Directed by Ridley Scott
We don’t see projects like this very often. Having the creator of an untouchable classic return to a disgraced franchise after 30 years is the rarest of rarities, something that normally exists only in the dreams of die-hard fans. After enduring a string of bad “vs.” movies, I never thought we’d see Ridley Scott return to the world of Alien – especially with the carte blanche to turn the series in a completely different direction. Whatever you think of his approach, everything about Prometheus seems like the kind of project that the Hollywood system was designed to destroy.
An event film with this level of hype and speculation is bound for divisive reactions so let’s get this out of the way: If you’re expecting another Alien, prepare to be disappointed. In fact, Prometheus is about as much a prequel to that film as Temple of Doom is to Raiders of the Lost Ark. While it technically predates the events in Alien, this is mostly a spin-off movie that explores a different part of the universe entirely.
The story follows inquisitive archeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, giving a terrifically vulnerable performance), who discovers an ancient star map in the caverns of Scotland. Theorizing that it was left by mankind’s creators, she joins a scientific expedition aboard the spaceship Prometheus led by Captain Janek (Idris Elba) and ventures out to the ass end of space hoping to literally meet her maker. Needless to say, very bad things await them. The journey is funded by the real villain of the series, Weyland Enterprises, so it’s not long before suspicious activities arise thanks to company woman Vickers (Charlize Theron) and ship android David (played to perfection by Michael Fassbender).
I’ve actually heard people say that Alien isn’t a horror film because it takes place in space, which is completely daft. Scott’s 1979 classic is pure unadulterated horror – with a few light sci-fi elements – that exists solely as white-knuckled suspense. Prometheus is a film that falls on the other side of the coin: it’s a brainy science fiction story that flirts with the kind of provocative ideas you never see in big-budget movies. Questions of science, faith and philosophy are explored against familiar Giger-esque backdrops, only this time Scott abandons the claustrophobia and quiet dread of Alien in favor of an epic scope full of wonder and awe. Sure, there are a few classic skin-crawling moments (including a sequence that rivals John Hurt’s chest-bursting), but the script by John Spaihts and Damon Lindelof is more concerned with exploration and big picture questions than straight-up horror. In essence, this is a quest movie that’s more King Kong than deep space slasher.
On a technical level alone, Prometheus is a visual masterpiece. Scott, known for his strong sense of cinematography and production design, has taken his craft to the next level thanks to technological advancements; the 3D images here lend a depth to the landscapes, caverns, and ship corridors that are truly breathtaking. I’ve never been a proponent of 3D (always paying for the 2D screen at the multiplex), but this is easily the strongest argument for the medium and makes you realize how misused it’s been these past few years.
The dividing factor for audiences – hardcore fans in particular – will no doubt be how Prometheus treats the mythology. When James Cameron took over the series, he methodically explained Alien by taking us through the life cycle and firmly setting the rules. Scott isn’t concerned with that kind of stuff and throws the series right back into its H.P. Lovecraft roots. In his world the threat has no system or order. It’s a giant petri dish of chaos, and as a result the menace is something far less tangible. I won’t spoil what fleshy things crawl out of the abyss, but I will say that the lack of a central boogeyman might turn off those purists who want more of the same. Personally, I found it refreshing. Ultimately we’re left with more questions than answers (we’re dealing with the writer of “Lost” here), but in the world of Alien that’s always best.
That said, Prometheus has its share of problems, mainly in the character department. While Rapace, Fassbender, and Elba deliver endearing characters, the rest of Prometheus’ crew consists of one-dimensional piss ants and faceless red shirts. Theron fills the token “evil company” role as ice queen Vickers, but her constant scowling gets old real quick. The same goes for Sean Harris’ surly geologist while Logan Marshall-Green isn’t given much to work with as Shaw’s squeeze. The rest of the cast is comprised of little more than featured extras, and as a result there isn’t much impact when people start dying. Even by comparison, the Marines in Aliens and the prisoners in Alien³ stood out more than these unlucky souls.
This, combined with a few pacing problems, leads me to believe that there was a lot of material left on the cutting room floor to satisfy a summer movie runtime. While the first half moves at a perfect stride, once all hell breaks loose, there’s a handful of moments that feel lost in the rush to the finish line. For a film of this scope, Prometheus definitely clocks in a tad short, but these problems could easily be corrected with an Extended Version — which is almost always a given with Scott’s films.
Ultimately your enjoyment of Prometheus depends on your expectations. Those wanting a giant creature feature or major insight into the mythos will come up short while more open-minded viewers reap the rewards. This is a grand film designed to ignite your imagination and give birth to endless theories like only great science fiction can. It certainly isn’t a masterpiece on the level of Alien/Aliens (then again, it’s not even working on those levels), but it’s a satisfying return to the universe and successfully revitalizes a series that was left for dead.
4 out of 5