Review: Prometheus

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.

★★★★☆

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5 thoughts on “Review: Prometheus

  1. Checking this film out tonight, found myself just scanning this article hoping not to spoil anything. Glad you enjoyed it and can’t wait to come back and read this full review and see if we share the same thoughts. I am really hopeful for it since James Cameron had no part in it’s production or directing.

  2. You’re right about die hard Alien fans having very high expectations… I hated it when I saw it, and decided to go back a few days later, more able to judge it on its own merits. It’s a decent sci-fi flick, that looks and sounds great, but is not terribly original, and it does suffer from plot holes so large that I felt insulted that the writer expected me to overlook them. I can forgive a small contrivance to make a plot work, but this film had too many for me to take.

    I won’t post them here, in case readers haven’t seen, but I made a list at
    http://www.prometheus-movie.com/community/forums/topic/7057

    There’s too many contrived situations to swallow, which for me made the action and horror less credible, and the plot very predictable. But it seemed to me like The writer wrote an opening scene setting out the mythology he wanted to follow, and it seems like in order to whittle the characters down to the ones already in mind for the penultimate scene and sequel. The films flow felt like it was more about building a sequel than telling its own story, which it too often attempted by giving ridiculous dialogue about ‘the big question’ to characters (Shaw, David and Holloway) which for the most part doesn’t fit what’s going on around them, and might as well have been done by having them turn direct to camera, explain the premise as an aside, then say “did you get that” before returning to character.
    It’s insulting to an audience in my opinion, and I hope a different team of writers are involved in the sequel, – which some suspect has already been in production.

    Also, just to show how nit-picky I am, I’m going to point out some errors in your Trivia.

    LV-246 wasn’t a star system. It’s a small moon in the star system Zeta 2 Reticuli.
    LV-223 (not LV 322) is also a moon not a star system, and it’s not indicated on the cave drawings. It just happens to be the only habitable planet they find when they get up to the star system that is represented by the cave drawings.

    • Wasn’t the planet in the first two Alien films LV-426? I agree with on the plot issues and point the finger at the scriptwriters for trying to push the mystery into “Lost” territory. Personally, i loved Prometheus and I’d like to think Ridley Scott will take us into his Sci-Fi universe one more time.

  3. Maybe this is why I loved Prometheus so much. Don’t get me wrong, I love Alien & Aliens but I wasn’t expecting much connection between the two. In fact I did myself the rare favor of not reading much other than Ridley Scott saying this wasn’t an Alien prequel, and while it can certainly be argued that it was in fact an Alien prequel, that wasn’t the point of the movie in my estimation.

    The second the movie was over I didn’t love it, but I thought it was decent. However following the movie, my wife and I discussed it for about an hour or more and over that time our appreciation grew and we began to really like the film. I loved trying to figure out what was going on, or what something meant, and the mythology behind what was going on. I dug in and went for the ride, but this was an experience I had, and I know not everyone can have the same type of reaction. I would even go so far as to say I think it might be a little bit underrated based on some people’s reaction to how it played out. I don’t mean technical problems, I mean the people who didn’t like it because most answers weren’t thrown in their face. It was all guess work and a little thinking required.

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