Much more than an ‘Alien’ prequel, for better or for worse.
Be careful what you wish for, because audience expectation is a tricky thing. Let’s take this example right here – if you’re going into Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’ expecting a prequel to ‘Alien’, you’re going to be surprised or frustrated to find that it’s much bigger than that. It’s an extremely ambitious sci-fi epic that deals not only has the contained horror feel of ‘Aliens’ but deals with more metaphysical sci-fi themes than you would expect. It doesn’t succeed in all it tries to achieve, but is a cinematic experience that will please fans of both sci-fi and the ‘Alien’ franchise.
In the year 2089, archaeologist couple Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her boyfriend Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) decide to go on a space expedition after finding ancient markings all around the world that hint that we evolved from a specie bigger than us that might still exist. Funded by Weyland Corporation, they assemble a team of explorers including an android David (Michael Fassbender) and use the vessel USS Prometheus to travel to LV-223 – a planet light-years away from Earth. But it’s there that they realise the origins of human existence and that it’s not at all what they made it out to be.
As most people following the film would know, the project started off as a direct prequel to ‘Alien’ by the writer Jon Spaihts until Ridley Scott hired a new writer to rework it. The new writer in question was Damon Lindelof, who also happened be the creator of the epic TV show ‘Lost’, instead suggested Scott to make it something more original and reworked it into something of its own. The result is a script where you can firmly see what carried over from the original ‘Alien’ prequel script and what was added in by the writer of ‘Lost’. On one hand, you get a much better experience than you would have got if it was just an ‘Alien’ prequel which audiences were expecting anyway. I think sci-fi fans will be surprised and enjoy the intrigue behind it all since there are points where the film defies your expectations as a viewer by exploring themes you wouldn’t expecting. It makes for a very ambitious and original film in a summer filled with superhero movies and sequels, and Ridley Scott definitely earns major credit for doing that.
Ridley Scott has always been a director known for his beautiful visual design, especially when it comes to the sci-fi genre (‘Blade Runner’ has been copied visually by pretty much every other dystopian future sci-fi film). And ‘Prometheus’ once again excels in that regard, and will probably end up being the best looking film of the entire year. The visuals are fantastic and larger than life, effectively building a vast futuristic world that the film needs but also having a massive scope in the visuals on Earth itself. It’s a film that definitely needs to be seen in IMAX 3D because it greatly benefits from it and actually is worth the surcharge unlike most other post-conversions. The cinematography is top-notch and very memorable, the atmosphere is tense and effective, while the CGI and practical effects are very realistic and creepy when they need to be.
But it’s the plot here that will end up being divisive and the most talked about aspect of the film for months to come. It’s more provocative than ‘Alien’ ever was, in the sense that it reaches out to be much more than just a sci-fi horror film. It’s very cerebral and actually gets into the theme of who we evolved from and the moral implications that surround it. But does it successfully answer those questions? Unfortunately, that’s something you will have to decide and there are bound to be people that will either love it or hate it. Personally, I liked the questions that were posed and the thoughts that were provided, but the resolution in itself of those questions felt way too vague and lacking to actually make you feel satisfied in that regard. It’s clear that the filmmakers are planning a lot more things for the sequel now, but the film leaves a lot more for the sequel to resolve than it does on its own. In a sense, it’s a lot like ‘Lost’ as a show always was. A show that dared to be very ambitious and introduced a lot of metaphysical themes into the mix, but never really successfully resolved them as neatly as sci-fi fans would want it to be.
Because the thing here is that the film tries to do a lot of things at the same time, which includes not only being an ‘Alien’ like sci-fi film but also a larger epic with deeper themes. And there’s a disconnect between these two aspects of the film in the sense that it never really gels together as a film tonally. It always feels like two different films pushed together into one – a tense sci-fi horror film in the vein of ‘Alien’ and something much more original and large. The fact that two very different writers with different ideologies worked on it becomes quite evident with this, and the fact is that in the end the film leans more towards being that large sci-fi epic than being an ‘Alien’ prequel, which is probably why it got renamed. But possibly because of audience expectations or insistence on the studio’s part for not giving such a large budget for a purely original property, the ‘Alien’ like aspects of the film feel somewhat forced and more of fan service than organic to the story. Don’t get me wrong – those scenes are actually tense and a highlight of the film, but somehow they don’t fit into the general theme of what the movie otherwise is and feel more as if Scott owed it to the ‘Alien’ fans to add them in. This stands true especially of the very last scene of the movie, which is very cool and will spark debate but feels like a last minute addition only for die-hard ‘Alien’ fans so that they don’t leave too disappointed.
I’m not trying to sound too negative in the review, because ‘Prometheus’ is a film I would highly recommend to any self-respecting sci-fi fan based purely on how bold it dares to be and executes most of it right. There are some bizarre plot twists in here that weren’t really needed and don’t completely make sense the more you think about it, which I think ends up hurting the film a little. For example, towards the end of the film we are treated to a twist about a particular character’s fate and it comes out of the blue and negates itself soon after. Out of the cast which is actually pretty strong, a particular highlight is the excellent Michael Fassbender who plays a sophisticated robot designed to aid the explorers. He gives the character so much depth and poses a lot of moral questions with his character, ending up being more human than any of the rest. Noomi Rapace plays a great lead and could be called the new Ripley, but she has lesser things to do in the film as Ripley had in the ‘Alien’ series. Charlize Theron does well as the cold calculated leader of the group and the only person who has ulterior motives for the operation.
‘Prometheus’ is what you would get if you mix ‘Alien’ with the mythology elements of ‘Lost’, since in the end it is a result of the minds of the two creative minds behind it. And as a result, it’s an interestingly ambitious sci-fi film that’s flawed but will eventually please audiences that don’t go in with pre-defined expectations and instead look for a bold and original sci-fi from a director that shaped the genre.
If only it would have been more coherent and focused as a film, this would have been an instant classic. But for now, it ramps up the expectations for the sequel which promises much more. Here’s hoping it arrives.