jason stives dissects Ridley Scott’s highly anticipated possible Alien prequel …
Hype is a proverbial bitch. Blunt as that is, it’s one that most film goers cave to in great fashion, and who can blame them when they are given an impressive marketing campaign? Take the campaign for Prometheus, director Ridley Scott’s return to stylized science fiction 30 years after making Blade Runner, and also, depending on whom you are to believe, a direct prequel to Scott’s classic 1979 horror space opera Alien. With a series of great trailers, tons of ambiguity, and the already-pending expectations that the audience will get to learn the origins of every sci-fi fan’s favorite xenomorphs, this film has the unenviable task of creating a new world that co tales off that universe and still satisfies the curiosity it’s already created with its mere mention.
What Prometheus isn’t is a direct prequel to Alien, but it does set up some of the DNA that would fit directly into that film. Prometheus IS, however, a beautifully mapped science-fiction film that is visually stunning and at times very unresting, but one that suffers from a narrative mess that takes the film’s philosophical themes and abandons them in favor of the sci-fi horror elements of its predecessor.
In the year 2089, archeologist couple Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall Green) discover ancient hieroglyphics in the Isle of Skye that indicate that man evolved from beings that visited from the stars thousands of years ago. Jump ahead four years and endorsed by Weyland Industries and their owner, Peter Weyland (an unnecessarily aged Guy Pearce), the couple are amongst a crew of 17 aboard the trillion-dollar deep space vessel Prometheus, heading to discover humanity’s engineers on a distant star named LV 223. What starts out as an investigation into where we come from and the ongoing discussion of faith and belief turns into a sci-fi horror bonanza that connects the audience with a very familiar universe and creates some new ideas that ultimately go unanswered.
The real trouble with Prometheus is the script, which has a lot of great ideas but has too many of them at work and left unexplained. Damon Lindeloff, famous for co-creating Lost, understands greatly the world he is in and how to create something original while making it very familiar, but divides the movie into almost two ideas: the philosophical notions of life and where we come from, and the horror elements it has lifted from Alien. There are great ideas at work for the first hour of the film that are only explored in brief in the second half, and this is a bit frustrating. Lindeloff has stated in interviews that the trouble with prequels is if you know what it leads to, you can’t have a truly surprise ending. and he clearly kept this in mind with Prometheus because you don’t know how it will end, but you know what it is supposed to do. Determining the origins of the species is nothing new by any means, Prometheus does hold plot points very similar to the HP Lovecraft story “At The Mountains Of Madness,” but making a film about these ideas needs more time to simmer in the script. It’s discussed, and for the first hour, we are given the faith storyline that runs through our main protagonist of Eli Shaw, but when things go down, they are simply forgotten if not only to be explored in lesser detail later. I won’t get into everything as that would ruin the film, but clearly there were narrative sacrifices made somewhere along the line that greatly disrupt the film’s story. Ridley Scott is not unfamiliar with this — the same thing happened to Blade Runner that caused him to not make another science fiction movie for 30 years. The horror elements are great when they occur but are few and far in between. Many evolve into the leg crossing feelings of the original Alien, including one scene that would make even the most hardcore pro-life advocate understandably devoid of their usual feelings.
The acting itself is very well performed but lacks a heavy sense of originality for some of the characters and the bulk of the crew of the Prometheus act as bodies on the pile save for Captain Janek, played with much wit and militaristic sanctity by Idris Elba. Charlize Theron is the evil mediator of the events of the film as Meredith Vickers, the representative of Weyland Industries leaving a trail or envy and corporate intent that run rampant through the previous Alien films, representing the company of Weyland Industries. Of all the run of the mill hallmark characters, Michael Fassbender shines with grace and inhuman like conduct as David, the ships android. David’s intentions are barely made coherent as you can never tell if he means well or if he means harm to the ship’s crew. Most of David’s actions run with this sense of curiosity about how humans evolve and react to things. Every movement feels programmed but feels as natural as he prepares drinks, dies his hair and re-watches and reiterates lines from his favorite movie, Lawrence Of Arabia. As a big fan of his work, he continues to show his pension for stealing scenes in films even if it was in a role he had to fight to make original against previous famous androids.
Noomi Rapace acts as a surrogate to the Ripley prototype as the faith-believing archeologist Elizabeth Shaw, whose journey takes some very hard directions but she still miraculously maintains her beliefs about life and the need to believe in something. When her life spirals into a series of depressing and squeamish results, she takes on the heroic nature of her predecessor (or is Shaw the predecessor to Ripley?), fighting back against the work of the engineers and the destruction and dismemberment of the crew of the Prometheus. When the true intentions of the engineers are revealed, she retreats only to have others work out a way of stopping their plans but still shows how strong her beliefs play out in the more dire situations. It may seem phoned in but the amount of joy she sees in her discoveries how she feels towards her husband Charlie feel genuine especially working off Logan Marshall Green’s rather uninteresting performance and you feel her pains and hope in buckets.
If there is one thing that makes Prometheus worth rewatching, it’s the world Scott has created here. In Alien, it was all dark, ominous corridors that suffocated and rose tensions. Here, the Prometheus ship, as well as the alien world LV 223, are given room to breathe and its quite impressive indeed, helped by the help of some of the designs including the chamber of the engineers and the dome, which contains its mystery are greatly lifted from the work of H.R Giger, who designed much of the original Alien world. One thing that did cross my mind in some scenes is how it would have looked in 3D as the visual effects coupled with actual interiors and real creations made for a great mix that never looked hokey or tacked on.
So after all that, how is it NOT a prequel to one of the best sci-fi horror films of all time? Well, if you are a fan of the original and know the imagery and structure, then yes, it is an Alien prequel. but it doesn’t waste its time clarifying that. The basic connections: Weyland Industries, the space jockey, the jockey’s chamber, all elements familiar to the eyes, but the means of getting there are greatly different, including the final moments, which show the most direct connection. There is much talk of evolution, which is something that the android David seems to be the most curious of and indulges the audience with by setting it in motion, but there is still much to be explained. The amount of time spent creating this world and taking the narration off its setting makes it seem more likely to be something removed from what is established. That being said, it’s all there in plain view if all you want to see is its direct connections to the Alien franchise.
A lot of questions are left unanswered, and the true question to where we come from and what the engineers want is never fully explained in a rather anti-climatic ending which unabashedly sets up a potential sequel. Let’s hope this film does very well to elicit another installment, as there is much to be answered, and because it’s set up this way, Prometheus is stopped dead in its tracks from being a true great standalone film. Hollywood is always looking for the next big franchise, and one thing Prometheus achieves is satisfying the film worlds desire to reboot and revitalize old properties and still make it original. However, it doesn’t go without its flaws and clearly wants to be something purely original and still familiar to an older and accepting audience. Prometheus is a good movie, without a doubt, but its dual need to break new ground and create new scares results in something that leaves the audience with a lot of questions and not enough thrills and chills as one would hope.
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Pretty Good)