Prometheus Opts For Pure Sci-fi Over Thrills Of Past Adventures

Prometheus introduces us to the origins of the Alien saga. But does Ridley Scott’s highly anticipated film of 2012 begin the epic story with a whimper or a roar?

In one of the most anticipated films of 2012, director Ridley Scott returns to the franchise he started. In 1979 he made Alien, a science-fiction horror film that changed the face of a genre over populated with flying saucers, gleaming white spacecraft and men in tin foil suits. Alien birthed (literally) one of the most ferociously malevolent creatures to ever hold the mantel of movie monster that would find its way into several sequels of varying quality. Now he returns to the film which started it all. Prometheus takes up the story that made infamous the tagline “In space, no one can hear you scream” several years before the crew of the Nostromo in Alien, drawn by a latent distress signal, unleash the terror that destroys them.

Two scientists – Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green) – discover a correlation between the depictions of the solar system, in particular the placement of a series of planets, as recorded in paintings drawn by ancient civilisations. With the financial aid of a dying oligarch Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), the scientists, along with a group of explorers, set off to find the planet depicted in each of the drawings. Arriving on the planet they find the remains of a dead alien race in a cavernous relic. But something that lurks there is still alive and their discovery of it threatens to destroy them all.

Crucially, any enjoyment from Prometheus relies on the audience’s ability to remove the notion that this is another Alien. Alien is a monster movie that happens to be set on a spaceship in the future, lending itself more to horror than science-fiction. Prometheus, on the other hand, ditches the horror in favour of pure science-fiction and therefore has more in common with Scott’s futuristic dystopia Blade Runner than it does Alien. Here, Scott is more concerned with humanity’s creation than its systematic destruction despite obvious hints to the latter. In investigating this idea he happens upon a very interesting notion that the deadly creature that would pursue Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley across the galaxy was created through human beings’ naivety and callous pursuit of power. How that directly links to the doomed spaceship found by the Nostromo’s crew in Alien is what Prometheus sets out to discover.

“Crucially, any enjoyment from Prometheus relies on the audience’s ability to remove the notion that this is another Alien. Prometheus ditches the horror in favour of pure science-fiction and therefore has more in common with Scott’s futuristic dystopia Blade Runner than it does Alien.”

Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw is the driving force behind the film, her pursuit of the truth bringing to the fore the answers she is perhaps unprepared for. Fassbender’s David, the Prometheus’ android, whose motives remain ambiguous, drifting between Ash from Alien and his icy fatalism and Bishop from Aliens and his disassociated goodness, counters this. The dynamic between the two is the emotional centre of the film. Their dual pursuit of knowledge raises questions of whose motives could achieve the most good. Given our preconceptions thanks to a series of preceding films, unleashing a destructive Trojan horse underlies it all.

Nevertheless, Scott fails to sustain the suspense. Given unlimited creative power, something bestowed on an admittedly deserving filmmaker such as him, has its drawbacks. Namely, his mission to tell an origins story to the Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Sussett-created Alien in this way, both thematically and stylistically, betrays somewhat the beauty of the Alien series. Namely, its rollercoaster of scares. In doing so, he systematically alienates an audience bred on these traits; the very audience the film should appeal to the most.

Indeed, straight away the inhospitable, perennially dark and ruggedly unwelcoming planet as seen in Alien is substituted for the warm embrace of a Saharan-like desert-scape at sunset. Scott may be alluding to a notion of impending despair brought to this world but here is a home for the warm and cuddliest creatures not cinema’s greatest monster. It is a clear indication that Scott isn’t prepared, on this occasion, to reintroduce us to our old foe.

Other issues crop up in Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof script. The ship’s captain – played by Idris Elba – whose role for most of the film is to act with wise-cracking machismo (who cares little about the science operation and more about discovering if Charlize Theron’s Dee is a robot by sleeping with her), suddenly has all the answers in one hurried minute when he fills in most of the plot’s mysteries seemingly as if placed there by a screenwriter running out of time. He then takes on an even greater responsibility, in a key part of the film’s conclusion, which brings into question the authenticity of the character’s motives against the requirement of the filmmaker for dramatic propulsion. There are lofty ambitions at work, and the ideas are undoubtedly intriguing, but the lazy plotting only highlights an overstretching of these ideals. It brings into sharp focus the real beauty of Alien – its relative simplicity.

