Are you a fan of the classic 1979 science fiction movie, Alien? If you are, then I’m betting you’ve already seen or are planning to see Prometheus, the highly anticipated new film by Alien director, Ridley Scott. I’ve been waiting to see Prometheus ever since I heard it was being made two years ago, so I was in line on opening day. If you’re wondering if you should see it at the theater or wait for the Blu-ray or digital download, check out my review below.
Before I begin, here’s the official synopsis of the film –
“Ridley Scott, director of ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner,’ returns to the genre he helped define. With PROMETHEUS, he creates a groundbreaking mythology, in which a team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a thrilling journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race.” – Twentieth Century Fox
In just a few days since its release, Prometheus has already inspired a mountain of articles featuring analysis, critique, and deconstruction. A cottage industry has sprung up among film aficionados in which every scene is dissected in order to reveal what the movie is really about. Many reviewers have gone to great lengths to explain the hidden meaning behind some of the film’s more obscure scenes. In this brief commentary, I’ll refrain from digging into the supposed symbolism and allegory that may or may not exist. Instead, I’ll give you my reaction to what is actually on the screen – not what we should infer.
Ridley Scott has steadfastly maintained that Prometheus is not a prequel to Alien. He has, however, stated that it takes place in the same cinematic universe as the earlier film. This is one of the confusing aspects of the movie. At a glance, it certainly looks like a prequel because we see a huge spaceship that’s nearly identical to the one at the beginning of Alien. However, I didn’t realize until after I had seen Prometheus that it doesn’t even take place on the same planet as Alien. It’s that type of prior knowledge on my part that may have unfairly colored my initial reaction to the film. I almost envy the few people who never saw Alien and are able to view Prometheus objectively as a stand-alone work. It isn’t Scott’s fault that I came to the theater with a list of expectations that he had no intention of addressing, yet.
One of my main problems with Prometheus is that very little of the story is explained clearly. I won’t attempt to list all of the parts that are thinly written, but suffice to say; sometimes it’s nearly impossible to decipher what’s going on in the story. I’ll pick one area as an example – the characters’ motivation and background. On board the inter-planetary spaceship, we have a collection of characters handpicked by the Wayland Corporation to (possibly) discover extra-terrestrial life. The expedition cost a trillion dollars to organize and one would assume each crew member would be meticulously chosen. The only problem is – with the exception of two, none of them look especially pleased to be there. Who are they? Why did they sign up for a mission they didn’t even know the purpose of? Why should we care about what happens to them? We get little, if any, information to answer those questions.
We’re not given enough information about the characters to have a strong investment in them. The crew is barely given an introduction in the first third of the movie and then they quickly start meeting untimely ends. I was also feeling a bit of déjà vu in regards to the characters because they seemed to be standard re-issues of ones we’ve seen before in countless other movies. For example, there was the tough, tattooed guy who was only in it for the money; the naïve, earnest one; and the gruff, no BS ship captain, among others. In addition to being straight out of the “sci-fi casting catalog”, only a couple of them were given anything important to say or do. They reminded me of the “Red Shirts” from Star Trek – their only purpose was to meet some sort of horrible fate so the audience realizes the protagonist is facing a deadly foe.
Another confusing element of the film was the extra-terrestrials whom the explorers meet. These are the beings who are revealed to be somehow involved in mankind’s development on Earth, but again, this element seems to be a mish mash of ideas that were thrown together and never resolves into anything coherent. There’s no resolution to the questions that the film raises in the beginning. This obscurity was maddening, but maybe the film was intentionally obscure. Maybe Scott was saying “Here, play with this giant puzzle, only I’ve kept a few pieces. Work on it for the next couple of years and you’ll see if your guess was correct in Prometheus 2.” In a way, perhaps Scott should be congratulated for making a film that goes against the typical Hollywood formula of action/SF movies. He respects the audience intelligence enough to leave it to us to ponder the unspoken parts of the movie.
As far as the narrative is concerned, Prometheus has an unconventional story structure. Again, viewing the film apart from Alien and basing my opinion just on what I saw on screen, the word I choose to describe it is “incoherent” (at least on the initial viewing). We aren’t given the information we need as fellow travelers on this journey to understand what the stakes are. Without giving away too much, the plot seems to revolve around a strange substance on the alien world. The explorers come into contact with this substance (reviewers have labeled it “goo”) and that is the signal to the audience that something very bad is going to happen. However, when these terrible things start occurring and the crew of Prometheus is in peril, we’re never given clues (or so it seems) as to why.
Did I expect more explanations about the Alien universe from Prometheus and did I leave the theater disappointed? Yes on both counts. However, in the days since seeing the film I’ve had a chance to re-consider it and read other people’s point of view, and my opinion has changed somewhat. I now believe that Scott intentionally left many questions about the Alien universe unanswered because he has a sequel in mind. I also believe once we have a chance to see Prometheus again when it arrives on DVD/Blu-ray, many of the more confusing aspects will begin to make sense. This is definitely a film that will reward repeated viewing. As I said earlier, if you go to Prometheus thinking you will have all of your Alien questions answered, you will be disappointed. However, if you go into the theater and pretend you never saw a movie called Alien and just accept Prometheus as is, you’ll have a much better experience. Have you seen Prometheus? If so, let me know what you thought!
Prometheus – a film from Twentieth Century Fox
Opening Date: June 8, 2012
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof