Prometheus is the much-ballyhooed return of Ridley Scott to the sci-fi horror realm of Alien that he started 33 years ago. Alien, of course, started one of the more convoluted (but enduring) franchises of the last few decades. Sadly few of those entries were well-liked, giving movie fans hope that THIS time, with the original director back and a big budget to accomplish his goals, we’d finally get the return to the series we’ve been hoping for.
So do we? Mostly. This movie is technically a prequel to Alien, but the most unconventional prequel I’ve ever seen. It likely raises far more questions than it answers (which is very few), and this seems to be the main reason for the backlash starting online. Indeed, the movie seems to leave so much unanswered that people are speculating about a pre-planned sequel…which would either have to fit between Prometheus and Alien, or go off and tell a parallel story that is in the same universe, but no longer related to the original story. Both of these options would be fine with me, since I liked this one so much.
Let me discuss this movie though, instead of speculating about theoreticals. Starring Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, and Noomi Rapace, Prometheus is an ambitious sci-fi/horror movie about a scientific crew on a spaceship searching a distant planet for an interstellar origin of humanity. The cast is generally good. There might be a few too many characters, reducing the amount of time we get to spend with each one, but it’s realistic that a spaceship would have a large crew. An odd casting choice was having Guy Pearce (one of my favorite actors) play an old man. I couldn’t see much reason to not simply cast an old actor, of which there are many. Nevertheless, the standout is Michael Fassbender, whose performance is suited well for this movie. He’s alternately distant, caring, analytical, secretive, and you’re never quite sure what his motivations are.
The script is concerned with big ideas, some connected to the previous series and some brand new ones of its own. It perhaps bit off more than it could chew, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It leads to one of the “thinkiest” movies I’ve seen in quite some time and has certainly led to some of the longer post-movie discussions I’ve had lately. The creative team obviously wanted to make this movie a separate entity from the existing series, while also being explicitly set in the same universe. This leads to the main source of problems with the script. There is a difference to me between unanswered questions and contradictions. Unanswered questions are fine with me; the audience doesn’t need to know everything. Contradictions are not ok with me. If we’ve seen something happen and then something DIFFERENT happens under the same circumstances, there should be a reason for it, or the movie just ends up confusing the audience.
Prometheus has plenty of both, unfortunately. The questions are interesting ones, well worth discussing, with no shortage of viable theories. They are as small as movie-specific details, to Alien-series questions, to overall themes of faith and human history. Again, the ambition on display is remarkable. The contradictions, however, are too many to be overlooked. Again, they exist both within this movie and how it connects to the series as a whole. These stick in your mind while watching the movie, making the viewer struggle to reconcile what they’re seeing on screen and distracting from the interesting questions that they should be thinking about instead.
One aspect that doesn’t disappoint, though, is the visuals. I don’t just mean the quality of the effects, I also mean the production design. The look of the creatures, ships, planet, technology, and cinematography are all stunning. It’s a treat to see such imagination executed at the highest level. It’s also nice to get away from the jagged metal aesthetic of recent movies like Transformers, Battleship, and Battle: LA with something that feels more otherworldly. The opening scene is easily one of my top 5 scenes of the year. It’s mysterious, beautiful, creepy, exciting, and meaningful. The rest of the film is filled with moments of wonder and dread. During one scene I was actually pushing backward off the floor into my seat because of fear, and in another, I’m pretty sure my mouth was open in amazement. It’s a stellar blend of horror and action.
I love science fiction. I especially love good science fiction that goes beyond generic robots/spaceships/aliens. This unquestionably is good science fiction. It aims for a loftier goal than entertainment–it aims to be “important,” yet never forgets to entertain along the way. The fact that the story is slightly too convoluted for its own good is a detriment, but not one so ruinous as to invalidate the attempt. I will concede that there are a few ridiculous script moments, and a few scenes that don’t make logical sense with what we’ve seen before, but these flaws can be overlooked when compared to what they got right, which is a lot more than your typical summer blockbuster. I personally hope they revisit this story, whether with a sequel, another prequel, or even just a parallel story in this same fascinating universe.