There are three things to keep in mind when approaching ”Prometheus”. First (and let’s be honest) even though Ridley Scott’s shadow looms large over alien and sci-fi lore, he’s been a disappointment lately. From the been-there-done-that ”Kingdom of Heaven” to the redundant ”Robin Hood”, Sir Ridley’s films have been adequate more than outstanding over the last decade.
So even though ”Prometheus” showed great promise, there was every chance it might be just another alien CG slugfest, and how funny would it have been if ”Prometheus” had been outclassed by the ”Alien vs Predator” films?
Second, the script famously went through a process of evolution not unlike the entire Alien franchise. Firstly a prequel, Scott then said it wasn’t part of the series but shared some of its ‘DNA’. In hindsight, neither Scott nor writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof are silly enough not to make several reverent nods to the ”Alien” films.
”Prometheus” is indeed about where humanity came from, but it also does a solid job setting up the entire ”Alien” universe, explaining the backstory of the space jockey, the facehuggers and their xenomorph offspring. It could quite easily be thought of as ”Alien 5”.
The last thing to keep in mind is that a couple of early reviews have said it’s not going to be the classic ”Alien” is. That’s probably true, but you have to be fair about entertainment properties – the original film’s had 33 years to gestate in our collective minds as fans and filmmakers. Several scenes, like the emergency Caesarian section (make sure you’ve finished your popcorn by about the hour mark) have the jaw-drop quality of the John Hurt chest-burster scene or ”Aliens”’ ‘you’re not reading it right’ proximity reader scene that might become similarly powerful pop culture motifs.
After a brief set-up, we’re seated with a familiar-feeling crew of motley roughnecks aboard a deep space vehicle called Prometheus in the year 2091. Drs Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace, with a fragility and childlike optimism that’s the opposite of Sigourney Weaver’s steely toughness as Ripley) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) explain to the assembled pilots, engineers and scientists that they’ve seen artefacts from disconnected ancient civilisations worldwide that not only reveal an extraterrestrial origin for humanity, but point the way to meet them.
Along with polite and slightly creepy synthetic David (Michael Fassbender), ball-busting Weyland executive Vickers (Charlize Theron) and the crew, they’re here to find their maker. When the ship lands on a stormy, windswept desert world that happens to contain a straight roadway leading to a huge pyramid structure, they think they’ve hit paydirt.
To talk about what happens from there would contain way too many spoilers, but along with the giant human head from the moody poster art, the team finds what appears to be the remains of the civilisation that engineered the human race, but for reasons nobody can quite figure out, they’re long gone. There’s also an ecosystem all its own inside, not all of which is friendly.
So is it any good? Like the mythological name of the character it’s named after, ”Prometheus” has a near-fatal downfall. It spends the first half of the film setting up the line of enquiry that’s haunted our species it’s entire existence, but when the story start to reveal some answers it glosses over them in favour of a traditional monster mash. Though billed as a horror sci-fi, only your 12-year-old niece will find it very scary. Aside from a few jump scares there’s nothing to keep you awake at night, and even then they don’t start until around the 40 minute mark.
The story also fails to ask the two essential questions formed by the crew’s discoveries, which the cynical will see as a blatant sequel calling card.
But the visuals are expansive and at times beautiful. You’d think depicting space as ‘big’ on a movie screen would be easy, but the sense of scope Scott wields makes you realise how claustrophobic other sci-fi visuals can be. The 3D gives a sense of depth to the stormy atmosphere, the huge canyon the Prometheus lands in, the cavern interior of the pyramid and the confines of the ship.
It’s far from a failed effort, and while it probably won’t take on the same mystique as the film that started it all, it’s certainly the best film from Ridley Scott in a long while.