1979’s Alien is a bona fide classic of science fiction cinema and has spawned umpteen sequels, video games, comic books and other media and has since merged into the Predator universe with the advent of the AvP crossovers, so it’s no surprise that Ridley Scott felt there was more tales to tell in this mythology. Instead of continuing with the now well established variety of xenomorphs he looked back to the mysterious huge alien corpse seen in his original movie, normally referred to as the “space jockey”.
Prometheus takes place in 2089, 36 years before Alien, and follows a team of explorers as they attempt to find out more about the origins of humanity as a species. Making a discovery that pre dates other similar ones from other cultures by a hefty margin, the team are sent in stasis across space to the one common theme in all the discoveries – a constellation. The team quickly discover remnants of the aliens, now referred to as “the Engineers” (thankfully – as it gets confusing talking to people about it). The Engineers it would seem are as human as Earth’s humans, and so the questions about the origins of the species begin.
Truth be told, that’s actually pretty much where the questions about the origins of the species end. Many people have made out that Prometheus is a highbrow thought provoking slice of science fiction. It isn’t really. It’s a good premise for a film certainly, but anyone who walks away questioning if humanity is really the creation of an alien species probably owns shares in the tinfoil hat industry. From the discovery of the Engineers the movie then shifts into more of an action horror hybrid. It doesn’t have a lot of balls out action until later on and the horror isn’t that horrible really. We’ve seen it all before, notably in the Alien series, and that’s exactly the problem I had with Prometheus.
Seen purely as a standalone movie I think it would be a pretty good couple of hours, but the tie ins and nods toward the original franchise are too many for my liking. In some respects this feels like a remake with different beasties rather than a creation in its own right. You can see a lot of the similarity in the trailer below. When I walked out of the cinema I wanted to go home and watch Alien again rather than talk about what I’d just seen. I grant you it may be a personal thing (as is a review, remember), but I really felt that this is a valueless addition to established ‘fact’. The space jockeys were better left as a single scene mystery.
There are slightly too many plot threads thrown in though, including one plot that appears then resolves itself within around an 8 minute window and seems to serve no other real purpose than to give us another beastie to look at. I do find myself wondering if Isaac Asimov existed in the Alien timeline as per usual in movieland the robot eschews the first rule, “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm”. Since it’s a common theme in the mythos, you wonder who programs these things.
However, that is not to say Prometheus is without its own merits. It’s a pretty good film in its own right with a very good cast list including Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba and host of other recognisable faces. Characters are pretty much cardboard cut-out sci-fi clichés; the excitable scientists, stern company woman, cool pilot and crew, and the well spoken creepy baddie, which is unfortunate as it doesn’t allow the cast to really flex their acting muscles.
It has to be said that Prometheus looks beautiful. The title spaceship itself is utterly believable in its construction and operation, especially in exterior shots on the planets surface. It’s the first piece of CGI I’ve seen in a while that didn’t look like it was computer generated at all. There’s the now standard floaty-wavy computer operating actions as seen in every sci-fi movie in the last 10 years, but again it does actually seem in place rather than shouting “check us out, we’re all futurey and stuff!”. I saw it in 2D, so I can’t speak for how it comes across in the third dimension unfortunately.
If you are a fan of Alien, then I urge you to leave your geek credentials at the door and just enjoy the film. Later on you can hit the internet and pick it apart. If you’re not burdened with any foreknowledge then you’ll probably enjoy Prometheus for what it is – simply a nice slice of sci-fi. It’s not as smart as it thinks, but it’s sure isn’t Crank In Space. Think about it too much and you’ll probably just ruin the simple act of enjoying a decent movie.