Directed by Ridley Scott
Screenplay by Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof
Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron
How long is Prometheus? 124 minutes.
What is Prometheus rated? R for sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language.
Though visually stunning and ambitious, ‘Prometheus’
falters under its own weight.
After more than 30 years, it could not have been an easy decision for director Ridley Scott to re-visit the world of Alien, which, in 1979, launched his career as an iconic filmmaker. But, that is exactly what he has done with Prometheus, which is only tenuously related to the original film. Fans of Alien have been speculating about the film’s plot and imagery for three decades, and Scott himself has said he had lingering questions that he thought needed to be addressed. Those questions were the genesis of Prometheus.
However, Prometheus is not a strict prequel, sequel, spin-off or reboot of Alien. Scott has described the film as a being a separate story set within the same fictional universe as the first film. The phrase “peripheral prequel” is close to accurate if “prequel” is taken to mean simply coming earlier chronologically but not necessarily influencing future events. Understanding this important distinction will greatly improve your experience.
Early in the film, we meet Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) as they are excavating a cave located on the side of a remote mountain. Inside they find drawings on the walls that match other images they have found at different sites all over the world. We jump ahead four years to 2093 where Shaw and Holloway wake from cryo-sleep aboard the Prometheus. The ship is on a mission to a very distant moon called LV-223 which Shaw and Holloway believe is the home of the alien beings that left the cave paintings. Further, they believe the beings, which they refer to as “Engineers,” are responsible for life on Earth, including humans.
The person overseeing the expedition is Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), a representative of Weyland Industries, the corporation responsible for building the Prometheus and funding the voyage. Vickers makes her reticence about the mission abundantly clear, but does not directly interfere with the proceedings. Another Weyland entity is David (Michael Fassbender), or more accurately, David8, a robotic life form that is practically indistinguishable from a human. David acted as babysitter and watchdog as the 12-person crew slumbered on the two-year journey to LV-223.
As they hoped, Shaw and Holloway find signs of advanced life when the ship reaches its destination. Though it is clear an intelligent race of beings was on the planet at one time, the crew is unable to find any lingering signs of life. Their exploration of the ruins reveals some clues as to what once took place but also sets off an unstoppable chain reaction for which they are totally unprepared.
Very few specifics have been released about the plot of Prometheus aside from the story dealing with the origins of mankind. The plot is much more grand than Alien, involving serious philosophical and religious imagery and allusions. The first draft of Prometheus was written by Jon Spaihts, and then essentially re-written by Damon Lindelof (of Lost fame) under the tutelage of Scott. Lindelof is clearly a talented and imaginative writer, but he attempts to squeeze too much into just one film. Though his script does answer some of the questions about Alien that fans have been debating for decades, in the end it poses so many more questions that it feels like only two-thirds of a complete film.
Scott and Lindelof have both admitted that there is a possibility for a Prometheus sequel and that the next film would answer some of the questions brought up in this film. But that is cheating the audience. The Matrix was an outstanding work of cinema that is entirely self-contained though open to interpretation. Scott and Lindelof appear to be aiming for that combination of blockbuster entertainment and intelligent storytelling, but they end up with something closer to The Matrix Reloaded, a far inferior work, which ends with an ellipsis and only works when taken in conjunction with The Matrix Revolutions.
Story challenges aside, Prometheus is still a highly entertaining and engaging film. It is among Scott’s most visually impressive films, which is saying a lot considering his resume. Unlike so many films that have been released in the last several years, Prometheus’s use of 3D technology actually enhances the movie experience by bringing the audience into the world of the film instead of simply making the images jump off the screen. Prometheus opens with a silent and beautiful prologue that includes some of the most fantastic images in the film. In the film, David says “From small beginnings come great things,” a reference to Lawrence of Arabia, a film he’s fond of. That is an appropriate description of Scott’s journey from Alien to Prometheus in relation to each film’s scale and ambition.
Speaking of Fassbender, he once again gives an incredible performance as an artificial being whose loyalties and goals are unclear from the start. In Alien, we don’t know that Ash (played by Ian Holm) is a robot until well into the movie, whereas we know from the start that David is not human. This does not make him any less mysterious or unpredictable and Fassbender’s cool and convincing performance doesn’t let any secrets slip. Theron is also quite good as the most pessimistic crew member and self-imposed outsider. One can’t help but compare Rapace to Sigourney Weaver who played Ripley in Alien (and the many sequels). While Rapace is entirely competent, she is no Sigourney Weaver and Shaw is no Ripley.
Die-hard fans of Alien will be frustrated with the numerous unanswered questions and unnecessary ambiguity of the film’s ending, but they will also have more than enough fodder for several more decades of bickering. Casual moviegoers who are just looking for a suspenseful and exciting trip to the movies will definitely enjoy Prometheus and will likely be prompted to go back and watch Alien for the first time.