“In Space, No One Can Hear Your Scream.” Remember when that tagline for Ridley Scott’s original 1979 Alien boasted a truly a terrifying concept? Then the series turned its titular antagonists into video game targets, and their victims into minor inconveniences for the characters. Soon, 20th Century Fox’s seemingly endless barrage of abysmal sequels became more terrifying a prospect than the xenomorphs themselves.
Now, director Ridley Scott returns to the Alien universe for the sort-of-prequel Prometheus, set at the end of this century and following a group of scientists, among them idealistic archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), the robot android David (Michael Fassbender), and headed by the uptight Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), all of whom set off through space on the Prometheus shuttle to locate a distant galaxy that may or may not be where humanity first originated. The team uncovers a planetary settlement able to sustain life, but what they find afterwards turns out to be far more devastating than they could’ve ever imagined.
In Greek mythology, Prometheus is a titan who steals fire from the gods and ends up being tied to a rock to have his liver eaten out by a vulture every day for eternity. You’d think with all the advances in technology and intelligence made in the futuristic society of Prometheus, they wouldn’t have chosen such an obviously ominous name for their voyage.
Prometheus is Sir Ridley Scott’s first sci-fi film in 30 years (his last was Blade Runner) and proves that he hasn’t lost a beat in all that time. It’s remarkable how easily Scott is able to slip back into the same directorial mindset as the original Alien. This is the director at the top of his game, possessing the tools and talent to effectively wrench our guts.
As with Alien, much of Prometheus’ draw is in its brilliant H.R. Giger design work. These sets looks beautiful, lending the film a unique, standout visual quality. Don’t get the wrong impression though – gone are the xenomorphs and facehuggers of yesteryear, in their place several similarly animalistic creatures that could very well be an evolutionary step for the iconic extraterrestrials.
The film’s gorgeous opening shots of waterfalls on a mountainous alien world are evidence enough of just how massive in scale this film is in relation to Alien. While Prometheus exudes a similarly Kubrickian atmosphere, it’s far more plot-driven and character-centric than Alien’s more subtle, quiet sense of isolation. Prometheus also uses 3D to great effect – a lot of the design work was clearly inspired by Avatar, namely the 3D holographic designs. It looks great and it’s not at all intrusive, only there to suck you into its story.
Prometheus poses several questions about life on Earth. Where did we come from? What happens after we die? Why are we here? Crew member Charlie shares to David his burning desire to ask his creators those very questions. David asks Charlie why he thinks humans created him, a robot. Charlie replies, “Because we could.” David, visibly hurt, replies with something to the effect of, “And how disappointed would you be if you were to discover the same about your own creators?”
David is easily the most fascinating character of the ensemble. The android aches to be human; we see him watching Lawrence of Arabia, reciting quotes from the film, and even redesigning his artificial hair to match Peter O’Toole’s. Like Ian Holm’s character in Alien, he’s hell-bent on discovering new life forms on the planet, and will do anything to get at them, even if it means betraying his own crew members. Character was something the original Alien was never especially notable for, so I was pleasantly surprised to see writer Damon Lindelof infuse some well-developed personalities into the script.
I keep referencing Alien for comparison because the two really have so much in common, and yet are nothing alike. Both films share a similar overarching narrative, with Prometheus containing a number of moments that parallel those of Alien. And naturally, both films slowly build up feelings of dread in their audience, instilling them with feelings of pain and helplessness in the way few other sci-fi horror films can. But Prometheus is still a very different beast; there’s a lot more going on in its story than in Alien’s more straightforward, find-it-and-kill-it narrative.
By the time the credits roll, Prometheus has very few answers to the questions it poses, which is disappointing. The films leads you to believe it’s building up to some sort of profound revelation, and perhaps reveal exactly where and how the xenomorphs of the original films came to be. That doesn’t really happen, at least not in any meaningful way. I really wanted an ending that would hearken back to the original Alien, but instead, we’re left on a pretty unsatisfying, almost cliffhanger of an ending. It’s tantalizing, because the film really dances the line between being an original creation and being a part of the Alien universe, and in the end, I wanted more of the former than the latter. Bringing back some of the classic Alien tropes would’ve certainly made me geek out in giddiness, but that’s just not what Prometheus is.
Prometheus is still an excellent film. It’s deep, philosophical, and beautifully crafted, lending its audience many of the same feelings of the original Alien. But the film still misses out on a lot of the iconic things about the Alien universe that made the first film so great, and perhaps a more direct prequel would’ve better hit the right notes to excite fans of the franchise. Despite that, as well as the film’s somewhat anticlimactic ending, I enjoyed the ride Prometheus took me on. The film proves that Scott’s still got it, and will be remembered as an effective, chilling thriller in its own right.