Alien and Aliens, hands down, are two of my all-time favourite films; and I can even sympathise with the production problems and see the potential in the often-slated Alien 3. I bring such factors to your attention because Prometheus originally began as a prequel to these films, and I’ve been anticipating seeing it ever since it was first announced. With its Giger-influenced production design and eerie cinematography, it would seem the film is not a million miles away from being a fifth entry in the Alien franchise, even though it attempts to stand on its own.
As Scott himself has said, Prometheus “Shares some DNA strands with Alien”, but is not officially a prequel. When I first heard this I was admittedly puzzled: “Why,” I thought, “would the man who was responsible for making one of the most frightening and successful horror sci-fi films be reluctant to contribute another ‘pure’ entry to the series?” The AVP films certainly didn’t help, and I’m suspicious about the influence 20th Century Fox’s had upon Scott not being able to make the film he really wanted to (for the fans).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Prometheus feels a fair bit muddled: It wants to venture deeper into the Alien story and the origins of the Xenomorph species, but feels like it’s mimicking the first film for the most part. Set thirty years before Scott’s masterpiece of 1979 and in the same universe, Prometheus goes in search of the origins of mankind to encounter things like alien-looking eggs and mysterious, flesh-burning goo, preferring then to venture into often cheesy-b-movie-horror territory, rather than elaborate upon its science.
The plot begins when archaeologists named Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover the latest in a series of ancient cave paintings that show humans worshiping a large figure who is pointing towards the stars. Peter Weyland, head of Weyland Industries (played by Guy Pearce, under some incredibly overdone makeup), decides then to fund an outer-space trip onboard “Prometheus”, with the purpose of finding out more about the aliens they refer to as our “engineers”.
Now, I’m all for films presenting us with a host of questions that we are supposed to think about for ourselves and debate with others afterwards for better understanding, but Prometheus does so only because its script doesn’t expand upon its own theories. For example, there’s a twist in the plot where it’s uncovered the engineers have a desire to destroy humanity — even though they’re the ones who supposedly created us — and it is never revealed why this actually is.
The first Alien proved you can have a simple premise and still be intellectual, but Prometheus tries to be too ambitious with its ideas and comes up short. I really wish I had the opportunity to overhear the discussions around the table between Scott and his scriptwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof to be able to understand a bit better what their game plan was. Writing this two weeks after I first saw Prometheus and it still puzzles me why the film would be so similar but not have Aliens as the antagonists.
I can sympathise the director had to get this project the go-ahead but, truth be told, I just really wanted to see Xenomorphs. Instead, there’s the introduction of a squid-like creature in Prometheus that is never properly explained or seems that interesting, and it left me thinking “what could’ve been” if Giger’s creations were allowed to wreck havoc under the careful guidance of Mr Scott.
That said, credit must be given to Scott for delivering some very distressful and disturbing moments of human/extraterrestrial interaction here. Primarily, there’s a scene involving a futuristic surgical procedure that sees Noomi Rapace’s character attempting to remove a creature from her infected womb, which rivals that famous chestburster scene from Alien. Visually, the film is also wonderful to look at (especially in 3-D), with Scott, once again, opening us up to a world that we can stare at in awe, and want to explore and discover.
Prometheus’ acting is also very good — particularly, Michael Fassbender as android “David 8”, who gives a very nuanced performance and steals the show. Idris Elba (who I’m admittedly a fan of for his work in The Wire) appears shrewd and laid-back in his role as the ship’s captain; whilst Charlize Theron performs the “company woman” role very well that her motivations prove unsettling.
Noomi Rapace, however, as Shaw, didn’t win me over quite like Sigourney Weaver did as Ripley. Apart from the aforementioned “surgery” scene, her performance just didn’t have the intensity that Weaver’s did in the first film, and her character would’ve been more interesting if her religious beliefs would’ve explored — rather than just hinted at — that little bit more in the script. There’s also a couple of pointless characters included in the film, like a Japanese co-pilot, who I honestly can’t remember saying anything.
As a spectacle and drama, Prometheus delivers, but in actually leaving more questions unanswered, in what I anticipated would be an intelligent prequel to Alien, I found the film pretty frustrating and unfulfilling. To me, this felt more like a prequel to an Alien prequel, and with Prometheus 2 reportedly already in the works, it would appear things have been set up deliberately so that all the ideas left floating around are going to be dealt with the next time around. (Or not.)