***Warning: Contains Spoilers***
Ridley Scott made a lot of people happy when announced his return to science fiction, and not only that, it would be an Alien prequel; the prequel idea was dismissed in favor of a spin-off, which would take place prior to Alien and be set in the same universe, but not necessarily link directly to it.
The resulting film, Prometheus, was heavily promoted, primarily through its ensemble cast. Led by Noomi Rapace, who came to international fame after starring in the Millennium trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels), the brilliantly assembled cast handles the material damn near perfectly; the problems I lay out in a second have nothing to do with them. Of note, and I will likely repeat this point, Michael Fassbender is brilliant as David, who serves not only as an antagonist, but as a great predecessor to the character of Ash in the original Alien.
The real problem with the film is that it is half of what it should be. Prometheus was once intended to be a two-part film, and I can’t help but feel like the writers were planning the second half. There isn’t a whole lot of resolution at the end, even though most of the characters are killed in the climax of the film. One major issue results from the marketing: Ridley Scott said he wanted to explore the origins of the space jockey from the original Alien, which the film does: he is the last of his race on the world the humans find, and who seeks to fulfill their original mission of killing humanity. However, that revelation, whilst compelling, still feels lacking, as if there should’ve been something more epic; I’m not sure quite what it should have been, but I had been hoping for something far more sweeping, like that the xenomorphs were their pets, designed to cause havok on unsuspecting worlds; or that the xenomorphs had been left their intentionally so that humanity would bring them back (a theme in all the subsequent Alien films).
The characters are brilliant: you have the robot (David), the cynical company executive (Vickers, standard for a film within the Alien universe), the really cool captain, the poor schmucks who ends up in really bad trouble, and a crew who is skeptical at first, and terrified (and killed) later. The captain’s (brilliantly played by Idris Elba) attitude towards everything, the mission, the company, helps color the movie by helping us accept what we see without initially being in too much awe; that is left to the characters exploring the complex later on. Even Guy Pearce, who deceptively misled audiences by saying he wasn’t in the film much (he isn’t, but his character’s return towards the end provides a great moment in the movie is brilliant as Peter Weyland (whose corporation eventually forms half of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation in the Alien films), also alluding to the eventual fate of the corporation to try to seize and utilize the Alien creatures, with disastrous consequences.
The plot moves with a purpose once the mission is revealed and once the ship lands; we see the expedition leaving, and once their in the complex, I was hooked. I bought that the film was trying to take me somewhere, to show me something, and fun was really going to be in the ride to get there. Granted, exploring the tunnels wasn’t exciting, but the anticipation was enough. Then they find the cave with the viles of the black substance, and we see it seeping, and we know something is up, but what? Then the fun begins.
I think it’s hysterical that, if you follow the timeline, the Alien (aka a xenomorph) creature is created as a result of an android (or replicant if you use Ridley Scott’s terminology) experimenting with an unknown substance on human beings; possibly an homage to Ash and Bishop, the androids who later used humans to fulfill the corporation’s agenda. (Like I said above, this contains spoilers.) I mean seriously: look at how many things have to happen for the Alien to be created; and it all results from the black substance that the Engineers (the race that seeded Earth) were going to unleash upon Earth. The black substance is actually the missing element in many zombie movies: it literally turns a human being into one. However, one side effect of it is that it sometimes creates a mysterious snake-like creature whose sole goal is to penetrate your inner organs (warning this part gets a bit graphic) and kill you by eating said inner organs.
The development of the Alien creature who emerges at the end of the film, affectionally dubbed “Deacon” by Ridley Scott, is interesting, because it’s what a lot of people, including myself, wanted to see. Personally, I had been hoping that when they went to the planet, they would eventually find an Alien creature, or an egg, which would in turn kill everyone (thus keeping continuity). What we got instead is a lengthy puzzle, so I’ll spell it out here:
- David finds the black substance, puts in it a glass of vodka and gives it to Charles (whose character’s girlfriend, Elizabeth, is played by Noomi Rapace). He downs it without giving it a second thought.
- Charles goes and has sex with Elizabeth. The next day he notices some weird fibers coming out of his eye; presumably he is also not feeling well. He heads with the rest of the expedition anyway.
- Whilst out and about, the expedition finds the bodies of the two crewmen left behind from the previous day; around this time, Charles goes down, and the humans leave the corpses behind and take him back. Vickers later incinerates him, at his request, as he turns into a zombie (for lack of a better turn).
- Whilst being inspected medically, David ascertains that Elizabeth has something in her gut equivalent to that of a three month old embryo, despite the fact she wasn’t pregnant when they left Earth (and they’ve only been on the planet and out of stasis for two days). David, who knows what happened to Charlie, tries to put her in stasis, but she runs off before the crew can sedate her.
- Elizabeth has an emergency operation to remove what’s in her stomach, which is a mutated version of the snake-like creatures we saw earlier. She leaves in it in the operating bay; off-screen, it grows to monstrous size.
- Later on, the space jockey attacks her (after his ship has crashed), and she leaves it in the room with her “child”; the now massive entity in the medical bay. We recognize it as a slightly different version of the face-huggers we have seen before; it attaches to his face. Unlike the traditional face-hugger, though, it kills him.
- Finally, a proto-Alien (or standard Alien, we don’t get a good look at it) creature emerges out of the space jockey’s stomach. What type of Alien creature is unknown, but given its unusual background, it could very well be a Queen that eventually lays eggs, but we don’t know.
Ridley Scott has left the door open for a sequel (to possibly be written and directed by James Cameron), and that would be swell; it would resolve the unanswered questions regarding the race that seeded Earth (and why they decided they had to kill all humanity), as well as possibly answering whether or not the world they landed on was the the same one in the original Alien (in Prometheus the world is LV 233 and in Alien and Aliens its LV 463).
One thing about Prometheus I haven’t touched on yet is the visuals, which are stunning. The opening credits (reminiscent of Alien) are set over a gorgeous world, with waterfalls, forests, and rocks that have just the right amount of glimmer and shine. The mysterious spacecraft in the beginning is a classic Ridley Scott shot; you see enough to know it’s significant, but not enough for too much else. Prometheus itself is a great set, in particular the fact that we learn a lot about the characters through it; where they feel comfortable, where they like to be, and in the case of Vickers, her supreme arrogance over the rest of the crew. LV 233 is pretty dull, as it should be; it drives the story to get us into the face, whose caverns bring up the horror motifs we all know and love.
In short, Prometheus is a great film, but it’s lacking that extra punch. It seems like they were so determined not to resolve everything that they left one too many questions unanswered. However, the film is one that I have grown to appreciate more with time. I feel that I let my expectations get in the way of actually enjoying the film, which only made the issues I have with it linger longer. Once I started pulling the threads together, or rather started to try to pull them together, I found the film was better. Still, as with many other films out there, it will take the follow-up to get a better read on this one, and that will take time.