It isn’t often I re-review a film, but boy, is Prometheus a strange beast…
Set in the not-too-distant future of 2094, a scientific research vessel explores a distant planet in the hopes of discovering the origins of the human race; a race of beings responsible for seeding life on Earth. But when they get there, they find only horrors.
I reviewed Prometheus back during its release in 2012, but what with director Ridley Scott’s sequel Alien: Covenant releasing in 2017 I felt it necessary to watch this for only the second time. It is after all, a very divisive, hugely flawed yet almost intriguing movie.
First of all, the positives. The story is set in the same universe as Scott’s franchise originator Alien, and returning to that universe is compelling (unfortunately the same can be said about Pitch Black and its sequel Chronicles of Riddick and look how that turned out). The visuals are gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous. Ridley Scott knows how to shoot and compose a film, we know this, but as a high-concept sci-fi movie now five years old, it still looks incredible. The production value here has clearly had a lot of time and love poured into it. The first act is strong, being so divergent from the Alien franchise, it has a sense of exploration (even the soundtrack is full of wonder) The casting is heavyweight: Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron and Idris Elba, all who in 2012 were hugely rising talent.
That’s almost all the positives.
Where Prometheus struggles: plot, script, characters, the motivation of characters, narrative conveniences and inability to excel under the huge expectations laid upon its shoulders. Alien, regardless of its sequels both good and bad, is a masterclass of film-making.
Pretty huge problems then. While Scott had claimed Prometheus would not feature the alien organism from his first film, movie-goers still expected it to tie directly to that film as a prequel, or at least have answers. Mainly: who or what was “the Space Jockey”?
We are now entering spoiler territory.
The answer to this disenfranchised a lot of the core fans. The film liberally expressing in the script that the creepy exo-skeleton designed by the late, great H.R. Giger, was actually just a space suit, worn by a very humanoid alien. An “Engineer”.
More pressing though, is the origin of the xenomorph alien or indeed the eggs seen in Alien. Again, no answers are given. Instead, we get a bioweapon, a mutagen created by the engineers and a shrine of some sort coveting the xenomorph, or something like it. But while the first Alien and even James Cameron’s sequel Aliens taught us a very straightforward biology of the monsters… Prometheus‘ narrative was heavily rewritten by Damon Lindelof (he was involved in writing Lost) four times, making for a borderline nonsensical experience. Introducing new concepts and horrors that have no bearing on each other without any explanation, making most of the “scares” both bewildering and comical.
The film is very confused as to what it wants to be, and I don’t think it helps that scenes were liberally cut from the film. It has many ideas but is unconvinced to run with one of them, so it does things spontaneously, making for some hilariously stupid character moments and illogical scientists.
“Don’t touch it!”
Proceeds to touch it.
Finds the first evidence of extraterrestrial life in the universe.
Proceeds to BLOW IT UP immediately.
Finds incredibly dangerous and unknown life form.
Wants to pet it for no discernible reason.
And of course, if you are running away from something that’s moving only in a straight line, you don’t run in the same direction as it. You. Run. To. The. Side.
I blame Lindelof for nearly everything wrong with Prometheus. It feels over-written, garbled and edited. There are far too many characters who are watered down to being only recognisable by thick accents or “quirks” – literally, two characters have a bet going on and that’s all the development they get. A lot of the character motivations here are based off of hunches and theories, and none of these hunches are fully rewarded or clarified which makes for an unrewarding, ambiguous experience. Plus there are what I like to call “The Holograms of Convenience”, where characters just receive holograms inside the alien ship without doing anything to get them, simply to progress the plot forward.
Prometheus is a gorgeous but dumb movie. If it had been its own science fiction film people would have been far more appreciative of it, but you can’t not correlate it to what it is driving towards, two of the greatest sci-fi experiences ever conceived. Ridley Scott shouldn’t have sat on the fence about Prometheus being a prequel to Alien or not as much as he did.
Fassbender is the best thing here as the robot David; everyone else is either expendable, boring or with a ridiculous accent.
Ultimately, I didn’t gain anything from watching it again. It is about as nonsensical and beautiful as I remember, and really does more harm than good to the 1979 film.
Additional Marshmallows: Did you know, before Lindelof got his hands on it, the script was originally titled Alien: Engineers and was a far more literal prequel to Alien? But Scott had Lindelof rewrite it and remove the identifiable references to Alien.
Additional, additional marshmallows: Though finished but deleted scenes exist, on Youtube even, no Director’s or Extended Cut of Prometheus exists.