And therein lies arguably Prometheus’ biggest problem – it’s not really sure what it wants to be. Ridley Scott originally conceived Prometheus as a direct prequel to his 1979 seminal sci-fi horror Alien, but later shelved it due to the development of the monstrosity that was Alien vs Predator. He then picked up the project again sometime later but decided to move away from the idea of a prequel, instead opting for a film that referenced Alien and existed in the same universe but was not directly a part of the series.
Prometheus kicks off with archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discovering a cave painting featuring a constellation of stars that has also been found in paintings and carvings from other civilisations on Earth. Believing that this could somehow hold the secret of life on Earth, the pair, along with a hefty crew that includes the obligatory android, David (Michael Fassbender), and The Company’s cold and corporate Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), depart for the moon LV-223. But, of course, it all goes a bit pear-shaped and what they discover turns out to not just be a threat to themselves, but the whole of mankind.
Scott has reiterated several times that Prometheus is not a true Alien prequel, but at the same time hasn’t been subtle with connecting it to the original franchise. It’s the Weyland Corporation behind the expedition; there’s an android (or artificial person as they prefer); some of the creatures are more than a little familiar; and the whole plot revolves around Space Jockeys (or Engineers to give them their proper name), the mysterious species seen in Alien when Ripley et al first discover the downed ship on LV-426. It’s a clever way to drum up hype, but it only succeeds in neither standing on its own two feet nor providing a real link to the original film. Throughout much of the film, it struggles to find its own direction, seemingly unsure of how closely to stick to canon and how far to diverge from it.
This is down to the script which, for the most part, is pretty terrible. For a start, there are far too many characters; there’s a crew of 17 on board Prometheus, some of whom we see for little more than a couple of minutes and, as such, care very little whether they live, die or become enraged zombie-aliens. Try and remember the names of more than a few of the crew and you’ll have done well. The character development for those we do see a little more of is also non-existent. There’s little to no exposition and no depth to them whatsoever. Holloway is a prime example of this. Billed as the male lead, his character adds absolutely nothing to the story and is so underdeveloped you actually end up forgetting he’s even there at all.
Noomi Rapace is decent enough as Shaw, although the attempts to give her a back story seem very halfhearted and almost an afterthought. Vickers as The Company’s representative on the mission is an intriguing character but somewhat underused, and is one of the few characters you actually want to see more of. Then we come to David, the crew’s resident android and the single best thing about Prometheus. Fassbender delivers a superb performance, once again proving he’s one of the most versatile actors around at the moment. David’s creepy and unnerving persona continually has you second guessing his motives throughout and whether he has an agenda other than the one presented. Stealing every scene he’s in, it’s equal parts depressing and amazing that, as an android, he has more personality than the vast majority of the other crew members.
On to the plot. Prometheus starts of well enough, sets the scene, and just when you think it’s going to turn up the atmosphere and crank up the tension, well, it just doesn’t. You never really get that sense of fear and everything just becomes that little bit predictable. Nothing of relevance really seems to happen until towards the end when everything just feels hacked to pieces and it jumps all over the place; hopefully the inevitable Director’s Cut will add a bit more coherence to the narrative.
“The reason we came here was to find answers.”
These are the words uttered to David by Holloway as he explains his reasons for the expedition, and could also represent the mindset of many of the Alien fans excited to see Prometheus. However, it poses many more questions than it answers, which just leaves a sense of frustration and confusion. Trying to make sense of the events in Prometheus is a near impossible task, which is often just the result of poor writing rather than intriguing and enticing plot twists and turns.
We didn’t really need a load of answers; a film simply existing alongside Alien would have been fine, but Scott just couldn’t help throwing in ties to Alien that meant a direct comparison was always going to happen. And if that comparison is in any way intended then you have to make sure it fits nicely together, otherwise you’ll have fans baying for blood. Scott has said that there could well be a sequel, and if there is, it will likely move further away still from Alien. That is absolutely fine, but that’s the intentions, make sure it does move away from Alien; don’t keep clinging on to it.
Prometheus has taken quite a hammering in this review, but it’s not a total disaster. There is, of course, the aforementioned superlative Fassbender performance, but it also looks absolutely stunning. From the beautiful vistas of the film’s outset to the Giger-inspired interiors, it is visually gorgeous and presents the film with an incredibly grand sense of scale. Also, the 3D actually works very well, adding an extra layer of depth to the visuals, whilst remaining subtle enough to not become distracting. On presentation alone Prometheus excels, but unfortunately is let down on too many other fronts. With a clear direction Prometheus could have been so much more, but it just failed to develop an identity that could work on its own or as part of the Alien series.
Words: Chris Thomson