Just Turn Left Charlize!
I’ve always had a soft spot for Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, I know it’s got problems aplenty: yes Charlize Theron could’ve turned left (or right for that matter) to avoid certain death, the decision to age Guy Pearce with prosthetics was terrible and THAT Xenomorph cameo was bloody awful: but for all its apparent flaws I don’t think Prometheus is a bad movie, A Good Day to Die Hard is a bad movie (even worse title), but I’m not here to talk about that shit-show!
For all its flaws Prometheus is still a film with aspiration and for a supposed fifth entry within a cinematic franchise (the less said about the two AvP films the better) that’s something that should at least be applauded. In short it’s a solid sci-fi feature, but one severely hampered by its connection to the Alien universe.
Right from the get go Prometheus felt like a film that was pulled in every direction: on one hand 20th Century Fox clearly wanted to reignite their Alien franchise, a cinematic cash cow that had long been stripped down to its bare bones. Whilst on the other hand we had a director who clearly wasn’t interested in anymore Xenomorph action and wanted to make a bold sci-fi feature in the mould of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The compromise it seemed was a film that shared ‘strands of Alien’s DNA’ but explored its own mythology and ideas. Scott stated he wanted Prometheus to tell the story of the infamous space-jockey, seen albeit briefly in the early stages of the original feature and explain how its story was connected to his 1979 feature and mankind’s creation.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre in Space
Replicating the magic of Alien was always going to be an impossible task, even for Scott himself. The original film was a master-class in tension-escalation, I’ve often dubbed it Texas Chainsaw Massacre in Space, the horror doesn’t come from the moments the alien is onscreen, but more so when it isn’t! The dark and dingy corridors of the USCSS Nostromo become the perfect ghost house for Scott to deliver his scares in this atmospheric sci-fi feature.
Prometheus was a very different creature to its predecessor, playing out like an old-fashioned sci-fi feature: at its heart it’s a film about mankind reaching out to the stars and aspiring to meet their maker- it just so happened that pursuit happened to take place within the same universe as Xenomorphs, Face-Huggers and Alien Queens.
Spirituality in an Alien Movie?
Much like Scott’s subsequent film, Exodus: Gods and Kings there’s tonnes of spirituality and religious sub-text interwoven into the film’s screenplay, dabbling with lofty concepts like creation and destruction throughout its runtime. That spiritual subtext never really sat well with fans of the original movie and even less so with fans of James Cameron’s equally impressive sequel: It seemed out-of-place and misconceived, although I personally admire Scott for trying to replant the Alien universe firmly back within a proper sci-fi setting.
More than anything Prometheus was a victim of its own hype: there was the unavoidable fanfare to which Scott’s return not only to the Alien franchise but also the sci-fi genre was greeted and a series of overly-revealing trailers really didn’t help matters further.
Like many viewers I remember thinking to myself at the time: “If they’re showing me this in the trailer, what’s gonna be in the rest of the film?” That was the problem, they showed bloody everything! Every CGI gribbly, every set-piece and key narrative plot-point were all on display within the film’s trailers and therefore there were no surprises left for cinemagoers who paid to see the film.
Enough of the Flaws, Let’s be Positive!
Visually the film looks stunning, much like so many of Scott’s previous films, the British director built an immersive world, down to the smallest detail for his film to exist in: from lush alien landscapes, fantastically designed spaceships and amazing Giger inspired interiors, Prometheus looked gorgeous and it was accompanied by a brilliant score composed by Marc Streitenfeld and Harry Gregson Williams.
One of the film’s biggest positives was Michael Fassbender’s performance as David. The Irish actor steals every scene he’s in with a magnetic performance that oozed menace. Channelling Peter O’Toole’s T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia, his android character approached the unfolding drama with a chilling degree of calmness, able to do the things he did with the innocence of a child.
He’s by no means the film’s villain; he does the deeply unethical things he does not because he wants to but because that’s simply the way he’s been designed: able to act in such an amoral way because his programming allows it.
We’re constantly reminded that David is a synthetic being, manmade and not human: he’s an android with no soul so therefore wouldn’t understand mankind’s desire to meet their makers. Yet as Lance Henriksen’s Bishop put it in Aliens, he may be synthetic, but he’s not stupid, David is all too aware he’s in the presence of his own makers onboard the Prometheus.
Elisabeth Shaw, Last Survivor of the Prometheus.
Poor ole Noomi Rapace got considerable criticism for her role within the film, but the Swedish actress didn’t really give a bad performance: admittedly her character was a little underwritten, her story arc far too similar to Ripley’s in Alien and she’s given a little too much expositional dialogue throughout the feature, but that didn’t really bother me that much.
Her character’s caesarean sequence is a wonderfully gruesome and grotesque set piece and something even David Cronenberg would’ve been proud of: it’s also a nice switch from the male-rape aesthetic so prominent within Scott’s original feature.
Sadly it looks like we won’t see much of Rapace within Alien: Covenant and whilst I’m a little disappointed by this I’ll accept I’m probably in the minority where that’s concerned, I can’t see many fan-boys clambering to have her character brought back to the franchise and cloned 200 years in the future.
A Solid Sci-Fi Feature, just not a very good Alien Film
At the outset of this piece I admitted that Prometheus was a deeply flawed feature, whilst I admired its ambition and scale I think the film was shackled by its connection to the Alien franchise. In moving away from the Xenomorphs and Face-Huggers to lofty ideas about mankind’s creation it moved away from the fan-base the series had created.
Personally I think it was a good thing, after-all the franchise had long-lost its scare-factor and credibility, the Predalien from AvP 2 without doubt was the straw that broke the camel’s back: but Scott’s attempts to bring the franchise back to a serious sci-fi footing raised more questions than it asked. It would’ve been better received had Prometheus played out as more of a direct prequel to Alien.
The events of this film could’ve easily taken place on LV-426, the Xenomorph cameo could’ve taken place with the Engineer in his spacecraft’s cockpit and that message recorded by Shaw at the end of the film could’ve been the message the Nostromo picked up at the start of Alien. Sadly it wasn’t! But then I’m not a Hollywood screenwriter.
Big Things, Have Small Beginnings!
The film’s script, co-written by Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaints got too heavily weighed down with its big grandiose ideas and laying the foundations for future instalments that it didn’t bother to resolve many of the questions it raised throughout Prometheus’s runtime.
Frustratingly it left those loose-ends for subsequent sequels to answer and hopefully they’ll be answered when Covenant is released in cinemas next month!
Maybe then Prometheus will get a little more love from the fans after all ‘big things have small beginnings’.