Director’s cuts and extended versions have become sort of a home video marketing gimmick in recent years. More often than not, studios simply throw in a few minutes of extra fat so they can plug an “Unrated Edition” and milk the public’s curiosity for more. But once in awhile, an extended version can yield an entirely different and better film and no director’s work has benefited more from this than Ridley Scott.
Blade Runner, Legend, Kingdom of Heaven, and more recently The Counselor were all films that were blasted upon their initial release and eventually re-evaluated and praised for their alternate cuts on home video. Now with the upcoming release of Alien: Covenant, it’s time to look back at Scott’s most divisive film and why it deserves a new version in the wake of its sequel.
Prometheus is a beautiful picture full of big ideas and interesting additions to the Alien mythos. But it’s also hampered with enough logic issues and convoluted story beats to send the nit-picky “Cinema Sins” generation into overdrive. The worth and meaning of the film has been debated endlessly and is probably the most contentious installment you’ll find in any franchise (some fans even rank it lower than the AVP films, which is certifiably insane).
As an Alien super-fan and Prometheus apologist, I devoured the film’s Blu-ray content that gives a lot of extra insight into the story and the decisions made behind the scenes. It was one of the last great home video releases before studios abandoned the physical media/bonus feature model for quick-and-easy streaming services, and it boasted hours of supplemental material including a making-of documentary longer than the movie itself. More importantly, the disc contains fifteen minutes of deleted scenes, which go a long way towards addressing several of the film’s problems and explain many lingering questions.
While not all of them are necessary, there are several excised moments that feel so integral to the plot, characters and pacing that you have to question the mental state of the people in the edit bay. It’s hard to know if these were the result of tinkering from the studio or Ridley Scott, who has a history of making questionable decisions for his theatrical versions (the initial version of Blade Runner and Legend were the result of the director second guessing himself).
Let’s dive in…
The first major change comes right at the opening of the film. In the theatrical cut, you saw a lone Engineer drink a cup of black goo and scatter his DNA into a waterfall, creating life on Earth. But the extended cut shows him accompanied by several more Engineers in ritualistic garments, who treat him as a sort of “chosen one.” This scene gives us a little more insight into the Engineers and shows that the creation of life was a ceremonial event and not the random act of an individual creature. Not major, but a nice little addition that cleared up some confusion.
The moment that gets the most ridicule in Prometheus comes during the “hammerpede” attack, when asshole map expert Fitfield and biologist Millburn are taken out by an earthworm mutated by the black goo. This is made all the more preposterous by the fact that Millburn excitedly reaches out to pet the fucking thing, right after a scene where he freaks out over finding some Engineer corpses. It’s a moment so devoid of logic and common sense that it’s become one of the most widely mocked movie scenes on the internet (next to Crystal Skull’s “nuking the fridge.”) But believe it or not, there are deleted moments that actually give motivation this:
While exploring the planet, there’s an excised scene where the company finds one of the live earthworms in the soil (“Our first alien.”) and Millburn excitedly collects it like he’s in love. A later scene in the Engineer ship shows him stumbling onto the shed skin of the mutated worm, where he responds with the same geeky level of glee. These bits may seem minor out of context, but they firmly establish the character as a biologist with a raging hard-on for insects and animals, which actually gives a bit of dark irony to his ridiculous mistake of excitedly trying to grab a hissing worm-snake-penis hybrid.
Ridley Scott’s commitment to old-fashioned practical effects over digital was one of Prometheus’ main highlights, but there’s one sequence that actually benefits from CGI: Zombie Fitfield’s attack in the cargo bay of the Prometheus:
Two versions of the scene were shot and Scott chose to go with the practical sequence, but this is one time where the CGI version is arguably better. The design clearly shows that the bio-weapon goo that mutated Fitfield shares DNA with the classic xenomorph alien, and he’s much more threatening in this state than with the practical zombie make-up that makes him look like The Toxic Avenger.
When the crew wakes the Engineer from his cryo-sleep in the third act, shit hits the fan pretty quick and a lot of audiences were left scratching their heads why the giant albino suddenly freaks out on the crew. There’s a very important deleted exchange where Peter Weyland goes on an ego-fueled rant (David translating in Engineer speak that he’s an android and his creator has essentially come to this planet saying “I want more life, fucker.”). It’s only after Weyland’s selfish tirade that the creature tears David’s head off and smacks the egomaniacal old bastard around (can you really blame him?). Perhaps Scott or the studio felt that we didn’t need these motivations spelled out for us, but the extended confrontation definitely gives this scene some much-needed build-up and suspense, and explains why the Engineer knows David is an android before he decides to punish his power-hungry creations.
The biggest and most grievous omission is the final action sequence. In the theatrical cut, the crashed Engineer comes after Shaw and she immediately opens the med bay doors, allowing it to be consumed by a Lovecraftian tentacle monster (this leads to the birth of the first Xenomorph which Covenant already seems to be ignoring). It’s a very quick, anti-climactic beat that doesn’t have much suspense, especially when you compare it to the extended sequence on home video.
In the original cut, the Engineer stalks and chases Shaw through the wreckage of the Prometheus in an incredibly tense standoff where she furiously fights him back with an axe, only releasing the tentacle monster after she’s finally defeated. Chopped (no-pun-intended) by the studio at the last minute, this cut robs Shaw of her big heroine moment and Prometheus of its climax, making the entire film suffer as a result. How effective would Alien have been had Ripley blasted the creature out the airlock two seconds after finding it in the escape pod?
After the battle, Shaw has a longer discussion with David about the Engineer’s words and we get more insight into their home planet (which David refers to as “Paradise.”) and Shaw’s decision to go there. These bits actually tease Alien: Covenant better and restores some much needed pace to the closing minutes of the film.
Granted, these scenes don’t fix all of Prometheus’ issues: The changes from a direct Alien/Aliens prequel to the setting of LV-223 still feels completely arbitrary and Charlize Theron still only runs in straight lines. But the additional moments and changes really help flesh out Scott’s ambitious film and might even silence some of the detractors.
Sadly, you’ll only find an extended version of Prometheus in the form of internet fan-edits. But it’s high time Ridley Scott and 20th Century Fox reevaluate a new cut of the film, especially in the wake of Alien: Covenant’s release (or at least hire a producer like Lauzirika who oversaw Blade Runner: The Final Cut). Much like the Alien 3: Extended Version, which gave David Fincher’s troubled movie a newfound life and appreciation, a director’s cut of Prometheus would go a long way towards exposing the diamond in the rough.