However, taken on its own merits, Prometheus manages to distinguish itself as a captivating science-fiction film. Its idea behind our beginnings is intriguing, alongside the underlying posthumous devotion of Peter Weyland to understand his maker. Scott also muses over the notion that mankind’s overzealous pursuit of power has a hand in the creation of the monster that will destroy it. And, despite my reservations for the depiction of the alien planet, the production design cannot be faulted. The recreation of the alien spacecraft is exemplary, its intestinal passageways the dark bowels of a brooding monster. Certainly, the film is at its best when inside the alien spacecraft when the sense of the unknown is at its highest and Scott can rely on the tension of the characters to keep us on the edge of our seats.

Rapace is genuinely strong in the lead role, enjoying some of the film’s best scenes including its stand out (and only real Alien-like moment) involving a machine capable of performing surgical operations and one character’s need for a brisk abortion. Fassbender and Theron are also more than capable in their respective roles. Fassbender, as the ship’s artificial person, has a particular tough task given the limelight left by Ian Holm and Lance Henrikson in similar roles exhibited within the Alien franchise. However, his impassive expression is unmoveable, giving the character an air of mystery throughout.

“Perhaps Scott’s ego has prevailed. In pursuit of his very own creation he has sidestepped too far, making a film he wanted to see, not the one we wished for.”

Prometheus isn’t the film fans of Alien and Aliens might have wanted to see. Lacking the brutal horror of the former, the exciting thrills of the latter, Prometheus is a wholly different beast. Here, Scott focuses on pure science-fiction, meaning his film has more in common with Blade Runner than Alien. The director’s approach produces both good (intriguing notions of man’s creation and ultimate destruction told with competence and style, and featuring strong performances) and bad (lack of suspense, some lazy plotting, overreaching ideals) resulting in a film that will inevitably find itself compared to its predecessors. It lags far behind the original film, nestling somewhere between Fincher’s underrated Alien 3 and Jeanet’s disappointing Alien Resurrection. Perhaps Scott’s ego has prevailed. In pursuit of his very own creation he has sidestepped too far, making a film he wanted to see, not the one we wished for.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron

Released: 2012 / Genre: Science-Fiction / Country: USA / IMDB

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. David Lloyd-Smart Reply

    i think 3 stars is a bit kind. for me its biggest failure is the building of the characters. there is no relasionship and you dnt care for any of them. fassbender being the exception. then there are the simple plot holes i.e why didnt the big alien just go get on the next ship seen as there were loads. why didnt charlise theron run to the side to escape the ship seen as 3 rolls got the other out the way. why did the first 2 to die go back to the room they were getting away from in the first place to name but a few.

  2. Rodney Reply

    Gee, Dan, talk about spoiler territoty here!! Might wanna let folks know you’re giving away some of the plot!

    I skipped the majority of this review because I’m seeing it on the weekend, so I’ll come back with my own opinion then – but I’m a little afraid that the negative reviews are going to turn out to be true…. 🙁

  3. mark Reply

    One of the bloggers on The Observer website said something like “calling it twaddle would be giving twaddle a bad name”

    Haven’t seen it yet (it comes out tomorrow in Oz), but you gotta admit that was a pretty funny comment ….

  4. Scott Lawlor Reply

    I think you, I and most people are very much on the same page with this one matey.

    I was very under whelmed, but enjoyed it just the same. Probably as I was in a packed IMAX!!

  5. Dan Reply

    @Scott: Despite my reservations I think I would have liked to see the film in an IMAX. I think this film will be a grower…at least I hope so. But that, I suppose, suggests I didn’t enjoy it. I did like it but I think 3 out of 5 is a good indication that I’m on the fence a little…is it really a 4/5 or is it a 2/5?

  6. Nostra Reply

    Watched it yesterday and I absolutely loved it. It has its flaws and I agree with your points, but have given it a high score.

  7. Chris Reply

    As you wrote, Dan, I think this film could be a grower…I think if Prometheus was a stand-alone film, it would have stood a better chance of geting more love, because then it wouldn’t be compared to classics…removing this notion when watching is tough as you point out. The bar has been set so high, tough for Ridley…
    You really think it fails for suspense? I disagree, the new film kept me on the edge of my seat, and I seem to be in the minority who actually liked the thoughtful, if sommewhat erratic script. I think Ridley had to betray the Alien followers, he had to make something different, otherwise, what’s the point?

    love this quote from your review (Spoiler): “the notion that mankind’s overzealous pursuit of power has a hand in the creation of the monster that will destroy it”

    Here’s my review:

    http://moviesandsongs365.blogspot.com/2012/05/monthly-recap-what-have-i-been-watching.html

  8. Dan Reply

    @Chris: As with every film I’ve seen in the cinema in 3D I invariably enjoy it a lot more when viewed in 2D. But I do think Prometheus will grow in stature.

