In PROMETHEUS, director Ridley Scott’s triumphant return to the sci-fi genre following the box office disappointment of 1982’s BLADE RUNNER, the sublime silliness of PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES and STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER has been fused with the grand sincerity of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and CONTACT to create a rare blockbuster that isn’t afraid to mix high-octane action, slimy tentacle beasties, and predictable genre conventions with intelligence, above par acting, and a willingness to ask the BIG questions.
How big, you might ask? Well, the pre-credits scene reveals, in a clever spin on the myth of the Greek titan Prometheus, God is a myth and that mankind is the result of genetic experimentation by the Engineers (AKA “The Space Jockey” from 1979’s ALIEN). Is that BIG enough for you?
If not, don’t worry. The questions only get bigger and even more complex from there. Evolution is addressed as is Man’s quest for immortality, Man’s unquenchable need for answers as to why we are and where we came from, and Man’s faith in things that cannot be seen.
Oh and in case you didn’t notice the recurring theme with all these BIG questions, Ridley Scott set out to unmake Man with PROMETHEUS. Dude clearly had no interest in creating a simple prequel to ALIEN. That would’ve been too easy. Throwing out some simple explanations why The Engineers created the xenomorphs, how the “Space Jockey” ended up with a giant hole in his giant chest, and how the “Derelict Ship” crashed on LV-426 would’ve been beneath a director of his talents (I’m going to casually ignore ROBIN HOOD and G.I. JANE for the purposes of this review). Let’s leave the over-explanatory prequel shenanigans to the likes of the STAR WARS prequels, 2011’s THE THING and X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE.
No, Scott wanted to explore deeper ideas than monsters lurking in the dark. He wanted to tackle some fairly blasphemous ideas. Unmaking Man and going all “ancient astronauts” is a pretty tall order. But since material like that isn’t exactly marketable, he needed to deliver it within the context of something audiences would be familiar and comfortable with. Enter the ALIEN-verse.
For the most part, the bait-and-switch works. Not every question is fully answered (no surprise considering this was written by LOST co-creator Damon Lindelof) but what is cleared up is done so satisfactorily. I know some might argue me with me about that statement but I don’t care. I knew PROMETHEUS wasn’t going to be a traditional ALIEN prequel going in (Scott has been saying for years that it wouldn’t be), addressed it as such, and walked out happy I understood more about this franchise than I did going in.
The Engineers (considering they’ve only been known as “The Space Jockey” for over thirty years, it’s nice to see them get an official species name) and their intentions (they developed a black primordial goo capable of life, death, and everything in-between) are detailed, some of the tech first seen in ALIEN is shown in action (definitely shell out the extra cash to see this in IMAX 3D), and the mysterious Weyland Corporation (the events in PROMETHEUS pre-date it becoming the Weyland-Yutani Corporation) is explained beyond the “Hey, we’re EVILLLL and want to use xenomorph DNA to make EVILLLL bio-weapons!” motivations we’ve seen thus far in the franchise.
Revisiting the entire series isn’t a necessity before heading into PROMETHEUS …but it definitely doesn’t hurt. ALIEN and ALIENS obviously get the lion’s share of winking nods. The presence of ALIEN 3 is felt mostly due to both being inspirationally nihilistic. ALIEN: RESURRECTION is vaguely connected thanks to the ideas of DNA tampering. Both ALIEN VS PREDATOR films, love them or hate them, give extra insight into Charles Weyland’s (Guy Pearce, who really shouldn’t have been third billed in the opening credits because it kind of spoils a major plot twist) lineage and reinforce that the Weyland Corporation has been reaching for the stars for quite some time.
But as I mentioned earlier, PROMETHEUS is intelligent AND cheesy. The crew of the Prometheus is a virtual cavalcade of b-movie tropes. There’s a Ripley-esque heroine (a beautiful, brainy, and biker tough Noomi Rapace), the douchebag scientist boyfriend of said heroine (Logan Marshall-Green, who’s performance ranged from decent to slightly unbearable), an android who might be good or might be bad or might be good and bad (Michael Fassbender, awesome as usual), a down-home captain (Idris Elba, channeling the spirit of ALIEN’s Tom Skeritt but with the added bonus of an incredibly dodgy Southern accent), the company representative with questionable motives (Charlize Theron, delivering a performance 100% opposite of the one she gave in last week’s SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN), some lovable but daft scientist types (Kate Dickie, Sean Harris, and Rafe Spall), a pair of wacky co-captains who give the cast a little bit of diversity and provide witty banter to off-set the more gruesome moments (Emun Eliott and Benedict Wong), and a bunch of nameless red shirts for the creepie crawlies to tear to shreds (there are, no joke, eight crew members simply credited as “Mercenary #1, #2, #3, and #4” and “Mechanic #1, #2, #3, and #4”).
I’m not complaining. Scott knew the “smart film” route was going to be a hard one so he had to shove some good old-fashioned clichés into the mix to make the material palatable to modern audiences. Such is the price to pay for box office glory.
What’s nice is that the two elements, polar opposite as they may be, actually mesh well together under Scott’s steady hand. The crew, their reactions to the machinations of the plot, and slightly overblown finale may be silly b-stuff (I’m still reeling from Spall’s character thinking petting a penis/vagina cobra alien was a GOOD idea) but Scott’s breathtaking visuals (there are images here that will forever be burned into my geek consciousness), Marc Streitenfeld’s sumptuous score (somewhere between STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE and 2001), and thematic material are not. Make no mistake, PROMETHEUS is an EPIC film.
So okay …you’re probably wondering why I’ve ranted and raved for nearly two pages now about the BIG questions and b-movie origins and not addressed what my real problems (b-movie conventions are NOT a problem for me) with PROMETHEUS are. The answer is simple: I have none.
Yes, I realize there are some serious logic gaps and plot holes in PROMETHEUS. Any prequel to ALIEN that involves the origin of man, Cthulhu demons, and annihilation via bio-weapons was bound to. And yes, I realize the actions of 90% of the characters only serve to propel the plot forward and don’t resemble anything a sane human being would do in that situation. Sane humans, especially ones who claim to be scientists, don’t go pulling their helmets off on unexplored planets so they can breathe in all the untested alien terraformed air for sh*ts and giggles. I get that.
Thing is, I don’t care. I had a blast with PROMETHEUS. It honestly blew me away with its scope and sheer awesomeness. The midnight premiere I attended was amazing, the second viewing on Sunday was amazing, and I’m 100% positive the third and possibly fourth screenings will be AMAZING. If anything, seeing this a second time allowed for me to focus on the characters and plot and allowed me to love the film even more.
I’m probably biased. I get that. This stretches all the way back to when my father brought me to see ALIENS when I was 8. It was a moment that changed me, morphed me into the nerd/geek that I am today. Ever since then, I’ve been emotionally connected to this franchise. ALIEN (which I saw, canon be damned, after ALIENS) was one of my first experiences with pure unadulterated cinematic horror, ALIEN 3 was the first sci-fi film to elicit a deep emotional response from me (Ripley’s sacrifice still chokes me up), ALIEN: RESURRECTION was one of the first to elicit a deep physical response (that response being the urge to vomit, cry, then vomit again), and I consider both of the AVP pics to be damn fine representations of the Dark Horse comics that inspired them.
Simply put, the reaction I had to PROMETHEUS was one of awe. This is jaw-dropping grand blockbuster on the scale of old-school Hollywood. Kudos to Fox for not forcing Ridley Scott to compromise his vision for a coveted PG-13 rating or out of fear of the religious groups would likely protest due to the provocative material. A lesser studio and director would’ve aimed for something safer and more in tune with what fans were EXPECTING (simple and creatively bankrupt) out of an ALIEN prequel.
Fortunately, they went the opposite route and created something far more interesting and memorable. I, for one, am grateful they did. Ridley Scott’s PROMETHEUS earns six out of six adamantium bullets.
RANDOM SPOILER-Y THOUGHTS:
- If the Engineers engineered us then who engineered the Engineers?
- How exactly did primitive man know where the Engineers came from? Did they leave directions? Did we sneak a peek in one of their ships at a map or something and then pass the info down through the ages? Did they tell us? Did they imprint the info on us, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS-style? I really hoping the “extended cut” Scott is preparing for the Blu-Ray/DVD release (there’s supposedly thirty to forty minutes of deleted scenes) answers this question.
- The planet discovered in PROMETHEUS is not LV-426 which was featured in ALIEN and ALIENS but actually a previously unseen planet called LV-223 which means the crashed derelict ship we’ve been wondering about for the last thirty years is NOT the one that crashes at the end of this film.
- As good an actress as Kate Dickie is, she’ll always be creepy Lysa Arryn from GAME OF THRONES to me.
- Is it just me or was the decision to make Fifield (Sean Harris), the one geologist on the ship, a Mohawk-sporting stoner who calls his little map-making droids “pups” kinda awesome? I honestly expected him to be a merc or colonial marine based on the trailers. Finding out he was just a dude who really loves rocks was almost a plot twist in and of itself.
- Elizabeth’s big scene (you’ll know it when you see it) gets my vote for “Most Cringe-Inducing Moment Of The Year”. It may not be as iconic as the chestburster exploding out of John Hurt but I guarantee it’s a scene you won’t soon forget. I imagine even David Cronenberg would see that scene and cringe.
- This is going to sound super-misogynistic of me but Noomi Rapace looks good even bruised up, beaten down, and wearing underwear that reminded me of Milla Jovovich’s Ace bandage outfit in THE FIFTH ELEMENT. She’s one tough cookie …but I guess I should’ve already known that based on her work in the original GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO trilogy.
- Michael Fassbender as David. I know I go on and on about this guy in every review of every film he’s in …but he’s just so f**king awesome! Especially here. Scott and Lindelof never make David a true villain or hero. He’s a little bit Ash (Ian Holm) from ALIEN and a little bit Bishop (Lance Henriksen) from ALIENS. David’s big flaw is that he’s too inquisitive, too smart for his own good. I don’t want to spoil too much about his performance but believe me when I say you’ll want to see a side-quel chronicling his two years on the ship while everyone was in hypersleep the second you leave the theater. Make it an extra on the Blu-Ray, Ridley!
- I really hope some toy manufacturer sees this flick and decides to make a “David’s head in a duffel bag” figure or maybe even a scale replica. I’d buy one …and not for the reasons you’re thinking, perv!
- I’m glad the Engineers don’t actually look like sad elephants. That sad (which looks even sadder in the Dark Horse ALIEN comics and ALIEN: INFESTATION for the Nintendo DS) exoskeleton is basically just a space suit. Their actual appearance is much more regal and almost God-like.
- There were only three moments in PROMETHEUS that reeked of “studio interference”: Janek’s big speech about what LV-223 actually is, the massive fire fight with the aforementioned red shirts, and the final scene. All three scenes are good but clearly only existed to clear up plot points, boost the film's body count, and give the audience a true blue connector to ALIEN.
- Lots of deleted stuff in the theatrical trailers for PROMETHEUS. Elizabeth praying isn’t in the final film. The line “Prometheus has landed”, Elizabeth’s axe fight with The Engineer, and a good many exterior shots were also cut. The trailers even used an alternate take of the scene where the mission is revealed. Let’s hope all this lost footage either ends up in the “extended cut” or on the “Deleted Scenes” section of the Blu-Ray/DVD.
- STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER was the only other sci-fi pic I could think of that directly calls the existence of God into play as a major plot point. I'm sure there are others but that’s why I referenced to it in the first paragraph. Just figured I should clarify before you start wondering if the BIG questions in PROMETHEUS stretch only as far as “Why would God need a starship?”.