Fans of Ridley Scott’s previous films rejoiced at the idea of a new entry into the Alien saga, even if it was a prequel and had very little to do with the events of the original and subsequent films. Unfortunately, as commonly happens, expectations were built up to unreasonable proportions, and Prometheus, despite being a film that begs to be judged on its own merits, was destined to be judged with the question “how does this compare to Alien, and what does it bring to the saga?” The answer to both is not what Alien fans expected, or wanted. But does that mean the movie isn’t any good? Absolutely not.
About 100 years before the events of Alien and the horror that was star system LV-426, primitive, ancient drawings are discovered in caves all over the world that date back thousands of years. These paintings depict a very large humanoid pointing to a particular group of stars in the sky. After careful analysis, it is theorized that this being is the creator of human life on Planet Earth, and the star system indicated in the drawing, LV-322, is where our maker comes from. Money is spent, and inevitably a manned voyage to LV-322 is made to discover the answers to the most fundamental questions about the origin of humanity. Who made us? Why are we here? Where did we come from? Naturally, the hard line religious fans of the series will no doubt be rolling their eyes at this point in the film. It is these questions that form the back bone of the story Prometheus wants to tell, and sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Alien was definitively a horror film. It didn’t raise any bold questions, but depicted the struggle to survive, a concept that resonated deeply with fans of the era. The sequel, Aliens, is an action film that challenged the limits of visual effects and story-telling. The lack of stark terror in Aliens is made up for with visual spectacle and intense, character driven action. The other two films are travesties and are best left out of the equation. Where Alien is a horror film and Aliens is an action film, Prometheus is a mystery, and this is where it really shines.
Ridley Scott quickly poses the driving questions of the film to the audience and allows them to move us along at a pace where we do not become frustrated by the lack of resolution, but not so quickly that we can’t enjoy the ride. The first half of the film is dedicated to exploration, of learning as much as we can about this alien planet and the mysterious “engineers” that once inhabited it. The pacing is perfect and made exponentially better by a film score that masterfully captures the sense of wonder, awe and the potentially lethal, unknown beauty of the idea that we are exploring the birthplace of humanity. I spent the majority of my time during the first half of the movie glued to screen, watching so intently as the characters moved down the long, dark corridors of LV-322 that I almost forgot I was watching a movie.
The second half of the film turns the exploration on its head and becomes instantly more familiar to Alien fans. The elements of Prometheus transform to genuinely frightening, suspenseful sequences that can make even the most hardened critic squirm in their seat. The tale changes from one of exploration and wonder to one of survival, a bad situation compounded by the fact that there isn’t a clearly defined villain in this film, only a series of characters who’s motivations are vastly different from one another.
While Prometheus asks some very deep questions about the origins of humanity to drive the film, the best part of the film is hands down Michael Fassbender (X-men: First class). His performance as the cold emotionless android, David, really steals the show. Initially, David’s purpose is to babysit the human passengers aboard the Prometheus while they sleep in transit. Once they wake up, however, his mission changes, and it becomes clear that while the crew of the Prometheus is set on discovering the answers to the questions of our past, David is looking to the future, on the creation of new life, a mission he meticulously and ruthlessly completes with chilling consequences.
I loved almost everything about Prometheus. The backbone of the film was a series of questions that I often think about myself as I look up into the stars at night, wondering what’s out there. The notion that humanity has extra-terrestrial origins is by no means a new idea, but choosing to use that idea to drive the film is in no way a bad thing. Ridley Scott delivers an intelligent, straightforward science fiction film that captures the spirit and mystery of exploration that will resonate most strongly with the viewer who can detach themselves from the Alien franchise and take in the spectacle Prometheus has to offer as a stand-alone film. It weaves a rich tapestry of very human, flawed characters who want nothing more than to find out where we came from, and puts them in a scenario where their dreams are turned on their heads and the consequences of their naive expectations are terrible.
Go see Prometheus, but abandon any notion that you are watching an Alien film or the movie will never live up to your expectations. This is as much an Alien film as a Batman film would be without Batman. It deserves to be judged on its own and if you can do so, you’ll find yourself watching a film that will become a classic piece of science fiction in your collection; one that you will find yourself wanting to watch again as soon as its over.