As soon as Ridley Scott announced he was making a new science fiction movie, fanboys immediately dubbed it the quintessential Alien prequel. Even after its release, people are citing ways in which Prometheus relates to Scott’s original film. I cannot emphasize more that Prometheus has almost nothing to do with Alien. The two movies don’t even take place on the same planet. Admittedly, Alien will be seen in a different context after viewing this movie, but it is not at all essential to understanding the 1979 classic. Instead, Prometheus stands on its own as a solid genre piece, but is that really a bad thing?
Alien, a personal favorite of mine, works so well because an explanation of the origins of the planet and the grotesque, violent monster that abides in its depths is never provided. Like Hannibal in The Silence of the Lambs and the Joker in The Dark Knight, some of the greatest characters manifested on film have mysterious origins. Giving the xenomorph an intricate origin story would have been a grave misstep, as most prequels usually are. Even though there are nods to the alien in this movie, the mysterious element present in Alien is preserved.
The year is 2089. Archeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her boyfriend Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a series of cave drawings from a number of civilizations who shared no contact with one another but each containing a map of a solar system billions of miles from earth. Five years later, the multi-trillion dollar ship known as the Prometheus lands on the distant moon LV-223. Their mission is to find what they call the Engineers, extraterrestrial beings who created human beings. As evidenced by its opening scene, the movie operates under the assumption that aliens were responsible for our entire existence. The mission of the Prometheus is not to prove this fact, but to meet their makers.
The script, penned by Lost‘s Damon Lindelof and relative newcomer Jon Spaihts, takes its time setting up its story and characters. The film is relatively uneventful for its first hour or so, introducing us to the world of LV-22 and masterfully building intrigue and an impending sense of doom. Almost all of the characters are believable and interesting, and the story never goes flat. Though that isn’t to say that the script doesn’t have its issues.
“How far would you go to get what you came all this way for, your answers? What would you be willing to do?” David, the android aboard the Prometheus played masterfully by Michael Fassbender, proposes this question to Charlie. This idea of meeting our maker and discovering our reason for existence is touched on multiple times in the film, but inexplicably abandoned by the third act. In fact, many of the movie’s plot lines are left unresolved by the film’s climax.
Decisions made by some of the characters make no sense at all and exist only to aid the plot and transition to the next scene. This adds a dose of detachment from the characters because we don’t understand why they are acting this way. For example, if you were a biologist and encountered a new extraterrestrial being, would your first reaction be to try and pet it? If a woman covered and a recently stitched surgical incision stumbled into the room would you act unphased and pretend its just another day at the office? It’s just lazy writing. While this doesn’t destroy the movie altogether, it does turn the film into a good movie rather than a great one.
On a technical level, the look of the film is breathtaking and full of detail. The visual effects are top notch, from the set design aboard the Prometheus to the mysterious depths of LV-22. The cast does a wonderful job with what they are given, and Fassbender in particular shines in yet another dynamic performance. The movie is full of memorable experiences, from a chilling operation scene to the destruction of an alien spaceship. Scott’s decision to film the movie with 3D cameras was a successful one and provides an even greater depth to the visual aesthetics in the film. After less-than-stellar movies like Robin Hood and Body of Lies, it’s wonderful to see Ridley Scott remind us why he’s one of the best directors out there.
If you haven’t seen Prometheus yet, I urge you to do so. The fact that a summer blockbuster is generating conversation should be reason enough to check this movie out. After mindless outings like Snow White and Battleship, isn’t it nice to finally have a movie that gets people talking. Plus, we don’t get many science fiction films of this caliber. Prometheus has its flaws, some of them gaping, but it is still worth a look.