    As for the film’s suspense – or lack of – I think it begins with the planet itself. Yes, it’s probably cliched to have this dark, brooding planet of wind, rain and jagged rocks like Alien but I think the bright Saharan desert looked far too welcoming to really get the film off to on the right footing. Ever time they were in the alien spaceship I thought the film went up a gear but I never felt truly on edge…perhaps that goes back to the characters themselves and never caring about them being in peril.

  9. Alex Thomas Reply

    I really enjoyed it!!! I was a huge fan of the Alien quadrilogy, but tried to distance it from Prometheus which I think helped me too. Visuals were stunning.

  10. Claire Reply

    As always, Dan, a very well written article that sums up how a lot of people feel. As I wrote in my own review, I’m not that well versed in Alien knowledge so was able to enjoy this more as a standalone film.

    Visually, it was stunning, top notch, and Fassbender and Rapace were both very impressive, especially the former. I think you’ve got it spot on here: “Fassbender, as the ship’s artificial person, has a particular tough task given the limelight left by Ian Holm and Lance Henrikson in similar roles exhibited within the Alien franchise. However, his impassive expression is unmoveable, giving the character an air of mystery throughout.”

  11. mark Reply

    Only saw this for the first time last nite (Oct 20) – the clowns who now run the video store down the road insisted on putting the DVD through the buffer/cleaner, despite the fact the disc was only four days old. Anyway, they [email protected]*?!! it – thing has a scratch on it (kicks in just after the crew sees the ghosts).

    I seem to recall in the original Alien that when Hurt, Skerritt et al arrived at the spaceship, the dead space man in the helmet with the hole in his stomach was sitting at the control turrent – is Scott now suggesting he crawled back to his chair?

    When Noomi zooms off with the robot’s head, it’s kinda like Sigouney with Bishop at the end of part II in series one. Does that mean she will end up on a prison planet in the next film?

    So the Alien was really partly us all along. Great twist. Two words – Tyler Durdon. And even then the idea is hardly original.

    Nevertheless it was fitting that Guy Pearce, an Australian, got to play Rupert Murdoch.

    I agree with the person who said it was twaddle ….

  12. mark Reply

    Probably shouldn’t draw attention to my idiocy here – and maybe I should have read some of the spoiler stuff beforehand – but yes, I was wrong. Different ship, different planet.

    OK, so I’m a clown. Nevertheless, it’s still twaddle ….

  13. Dan Reply

    @mark: An easy mistake to make given the fact we were all (I think) expecting Scott to return to THE alien spacecraft in his original film. The obvious similarities to the ship also point to the fact it is the same ship but of course it isn’t which for me was disappointing. I thought that was Scott’s reason for returning to the story but clearly it wasn’t. Perhaps something to do with his ego – “I’ll do what I bloody well please so f*** ***!!”

    I had to be corrected by a fellow viewer in regards to this being a different ship and planet. Although there are subtle clues – the name of the planet not matching up to its description in Aliens, and the completely different weather conditions suggest we’re not in Kansas anymore (as well as the revelation becoming apparent by the plot not matching up to Alien’s events). I initially put it down to being from a earlier period – ie. the planet gets a new name decades later while some freak weather condition leaves the planet Ripley has fun with in perennial darkness.

    Prometheus isn’t the film I wanted to see (I’d much prefer the monster-in-the-house horror tactics of Alien) but there’s plenty to chew over under the surface. I think the film will grow in stature and hopefully, when I get around to seeing it again, I’ll enjoy it even more.

  14. mark Reply

    Cheers Dan … you’ve helped me feel less foolish. I too went through the subtle clues before my mea culpa, not least of which was the big stone head. And yes, for anyone familiar with the original franchise the weather/climatic conditions should have been a dead giveaway.

    All things being equal I too will rewatch it one day. Not that I have any great hope of coming to appreciate it; I just think Ridley is such an accomplished film maker that he deserves our attention, regardless of how misfired that sometimes might be …

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