Well, regardless of who you talk to about its status as a prequel or only a spiritual predecessor, Prometheus is definitely inextricable from Ridley Scott’s Alien. When I first heard that Scott was making a movie in the same universe as Alien without it being directly tied in, I was pretty interested – it seemed like a good opportunity to expand the universe of Alien without resorting to the sort of dreck that adding “vs. Predator” to the title would create.
Then the trailer came out, and it seemed like that was all a ruse, and it was pretty much a direct tie-in to the film. My expectations did an about-face and I became pessimistic – I expected it to be a disappointment while hoping it would be all kinds of cool.
The end result is not what I expected.
The year is 2091, and archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway discover a series of cave paintings, drawn millennia apart, that all feature the same symbols, of people worshiping giants, while the giants point at a star cluster. They then form a motley crew of scientists and set out to find this star cluster, believing it to be the source of life on Earth, and where they can find the answer to that ultimate of existential questions – “why are we here?”
When they arrive at the distant planet, which is almost identical to Earth, they come across an enormous cavern within an intricate system of tunnels. What they find inside turns out to not be as pleasant as they had hoped, and it quickly becomes clear that it wasn’t necessarily the best idea to seek this planet out.
…and that’s where I’m leaving the plot, because I don’t want to spoil anything – the movie has been kept shrouded in mystery, and while it didn’t necessarily need to be, I don’t want to be the one to debunk everything that mystery worked to create an enigma from.
I can happily say that the movie didn’t disappoint me the way that I thought it would. I am more than happy to have paid my fare to see it on the big screen, and it’s more than a worthwhile experience to go to the cinema and see.
But as always, it’s not perfect, and it comes dangerously close to seriously derailing itself. My overall impression of the movie is that it used to be a much more solid story, but without any real “wow” moments or sense of intrigue about it. Enter Damon Lindelof and his rewrites, and we get moments of “mystery” that just don’t add up to anything in the end. Comparisons to Lost are more than fair at moments of the film, and some of the plot holes are simply enormous. The film doesn’t play as though it’s saving things up for a sequel – it just assumes that questions equal substance.
I’m all for a film that doesn’t provide you with all the answers, but there shouldn’t be too much of a sense of “we’re putting this in here for the hell of it” – which does come across at some points. I also feel that the movie is wanting to come across as more cerebral than it actually is – it feels like an intelligent movie, but then you realise there’s not a whole lot of substance behind it. This certainly isn’t helped by some incredibly simple dialogue at points which almost entirely exists to offer exposition – a little tweaking to the script to make the characters sound more realistic would have been useful.
Now, that said, there are also many, many good things about this film. Firstly, and I know that a lot of people usually offer this as “the only good thing to say about a movie” – but the cinematography in the movie is absolutely AMAZING – which is fair enough, as Ridley Scott has always been a very visual director, but the sheer size and scope this movie conveys is breathtaking. Everything in the movie feels BIG, and slightly overwhelming; but in a good way. It’s a truly epic movie, but it also manages to retain that small-and-humble feel that Alien managed to convey, and that all works in the movie’s favour.
Also, performances across the board are pretty superb. Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw is a very capable leading lady, although her character isn’t given as much space to really grow into a protagonist as I would’ve liked. Michael Fassbender is the standout as David, the resident cyborg, and given sci-fi’s love of imbuing distrust in AI, the film plays around with his character and motivations quite cleverly – he’s definitely the most interesting character. Idris Elba as Janek also deserves praise for taking a stock-stereotype character who’s sorely underwritten, and making something entirely watchable with it. Logan Marshall-Green as Charlie Holloway is also pretty solid, though the payoff to events that happen to him isn’t really substantial – and in fact serves more to give Elizabeth Shaw something to emote with – but it’s a decent character (oh, and it bugged me through the entire movie – Logan Marshall-Green also played Trey on The OC – it kept bugging me until I found out)
The only missteps are Charlize Theron as Vickers and Guy Pearce as Peter Weyland. Pearce is over advertised for what’s a largely irrelevant role (and a phoned in performance), but Vickers is a fault of the poor character writing – although it must be said that Theron has superbly captured the “one-note bitch” character excellently; her character isn’t that interesting, but Theron does well with what little she has, and it must be said she looks perfect as the icy boss lady character. I think they wanted her character to seem like a simple bitch who turns out to have more going on under the surface – only the film never gives us any option to see that; so Theron gives a good performance, but with a badly developed character. As for the rest of the crew – they exist to be functions in the plot, namely as the people to which bad things happen. There’s not a single name I remember from them at all.
I saw the film in 3D, and while I normally recommend against it, I’d say that in this case it’s up to the viewer – if you really dig 3D, then you’ll like what the movie has to offer, and if you prefer the 2D side of cinema, you’re not missing out on that much by not having a bit of added depth perception. Interestingly, the film seems to give up on the 3D after a while – the climactic shots of the movie (which, again, I’ll not spoil) seem tailor made for 3D, but didn’t have much going on in them at all. There is a lot of the movie that takes place in the dark, so that’s something to consider if, like me, thedimmed nature of 3D hurts your eyes a bit when straining to see what’s happening in the dark.
If people thought the first Alien movie was full of sexual undertones, then I can say that any Freudian Analyst will have a meltdown with some of the imagery in this movie. But as to how Prometheus ties in with Alien? Well, if you’ve never seen the Alien films, you’re in luck. you don’t really need to have seen them for this to be an enjoyable watch. If you have, however, than you’ll be pleased (at first) by all the subtle throwbacks to the Alien films, and sly references and visual allusions, but you’ll also become a bit frustrated by how much the film is repeating elements of the Alien films, with only minor changes made so that they can seem enigmatic by claiming that it’s not a direct prequel. Either way, the way the film closes will give you a direct answer as to whether it’s a prequel or not.
Overall, this is a movie that’s worth seeing; it’s not what I was expecting it to be, and it’s got a lot of good times to be had. It would’ve been interesting to see how it went without the Lindelof rewrites, but it’s still a good bit of sci-fi. I do recommend seeing it on the big screen to get the full effect of the visual scale of the movie.