[Warning: This review may contain spoilers] Ever since he wrapped up Blade Runner back in 1982 the world has anticipated Ridley Scott’s return to a genre he so categorically defined. Only when a project had an intriguing sci-fi story exploring a different kind of world did he say he would be interested and Prometheus showed great promise. During its development stage, Scott claimed that while there are “strands of Alien’s DNA” in this film, Prometheus is a beast of a different kind. This is the story of how the Space Jockey (the operator from the crashed ship found by the crew in the original Alien film back in 1979) came to be and the possible origins of human life from the ‘Ancient Astronauts’ theory.
An excavation dig is taking place in 2089 on the Island of Skye, Scotland, where Archeologist couple Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a cave painting depicting a large a group of people worshipping a larger human who points to six dots in the sky. After finding similar depictions from ancient civilisations around the world, they realise the six dots are in fact star constellations prompting, what they believe to be, an invitation to go find them. Shaw and Holloway later convince gazillionaire industrialist Peter Weyland of Weyland Corporation to fund their mission and lead a team of 15 on an exploration vessel call Prometheus to LV-223 – a distant moon located in the farthest reaches of the galaxy. After two years of hyper sleep, the crew are wakened by a Weyland android called David (Michael Fassbender) upon being instructed by Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), a rep from the Weyland Corporation, who reminds him and the rest of the crew that she’s the one in charge since her company’s funding the whole project. Shaw and Holloway provide a brief to the rest of the crew that the purpose of their mission is to understand the possible reason for the creation of the human race and potentially even meet their creator or ‘engineer’. Captain Janek (Idris Elba) and Vickers remain on the ship while the rest of the crew explore a hive like structure where they discover the alien race, who built the base, are actually dead and the cause of their demise stems from an experiment that went horribly wrong. David however is secretly taking instructions from an unidentified passenger on the ship and deviates from the rest of the crew to find a flight deck holding even more ‘engineers’. After activating the hologram software that reenacts the last moments of the deck before the engineers died, he sees that whatever killed them came from the cargo hold – even more worrying was the final destination where they were going to drop it off. And whatever killed the engineers are still very much alive with a new batch of humans to feast on.
There is, and must always be, great admiration for Ridley Scott who makes films that realistically carry you to another universe. Gladiator and Blade Runner received great praise not only for their concept but their visual nature that gratify the eyes upon first, second and fifteenth viewing. But like both movies (and many others) their plot has always suffered and further investigation shows the original writers quarrying over the final draft. This movie suffers from the same issue. Suspense is built from the beginning, taking you on board Prometheus within ten minutes of the film starting, in order to prepare you for the chilling final third act – however the audience by this point is already exhausted from the information provided by the set-up that they’re not quite sure how to constructively collate it together. The Space Jockey story is very short, almost mundane, and for all the effort of hoping to interact with an alien race – there’s certainly a lot of interacting, but not the kind the audience or the crew members of Prometheus were hoping for.
Much like the star map, Prometheus has a constellation of brilliant stars
The original Alien film didn’t go into any explanation as to how the alien came to be, so the audience wasn’t aware of what was happening or why – they just knew it was there. Somewhere. Lurking. Watching. Hunting. The classic scene where the baby alien bursting from the chest of one of the crew members was made even more scary due to the fact that Scott didn’t tell any of the surrounding actors on set what was about to happen so the shot you see of their terrified faces is real! As a result, the audiences left the theatre screens a little confused but greatly in awe. In Prometheus, there is a great danger that not only will the audiences leave this movie a little confused but also have no awe for its ambitious story. In one of the viral features for Prometheus, Scott said he wanted to scare the living sh** out of us – well he certainly tries; moments of awkwardness, especially during Shaw’s surgery scene, is probably the best he’ll get out from us. Shaw is given a religious reason for exploring LV-223 however it becomes nonsensical by the beginning of the third act when she encounters an alien form closer than she ever thought possible. ‘Where is God in all of this?’ is a question we never see her bothering to contemplate – so why motivate her with the concept of a creator and where her dead parents might be? Another gripe is that she’s never really given the same or similar challenges that Ripley had to face – thus making Ripley a female action icon while Shaw’s role is limited to carrying the story forward. Which is a tremendous shame since everything required for a brilliant sci-fi horror is here.
Much like the star map, Prometheus has a constellation of brilliant stars in the shape of Rapace, Fassbender, Theron, Marshall-Green, Rafe Spall, Sean Harris and even Elba who didn’t get enough screen time. All of whom played their roles exceptionally well, especially Fassbender who almost steals the show as David providing stale, facial reactions to all situations showing no compassion or fear; the audience will believe he is an android (look out for the Weyland Corp logo printed on his fingernail when you see a close-up of him touching the alien ooze he extracted from the hive). The only competition they had from receiving our full attention were the costumes and set designs of the ship and the hive on LV-223. Taking the plot aside, Scott is extremely stringent on the visual details of his films and it is here he retains his title as an epic director. The sets are all real and made to scale to allow the actors to live in the environments their characters might so there’s little special effects imaging with the actors – more so for exterior/environments shots. The spacesuits are just plain awesome with lights inside their glass helmets illuminating their frightened/enchanted faces – however the 3D IMAX screening probably doesn’t elevate the film experience a great deal.
After being held up by a storm, preventing access back to the hive for a while, David approaches Holloway and asks, “What do you hope to achieve by coming here?” to which Holloway replies, “To get answers”. The crew never really get the answers they came for and sadly neither do the audience. The story sets itself up for a possible sequel to which then may the answers we originally hoped for be answered but until that happens treat this as a separate movie entirely from the Alien franchise, or as Scott originally said a beast of a different kind, and marvel at a visually stunning film that will certainly amaze you – but not for the reasons you originally went for. An alien movie this is not and may not sit well with other Scott’s sci-fi epics however after thirty years it’s an installment we welcome and we’re certainly glad he made.
Written by Vaskar S. Kayastha