On an unspecified barren planet, a pale humanoid drinks a viscious black goo that causes his body to disintegrate and as he falls into the water the cells in his body create the first life on the planet.
Earth 2089: scientists Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall Green) and Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) discover a cave painting on the Isle Of Skye showing the same image of a figure pointing to a cluster of stars that has also been found in every major human civilization. Funded by billionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), the two scientists join the crew of the spaceship, Prometheus and set off in search of the planet at the heart of the constellation shown in the image. There they hope to find the species of humanoid engineers who were responsible for life on earth and discover why humanity was created in the first place. However, upon reaching the planet and discovering the seemingly long deserted outpost of the engineers; the crew of the Prometheus discover their creators were not as benign as they thought.
Continuing our short series of posts about underrated Spin-offs, Sequels, Prequels and Remakes, we have a film that probably has divided more fans than any other in the Alien film universe. Even those who disliked Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection could find some moments or aspects of those films that they liked; whereas with Prometheus, audiences were quite clearly divided into those that liked it and those that hated it. I’m one of those who liked it. I went in knowing that, whilst it was connected with the Alien film universe, it wasn’t ‘an Alien film’; so I wasn’t as desperately disappointed as some fans that the Xenomorph didn’t make an appearance. I also really liked the serious and philosophical tone that the film took — to me a sci-fi film that dares to ask searching questions about why humans exist and whether God exists is always welcome. That’s one of the greatest strengths of the genre, in my opinion: it’s ability to look at these issues in a way that is neither preachy or theological.
The film is not without its flaws but, in my opinion, they are not necessarily the same flaws that many of the movie’s critics have leveled at the film. A lot of the criticism seemed to stem from what people wanted the film to be — an Alien movie — when it was quite clearly something different entirely; or pointing out what they regarded as dumb moments in the film’s plot — and there are several — though amusingly, the moments that they criticized are not the same lapses in the plot’s logic that continue to leap out at me even after several viewings. If you ask me, complaining about lapses in logic in a Science Fiction film is somewhat pointless — The science part is only ever there to make the more unbelievable fiction part acceptable to an audience. Lapses in logic in terms of character behavior are harder to forgive, however. In all the criticism of the movie, nobody seems to have brought up why, after Holloway’s death and David telling Shaw that she’s pregnant, do the other crew members (including Game Of Thrones’ Kate Dickie — turn against Shaw to the extent that she has to fight them off and escape when they try to put back into stasis. This makes no sense. Also, none of them seem surprised by Weyland being on board, despite the fact that supposedly only Vickers and David knew. There’s a lot of sudden changes of character as the film moves into its third act which don’t really make sense and if there is a problem with the film it’s this, rather than the lack of a Xenomorph or it’s more serious tone that really annoys on repeated viewings.
I should mention that I saw the film, having already read Mark Salisbury’s Art Of Prometheus book about the making of the film — so I knew that certain scenes that had been edited down in the final cut — before I saw the movie. I’m largely of the opinion that it would have been a more interesting movie, had those scenes remained in the film. Having said that, there’s nothing in the missing scenes that fundamentally changes one’s view of the film — it would have merely enriched what was already there. I genuinely believe, for instance, that the footage of the young Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) talking at a T.E.D. conference many years before the events of this film, that was used as a viral video promoting the film, should have been in the movie. It makes little sense, just to see Pearce in old age makeup playing the character as an old man. The whole point of having a younger actor play the role was so that he could play the younger version of himself, as well; and it would have made the arc of the character much richer. Whilst writing this post I came across this fan edit on YouTube, which takes the extended version of the ritual of the engineers from the opening and then adds in the footage of Pearce as young Weyland before cutting back to the film as we know it with Shaw and Holloway breaking into the cave. It’s not perfect by any means (the scene with the young Weyland runs on far too long) but I defy any of the film’s fans to tell me that this wouldn’t have set up this film far better than what we have:
This technique of giving us backstory and characters in trailers or extra scenes that take place before the action of the film seems to be a continuing theme in this new series of films, as the same thing happened to both Noomi Rapace and James Franco in the follow up, Alien: Covenant. It’s not a strategy I can really see the logic in. What is the point of having a name actor in the cast, only to use them in what amounts to a small cameo…
Instead of what’s not there, however, let’s appreciate what is.
First of all, any Sci-Fi film directed by Ridley Scott is going to be worth watching — the director who gave us both the original Alien film and Blade Runner, plus The Martian (which I also thought was underrated) brings an attention to detail and art direction to every single film he’s ever done that is comparable to the likes of Kubrick. The tech, the spacesuits and the vehicles have a level of realism and practicality that makes them feel like they could actually exist. Plus to see the director who began the entire Alien series back in 1979 return to that universe, even from a slightly skewed perspective, is fascinating.
Critics of Scott’s work often claim that he’s more interested in visual style than getting great performances — that’s not really fair, though. Whilst he may not be an “actors director” — he’s smart enough to get really good actors and then give them the freedom to create a character and a performance and not try and hold them back. As such, we get some stellar and often unusual performances in his movies: Rutger Hauer and Edward James Olmos in Blade Runner; Oliver Reed and Joaquín Phoenix in Gladiator; Michael Douglas in Black Rain; Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto in Alien. Here, we have a wonderful performance from Michael Fassbender as the android, David; and quirky and interesting performances from Noomi Rapace as Shaw, Guy Pearce, Charlize Theron as Vickers and, in smaller roles, Rafe Spall and Sean Harris.
As you would expect from a Ridley Scott film the visuals and photography are top notch; Only the score, by frequent musical collaborator Marc Streitenfeld, doesn’t quite seem to fit. It feels a little too lush and close to John Williams’ score for Superman: The Movie, for its own good.
According to the Salisbury book, there was initially plans to have this film finish where the first Alien film begins. This changed when Damon Lindelof (Lost) was brought in to re-write the original draft of the script. As I generally have mixed feelings about attempts to make modern prequels to classic movies, this was probably a good thing — though clearly, by not including the classic Alien creature they disappointed many of the fans. Something they seem to have tried to ratify in the sequel: Alien Covenant, but which seemed to be making the already complex backstory more convoluted. Ultimately, the jury is still out as to whether what will now be a trilogy of films will really link well to the original film; or if indeed that trilogy will even be finished after the disappointing reception of both Prometheus and Alien Covenant. Despite this however, Prometheus deserves credit choosing a more interesting path than the standard prequel and it deserves a far better reputation than it’s lukewarm critical and audience reception might suggest.