In the run up to its release, there has been much speculation about the exact connections between Prometheus and the Alien movies. The genesis of the project was in 2002, with Alien (1979) director Ridley Scott and Aliens (1986) director James Cameron both involved in the development of what was intended to be a fifth installment of the Alien franchise for 20th Century Fox, but after Cameron bowed out due to studio disagreements and commitments to Avatar, the project stalled. Fox revived the project in 2009 and actively pursued Scott to direct. Originally declining to helm a prequel to his original film, Scott elected to take a producing role and pushed Fox to hire commercial director Carl Erik Rinsch. With the studio unhappy to green-light the project with Risch calling the shots, Scott eventually agreed to direct and writer Jon Spaihts was hired to pen the screenplay. During the development of the script, Scott saw an opportunity to push the project away from the constraints of the Alien series and hired writer Damon Lindelof (Lost, Star Trek) to expand upon Spaihts work and turn it into a more autonomous movie.
Knowing of the checkered development history of the film, and having read and heard so many conflicting reports, I was a little unsure about what to expect from Prometheus. Is it a true prequel? Is it a spin-off? Is it a stand-alone movie? Well, now I've seen it, I can confirm that it is very much connected to Alien, but it can be seen more as a companion piece rather than a direct prequel. Scott himself could not have described it better when he said during pre-release interviews that the movies "share the same DNA." That description is both very true and very apt given the storyline of the film. There are definite echoes, and even a few blatant nods, to Alien, but in terms of tone and scope, Prometheus is a different beast altogether. The original movie's feet were planted solidly in the horror end of the sci-fi spectrum - it was a taut, claustrophobic haunted house/monster movie at its heart. Prometheus is a far more grandiose and ambitious affair (though it does have its share of taut, claustrophobic scenes of terror - one even gives the famous chestburster sequence a run for its money). Despite the connections and references, going into this movie expecting to see a re-run of Alien, or any of the other movies in the franchise for that matter, is a huge mistake. People who do that will likely be disappointed. Prometheus is painted on a far bigger canvas than any of the Alien movies, which is something that proves to be both a great strength and ultimately its weakness.
Writers Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaiht have done a fantastic job of taking a seed of an idea from Alien and growing it into an epic story. Clearly inspired by the work of pseudo-archaeologist Erich von Däniken , the film explores lofty aspects of theology, evolution, faith, creation and technology. There are even some Blade Runner-style musings on mortality, emotion and the human soul (perhaps the reason for Scott's renewed interest in revisiting that movie too). While their ambition should be applauded, the result is a narrative that lacks focus and resolution - there are far more questions asked than are answered (a problem Lindelof also had with the TV series Lost). The script also suffers from a few stating-the-obvious and signpost-the-plot moments, but they don't detract too much from proceedings. I have read some reviews that have criticised the movie's dialogue and characterisation. I don't necessarily agree with those criticisms. While it is true that some of the minor characters are very sketchy (but wasn't that also the case with Alien?), the principal characters are all decently written. Noomi Repace's Shaw, Michael Fassbender's David, Charlize Theron's Vickers and Idris Elba's Janek get most of the best lines and are given the most to work with. It's only Logan Marshal Green's Holloway that feels somewhat underwritten, given his prominent role.
Performance wise, Fassbender steals the show and once again proves why he is one of the best actors out there at the moment. He somehow manages to make David threatening, creepy, comedic and even rather likeable all at the same time. You have to feel a bit sorry for Noomi Rapace. No matter what she did in this film, the shadow or Sigourney Weaver's Ripley was always going to loom over her. To her credit, she delivers a strong performance and makes an engaging and likable protagonist. Charlize Theron is suitably icy and has a couple of great scenes with Elba, who does brilliantly with the comparatively small amount of screen time he's given. Rafe Spall and Sean Harris also have some nice moments as bickering crew members Milburn and Fifield. I have to admit, I'm a little perplexed as to why Guy Pearce was cast in this film. It's hard to elaborate on that comment without giving too much away, so you may want to skip the rest of this paragraph if you haven't yet seen the film and don't want it spoiled. Although Pearce's performance as aging company boss Peter Weyland is excellent, I have to wonder why they would cast a relatively young actor in the role and cover him in old age prosthetics. I assumed the reason was that we would see Pearce as a younger Weyland at some point in the film, but we never do. I can now only assume that we will see a younger version of the character in the sequel.
Ridley Scott has always been a great builder of worlds. Whether science fiction worlds, like the rain-beaten, retro-futurist streets of Blade Runner (1982), or ancient worlds, like Jerusalem in Kingdom of Heaven (2005), they are always texturally rich and atmospheric. Prometheus is no exception. Helped greatly by the use of real locations and physical sets, every shot drips with detail, creating a realism, tangibility and solidity that's often sorely lacking in many modern, CGI heavy, sci-fi movies (I'm looking at you, Mr Lucas). This is Scott's first foray into 3D film-making and he clearly embraced the technology. The already stunning photography is greatly enhanced by the extra depth in many sequences. Indeed, this film is astonishing from a technical and visual point of view. Production designer Arthur Max and the special effects team have done a fantastic job and are sure to clean up in the technical categories come awards season. Being a huge fan of the original Alien, I was thrilled to see that some unused designs from that film have made their way into this film - the fingerprints of original concept designers Ron Cobb, Chris Foss and Jean "Moebius" Giraud can be seen all over Prometheus. I was even more thrilled to see that the true father of the Alien, Swiss surrealist artist H. R. Giger, was involved in the film, contributing several stunning mural designs seen in the film.
The score, by regular Scott collaborator Marc Streitenfeld, doesn't quite reach the quality of Jerry Goldsmith's score for Alien, but it's suitably atmospheric and highly effective nonetheless. Be sure to listen out for a couple of fleeting uses of Goldsmith's classic score - one of the more subtle nods to the original movie. I must mention the sound design too, which is excellent. The heavy bass rumble of the ship's engines during the landing sequence is a standout - it had the entire auditorium shaking.
Aside from the script issues, the only other problem I have with the film is to do with pacing. At just under 2 hours in length, it's comparatively short for a modern blockbuster. And while many movies these days seem unnecessarily long, Prometheus would've benefited greatly from an extra 15 mins or so. The build up and middle sections of the movie are paced well, but the final half hour feels a tad rushed.
Just falling short of being a truly great movie, Prometheus still a highly enjoyable, visually stunning and technically flawless companion piece to Alien. It's also proof that, at 74 years of age and 33 years on from that film, Scott is still at the top of his game. Shame, then, that the same level of craftsmanship, artistry, care and attention couldn't have been shown to the script. The fact that it poses so many questions and delivers so few answers left me feeling somewhat unfulfilled and a little frustrated - I dearly hope a sequel comes soon that ties up all of the loose ends. Go into this with an open mind and no expectations and you'll be pleasantly surprised and highly entertained.
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About the reviewer
Simon Lee Tranter (Creamtrumpet)
May 8, 2009
Aug 30, 2013 01:07 AM UTC
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