After a lengthy gestation period Ridley Scott’s Prometheus finally chestbursts its way into cinemas, bursting out of the screen with the best 3D I’ve seen this side of Hugo. Ostensibly a prequel to Scott’s seminal sci-fi horror classic Alien, Prometheus is by and large its own original story, which is something of a rarity in science fiction films these days (too many remakes!). The comment made by Scott was that Prometheus has strands of Alien in its DNA, and he’s not lying, but the film is really only a prequel in the sense that it’s set in the same storytelling universe as Alien and occurs prior to the events of that film. Fans who are expecting a direct prequel might want to adjust their goalposts, as Prometheus is more about suggesting connections rather than serving them on a silver platter.
The tendency to ask questions rather than answer them is typical of Prometheus’ story which, with a screenplay penned by Jon Spaihts and Lost writer Damon Lindelof, follows in the hallowed tradition of sci-fi by posing big, philosophical gobbledygook about the origins of life, evolution and religion then leaving you to pick up the pieces. But here it works because the characters acknowledge that these questions don’t really have answers, and the few shrewd answers that are offered aren’t necessarily the ones that they (or we) want to hear. Certainly, it helps that the dialogue doesn’t resort to grandiloquent, heavy-handed proclamations and pretention, avoiding much maligned pitfalls of murky, muddled philosophising that lesser directors might mistake for depth.
But I digress, I seem to have jumped ahead a bit. The story, beginning in 2089, has archaeologist couple Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discovering a star map that might lead to our makers. Cut ahead a few years and an expedition team has been put together, flown to their destination aboard the trillion dollar spaceship Prometheus, so named after the Greek titan who stole fire from the gods and gave it mankind (make sure you check out the terrific Prometheus TED Talk viral video if you haven’t already!). Naturally, what they end up finding isn’t quite what they were expecting and chaos ensues.
The crew of the ship has a handful of well-drawn characters, such as Charlize Theron’s icy executive from the Weyland Corporation (those antagonistic douches from the Alien films) and Idris Elba’s pragmatic captain. Rapace, the original girl with the dragon tattoo, is the leading lady and is actually very un-Ripley like, a little more vulnerable and inquisitive, preventing her from feeling like a second-rate stand-in for Sigourney Weaver’s iconic character. It’s Michael Fassbender’s turn as the android David however, that steals the show. Part butler, part mechanic, David wanders the ship quoting lines from Lawrence of Arabia while the rest of the crew are in cryosleep. His motives are not always clear, but it’s obvious that he has a bit of an ego. David responds to Holloway’s point that humans made androids just because they could by pondering humanity’s disappointment if their makers said the same thing. It’s a passing comment that goes to the core of the film’s themes, which bear more in common with Scott’s Blade Runner than Alien.
And while Prometheus might venture into new thematic territory, its execution and pacing are still very much rooted in what Alien fans are familiar with. There’s that slow build whereby characters are developed, themes are explored and tension is raised. Eventually, of course, the nasties come out to play and the death and dying begin at last. Although not as single-minded in its pursuit of scares as other horror flicks, Prometheus does boast at least one sequence that’s sure to rival the infamous chestburster scene from the original Alien, simultaneously recalling the revered motherhood theme more readily prevalent in Aliens. If anything, the film’s weakness is that it does feature a couple of stupid people doing stupid things that get them killed. This is par for the course however, and really didn’t detract too much from the overall experience.
Regardless, the area in which Prometheus is an undeniable triumph is its visuals. Simply put, this is one of the most awe-inspiring movies I’ve ever seen, building off of HR Giger’s disturbing biomechanical art in Alien to present a familiar and fresh aesthetic within a rich sci-fi tapestry. The CGI alone is astonishing, with a palpable sense of scale that’s sure to drop jaws. The Prometheus itself also boasts a strong design, both internal and external, and you can’t help but admire the herculean effort that must have gone into the production. Seeing the ship dwarfed by the size of a massive ringed planet is an arresting image, one that benefits from intelligent and effective use of the 3D effect.
Furthermore, Scott’s use of practical effects is nothing short of masterful, recalling the nightmarish creature designs present in the other Alien movies and reminding us that the right application can make all the difference. That said, while the xenomorph of yesteryear isn’t strictly present in Prometheus the several icky creatures that are wouldn’t feel out of place alongside it. It’s the unnerving ‘Engineers’ that impress the most however, who with their chiselled, symmetrical features, bone white skin and black eyes look like giants that might have been carved out of marble by the ancient Greeks.
Complemented by a suitably ‘spacey’ soundtrack, part of which pays tribute to Jerry Goldsmith’s eerie score to Alien, Prometheus is an absolute victory of vision and technical filmmaking. Even so, the film’s real and surprising success is that Ridley Scott has managed to create a prequel that opens doors instead of closing them, expanding the scope of the sci-fi universe first introduced in Alien and leaving me eagerly anticipating – wondering – where the series will take us next.
Ambiguous and ambitious, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is full of big ideas and teases of answers, boasting some of the most beautiful, harrowing sci-fi imagery since Blade Runner as well as all the horror action you’d expect from a prequel to Alien.