Thirty-three years after his tense, atmospheric sci-fi horror kick-started one of film’s most successful franchises, Ridley Scott returns to the Alien saga with Prometheus, a prequel that seeks to provide some answers, not only to the origins of the series antagonists, the Xenomorphs, but to the ultimate origins of our entire species. Embarking on such a project is inherently risky, not least because prequels don’t exactly have an unblemished record of success – miss the mark with this one and Scott could find his reputation in tatters with Alien enthusiasts, in just the same fashion that George Lucas undid all his stellar work with the release of the second Star Wars trilogy. In addition, there are the loose threads that must tied up in order to provide a natural progression in storyline from prequel to original, and the jarring technology shortfall between the two movies to be addressed – a problem that Scott simply ignored. There are expectations that have to be met in the pace and structure of the film – it must have the suspense, the terror, the darkness and the action that made its predecessor so impressive. All in all, it could have been the case that, in spite of how undoubtedly lucrative it would be to dive back into the universe he created, Ridley Scott was making a rod for his own back.
Most cinemagoers can breathe a sigh of relief that Scott has met most of the challenges and created a worthy addition to the saga. From the gorgeous visuals to the petrifying set-pieces, he has shown that in the intervening three decades he has not lost sight of the elements which combined to make Alien great. All the pieces of the puzzle are there; a slow-burning ratcheting-up of tension, bursts of action, shocking body horror, superb special effects, beautiful set and costume design, excellent character development and clever thematic exploration. The sheer atmosphere of the film gels completely with series thus far, with the same tingling mixture of anticipation and trepidation that Scott is apparently a master of. The casting is perfect too; Michael Fassbender steals the show with his coolly dispassionate portrayal of the android, David, but special mention must go to Noomi Rapace as main protagonist, Shaw, brilliantly displaying her character’s descent from eager curiosity to outright terror. As the Prometheus’ captain Idris Elba is fine bar his initially disconcerting accent, and Charlize Theron also convinces as the ship’s hard-as-nails mission director, Vickers.
That so much of the film hits the mark just makes it all the more disappointing when it misses. For starters, the film desperately needed a more ruthless editing process – there are an abundance of unnecessary scenes and excessive moments of frankly witless dialogue. The opening is too long, and the film closes with ten-to-fifteen minutes of Lord of the Rings-esque refusal to finish. The length of the opening could be forgiven as an attempt to build up tension, but the indulgence at the end is borderline unforgivable. Alien fanboys-and-girls will doubtless take issue with various niggly plot-points and representations, the depiction of the ‘Space Jockeys’/Engineers being one of them, but more laidback audiences will probably let a good bit more slide. Nonetheless, the last shot of the movie is so unintentionally cheesy that it almost undoes all the good work that went before.
Still, Scott can be proud of this achievement, and it will certainly rake in cash at the box office. It is highly likely that there will be another film to follow, a Prometheus sequel that will still be a prequel to the original Alien series, and on this evidence it would make for an exceptional spectacle. Ridley Scott has taken the franchise in a bold and interesting new direction and, in spite of its faults, Prometheus is a movie that everyone should see.
Sebastian Clare has a Master’s Degree from University College Dublin, and is a freelance writer and broadcaster.
Read Jacob Mertens’s review of Prometheus here.
Director Ridley Scott
Screenplay Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof
Producer Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, David Giler, Walter Hill
Director of Photography Dariusz Wolski
Art Director John King
Costumes Janty Yates
With Noomi Rapace (Shaw), Michael Fassbender (David), Guy Pearce (Weyland), Idris Elba (Janek), Charlize Theron (Vickers), Logan Marshall-Green (Holloway)
Runtime 124 minutes