simulate human behaviour down beautifully, and he’s magnificent to watch before the story goes everywhere and he’s just a cog in the wheels of a plot that’s trying to get everything wrapped up before the credits. Once you get over the realisation that Noomi Rapace’s lead character is supposed to be British (with that accent?), she’s one of the more intriguing, if still underdeveloped, characters in the film, whose vague obsessions only keep us going so far with her. All the other characters are cut-outs, not offensively conveyer-belt material, but not far off. There’s some good tension here and there – the best bit is an emergency C-section that’s intensely staged (even if the aftermath is hard to swallow) and claustrophobically scary. The alien creatures themselves are unfortunately computer-generated and as such unconvincing – you just don’t believe they’re really there on screen. I re-watched Aliens the other day and was astonished by the effects – the aliens have a terrifyingly real presence because there was genius costume, performance, camera and lighting work on show. You really believe Ripley is trapped in an airlock with an alien because on one level, she really is. However, when we get two oversized pixels wrestling on the floor, it’s hard to get so involved.

By the end I hardly felt like the Alien universe had been effectively expanded. I re-watched Alien shortly after and felt no sense of an old film being cast in a new light because of Prometheus. The only thing that film did was make me remember just how bloody brilliant the original Alien is.