A good sci-fi needs a solid philosophical idea. Something to ground the fanciful stuff - the spaceships and monsters. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is no exception. Guiding the story is the big question: “Where did we come from?” The crew of the titular ship are on a mission to find out if mysterious alien "Engineers" are responsible for creating the human race. But because this is still part of the Alien series, Prometheus has to include the sci-fi/horror jump moments that we expect from the franchise.
Most of the scares work well, but they eventually distract from the high-minded concept that the movie begins with. As the third act of Prometheus opens, character development and dialogue suffer as the human explorers scream and run and die in grisly ways. Even so, Prometheus is a compelling science-fiction tale with enough depth to bring it well above your average monster movie.
The movie opens with its take on the origin of life on Earth: an alien visitor with the physique of a bodybuilder sacrifices his own genetic material to kick-start the evolutionary process. Millennia later, our protagonists Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are hell-bent on finding and speaking to our alien creators, even if takes them to a hostile planet light-years from home.
Sponsoring the trek is the mysterious and absurdly successful Weyland Corporation, represented on the ship by the icy Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). Of course, the company has other intentions for spending a trillion dollars on the voyage, plans that are hinted at by the eerily subversive android David (Michael Fassbender).
Once the crew lands on the planet and finds that it’s not the treasure trove of answers they expected, David becomes the key to both the team’s downfall and to the future events of the Alien series.
When it comes to sci-fi, I always prefer the quiet contemplation of man’s place in the stars to the slasher-flick horror of monsters hiding in dark corridors. When the scares do start, we get classic lines like “It’s in my suit! Graghh!” , and an ever-increasing body count.
It's all to be expected from the series, but the list of things that try to infect, maim or kill the crew seems a bit confused. Alien snake-things, zombie infections and plenty more (familiar) beasties all seem to call this place home. I could never quite sort out how all these predatory things co-exist when there’s no chewy humans to digest.
When the casualties really start to pile up, the film stumbles a bit trying to decide if it wants to descend into simple horror or stick to the big ideas of its premise. Logic - and more importantly, drama - take a back seat. Eventually, when the crew are left with a crucial decision about preserving their home planet, they seem to make up their minds far too easily. Prometheus goes too far to spook us, and robs us of a good emotional payoff.
Because of that, I was happy the film drops plenty of references to the Greek mythology that inspired the title, and makes David into a fan of David Lean’s masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia. For me, the most chilling moments in Prometheus came when David twists hopeful quotes from Lawrence into creepy predictions, like “Big things have small beginnings.” The unifying message of the classic film becomes a threat of violence and death.
It’s clear that Ridley Scott has a double purpose in making Prometheus. He’s revisiting the series that launched his career, expanding on the world he helped create and answering some long held questions about the series’ mythology. He’s also having a bit of fun, by taking a step away from the serious movies he’s made recently and returning to a genre that allows endless creative opportunities.
Whatever Scott’s motivations, Prometheus strikes an uneasy balance between creepiness and conceptual sci-fi. If it wasn’t trying to please fans of the Alien series, the movie might have been more rewarding as a standalone film. Prometheus gets three stars out of four.
What did you think of Prometheus? Did you see it as a longtime Alien fan, or are you new to the series? Do you think it needs its own sequel? Let me know in the comments section! If you liked this review, check out my other reviews of recent releases, or if the oldies are your thing, take a look at my Reviews of Classic Movies series:
Reviews of Classic Movies: