I am going to say something at the start that everyone needs to understand. It takes a lot of work to fully appreciate Prometheus. This film is something that many people have been clamoring for and yet at the same time will be shocked to find that they don’t want at all. Expectations get toyed with and as such it is best to see this film at least twice before making your mind up on it. Watch it once without knowing what to expect and then again knowing what it is and you will find yourself judging it less harshly than a majority of the critics who are trying to drag it down. I recently went through the entire Alien franchise in anticipation of this film and now I almost wish I hadn’t because the film in my head was not the film I saw. I should have been prepared for such an eventuality, because each film in the series evolves and never follows the style of what came before. I suppose with Ridley Scott returning we would get something similar in style to the original Alien, but that is not the case. Make no mistake about it, this is the genesis of the Alien legacy. Does it sync up in a nice package? No, but we’ll get to that later.
The film begins at the birth of mankind. We witness our creation out of the sacrifice of space-faring engineers in a scene that is simultaneously wondrous and confounding. Much of the film plays this way. Either things are spelled out too directly, or they are left as questions dangling in the back of our mind. I suspect this has much to do with Damon Lindelof’s involvement with the script. I could be wrong, but if it walks like a Lost duck… We then flash forward to 2089 when future archeologists digging in Scotland discover a cave painting pre-dating anything on record featuring symbols that have been discovered at sites spread out across the earth and multiple time periods with no interconnection of the societies that created them. They all feature a star pattern that our group locates and journeys to in the hopes of finding the creatures these early civilizations worshiped as gods. The team is led by Elizabeth Shaw, played by Noomi Rapace, who has previously failed to impress me but carries herself well here. Her staggered speech patterns that bothered me so much in Sherlock Holmes have been corrected and she feels far more at home delivering dialog as a result. She is accompanied by her colleague and lover played by Logan Marshall-Green who really doesn’t leave much of an impression whatsoever. That’s not too big of a slam because a majority of the cast are faceless ciphers who don’t really give off any defining character traits. The cast is around the same size as Aliens but it doesn’t have the same level of personalization to the cast. We got a real feel for the individual personalities of the marines in Aliens but the crewmembers of the Prometheus don’t give us much to work with. Idris Elba acquits himself nicely, and plays perhaps the most affable and relatable character in the film. Unfortunately he’s not much of a major player in what transpires. Charlize Theron does well but also has a tendency to simply exist in the framework without adding very much at all. The real star of the film is Michael Fassbender, who unsurprisingly steals the film with his portrayal of the android David. This is perhaps the first film in the series that does not hide the android’s nature and as such his mannerisms are far more robotic than Ian Holm’s Ash or Lance Henreiksen’s Bishop. His every movement is calculated and Fassbender imbues him with a sense of methodical unearthliness that truly makes him a wonder to watch.
The film’s story works well. It isn’t as tense as Alien but I do not believe it is meant to be. I also believe that there will be an eventual extended cut that allows several things to fall into place better than they seem to in the theatrical release. The only ones who will decry the narrative flow of the film are those who want it to run parallel to Alien. That isn’t what is in play here. What is in play here is a new series that has a timeline that will eventually sync up with those films. Ridley Scott has said that the ending of this film, which I will not spoil for anyone here, does not line up with Alien. He has stated that there are at least two more films worth of content before the timelines connect ant you see how everything developed from point A to point chestburster. It is best to view this story as something standalone. Something detached from Alien so that what this movie does well is better consumed by the viewer. Trying to compare it to Alien will result in a disappointment. It’s not a disappointing film unless you make it one. Judged on it’s own merit it is a spectacular film, with a few minor flaws. If nothing else it is a technological and visual marvel. The 3D screening I saw was absolutely flawless. One of the prettiest films I have seen in ages.
Essentially, the film is going to be divisive. That is the mark of a film worth viewing, in my opinion. What you take away from the film is largely dependent on what you want to take away from it before you ever set foot in the theater. Like I said, I would recommend viewing it twice. For the sake of your own enjoyment, you should be willing to examine the film from multiple angles. I’m certain I’ll be seeing it more than twice.
Let me tell you a little bit about my experience with the “Alien” franchise before we really delve into the meat and bones of this entry. I was maybe ten years old when I first got to experience one of the films. I caught a showing of Aliens on the local Fox affiliate when they were showing it late one night based off the recommendation of one of my friends who had a far greater knowledge of R-rated cinema than myself. I was something of a sheltered child and though I had seen plenty of violent movies the idea of the Alien monster scared the shit out of me. The nature of a creature that violates you so totally as a part of its own life cycle was enough to give me nightmares based off of hearing about the concept second hand. A monster that implants its embryo inside of you and tears itself out of you violently is a frightening idea to a young boy. The lore and legend of the Alien franchise had been related to me in a manner that had me believe it was the scariest goddamn sci-fi monster series ever put on film. I recorded the late-night showing on a VHS tape and later found that it cut off just around the part where the marines are getting their asses handed to them for the first time. I was hooked. This was the greatest movie ever. I begged my friend to let me borrow his copies of the movies, which he did. We watched the first film later that night at my house and I could not believe how amazing it was. The tension was enough to make me aware of my own breathing. I can honestly attribute the original Alien with giving me an appreciation for well-crafted, tension based horror and sci-fi. It was that film that drove me to seek out John Carpenter’s The Thing as well as Halloween and other truly amazing horror.
Why did that movie have such an effect on me? What made it so damn special? This movie has been written about so many times that singing its praises is hideously worthless. Everybody knows that it is a singular classic. Everybody knows that it was a game changer. The reasons why are so well documented and dissected that my input is mostly worthless. I’m still going to point out my little observations anyway because with Prometheus about to descend into theaters I’m sure many people will be asking why we would need a prequel (and let’s not pretend that’s not what it is). The film is perfect as it is. I’m not even going to try to say the film is anything other than perfect. The pacing, the design, the acting. All of it is so top notch that you wonder why so many films that have come afterward can’t manage to pull it off half as well. The film works with well established tropes and yet broke a lot of new ground. Things that came after wouldn’t be breaking that same new ground but Ridley Scott showed how to build tension effectively and utilize the talents of an amazing cast in a way that should be studied over and over again. There was a realism to the interactions of the crew and the manner that they reacted to their situation that isn’t present in most of the films that were spawned because of Alien’s success. While Ripley embodied the idea of the “Final victim” that has always been a staple of the horror genre, the fact that she was utilized as a personification as well as a deconstruction of that idea gave the film a distinct sort of tone.
And let’s just talk about the design of the creature for a minute. How iconic is it, really? It sticks in the public consciousness in the way so few monsters can. It is the very definition of inhuman nightmare. Gothic and dark and totally foreign. It has the sort of instant fear factor of a snake or a scorpion. There is something truly iconic about it and it sticks in the brain. I’m sure much has been made of the overly sexualized nature of the creature that is also disturbing. I mentioned how the life cycle of the creature is inherently a violation on every level. There is not a single element of the creature that is not time tested to scare the shit out of a person on every level.
In short, the film still holds up. For all the reasons I have just mentioned. It doesn’t lose any of its spark over time and you can watch it now and understand exactly why it burrowed so deep into pop culture and now all these years later Ridley Scott is still wanting to revisit the world he created back in 1979. I’m personally excited as all hell.