Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Rafe Spall, Sean Harris, Guy Pearce
Words: N. Scatcherd
Prometheus is a film which, from its inception, seemed like it was being made up on the spot. It was announced as a straight Alien prequel; and then as a story set in the same ‘world’ but having nothing directly to do with the Alien franchise; and then emerging as something between those two things, with Scott calling back to his original ‘79 film while attempting to spin things off into an altogether separate strand of mythology.
It could be argued that Scott and co were playing coy about how Prometheus fit into the series in an attempt to drum up mystique and speculation, but the finished film seems so sloppy and haphazard at points that it seems more like there were some opposing impulses at play; a desire for artistic freedom on one hand, and on the other, a begrudging acknowledgement of the studio’s need for fan-appeasement. The film wants to have its cake and eat it, trying to stand on its own feet as a new, sweeping sci-fi epic untethered by expectation, while also resignedly and limply nodding at the original film as though it feels obliged to.
Scientist Elizabeth Shaw (a miscast Noomi Rapace) and her boyfriend/fellow scientist Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) discover ancient cave paintings which appear to show how a race of aliens – dubbed ‘Engineers’ – had a guiding hand in the development of early humanity (as it turns out, they actually created human life on Earth). So, our intrepid protagonists jet off with a crew of fellow scientific folk from various fields of research, all of whom have been hired by the Weyland corporation (this is indeed a prequel, taking place pre-merger before the company is ‘Weyland-Yutani’, as we know it from the rest of the Alien series), and of course things spin out of control as they delve into the fundamental questions of existence, and come face to face with makers who seem less than benevolent.
The film certainly looks good, at least. A particular standout is the almost dreamlike opening scene, wherein one of the Engineers appears to sacrifice his own DNA in the creation of human life. Also, the creatures here are particularly icky and frightening (a huge, monstrous kind of proto-Facehugger appears in one scene and is genuinely horrific). Scott certainly still has a flair for visual design, and on that count Prometheus is undeniably strong. It’s the storytelling that lets the film down, with some bafflingly lazy scripting and stilted dialogue. Supposedly intelligent characters behave in some scenes like total idiots just so the plot can progress in a certain way (the most irksome example being Rafe Spall’s biologist deciding that, when faced with an obviously hostile vagina-serpent creature, the best course of action is to treat it like a cute little puppy). There are also holographic visual recordings of the Engineers which appear seemingly at random, used as a lazy way of tossing off bits and pieces of backstory. They genuinely make no sense at all and feel entirely devoid of context (and don’t get me started on the ‘black alien goo’ which seems to do whatever the plot dictates it can at any given moment).
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Prometheus is how self-important it feels. Scott seems to overestimate how interesting his plot actually is, teasing all these ‘Big Ideas’ about the creation of humanity; where we come from, why we’re here, and our ultimate destiny – but they’re all ideas which have been explored in more depth, and more entertainingly, elsewhere. The answers we do get feel ploddingly predictable, and by the end of the film there are only more questions raised. It’s no surprise that it was co-written by Damon Lindelof, co-creator and chief writer of the infamous TV series Lost, which was similarly nebulous and evasive when it came to what the ‘point’ was.
At its core, Prometheus feels like a lot of set-up with little pay-off; a two hour prologue for a movie which might actually do something interesting with the Alien series. Hopefully Alien: Paradise Lost (whatever it ends up being, and if it’s still even called that by the time it comes out) will take the glimmer of potential Prometheus offered and make good on it.
After all, isn’t it about time we had another decent Alien movie?