Check it out. I got a sort of review scoop. Prometheus has been released over here in the UK a full week before it’s US release which means I can bring you my review a little earlier in the films release schedule than usual. I’ll start by answering both your questions with one answer. That answer is “yes it is”. You’re questions are “Is that a Mass Effect 3 t-shirt you’re wearing?” and “What would be a nonsensical answer to this second question?” right? Oh your questions are “Is Prometheus a good film?” and “Is it actually a prequel to Alien?”. Then yes it is would still be the correct answer. Now this review may get a tiny bit spoilery so warnings have been given. Click the link for the review!
So quite some time back Ridley Scott wonder to himself “Why did no-one ask what that thing was that was sat in the chair in Alien?”. It’s a fair question. The Space Jockey, as it became known, was a dead creature that served as a little bit of foreshadowing of the evil to come in Alien. The fact no-one ever asked what it was is a sign of how focused the following films directors were on the actual Alien creatures themselves and not the universe the first film inhabited. Don’t get me wrong, I like Aliens and even quite like Alien 3… fuck Alien Resurrection though. None of those films really looked at what else was going on in that universe though. Just what other alien life was out there. I guess you could say that it’s because Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) never saw the Space Jockey up close and it was probably the furthest thing from her mind after waking up from a 57 year cryogenic sleep. Also any video evidence of it would have been lost when the Nostromo exploded. Still, it’s an aspect of the world that should have probably been explored. Well now Ridley Scott has decided that he wants to tell the story of just what that thing was. Also he has managed to make Aliens Vs Predator non-canon which is fine by me. A medal should be awarded for that alone.
Prometheus wastes little time getting us moving along with the plot. In the first ten minutes we’ve had a cool little stinger for the rest of the film, the discovery of the cave from the trailers and a leap forward a few years to android David (Michael Fassbender) looking after the crew of the space ship Prometheus whilst they’re in a two year cryo sleep. There’s no connecting of these events which is an oddly efficient piece of story telling for Scott who does like to take his time setting up plot elements normally. It’s not disjointed though as we can tell what’s happening and it’s all explained soon enough with little of that flabby exposition feeling some films can give us.
These early scenes with David alone on the space ship are some of my favourite of the film. It’s just him keeping himself amused by watching films, learning new languages and shooting hoops whilst riding a bike. It’s a simple 3-4 minute sequence that tells us all we need to know about one of the most central characters of the film. He desires to learn, he wants to be entertained and he forms aspirational ideals of characters from the films he watches. In this case we see him watching a 3D conversion of Lawrence Of Arabia (That’ll piss off some hardcore film fans) and after we see him styling his hair on T.E. Lawrence and working on his accent to sound more like him. You may not realise it at this point in the film but you have just learned what he desires to be.
The other main character here is Noomi Rapace’s Dr Elizabeth Shaw. She is not a Ripley clone. Ripley was a quite woman how, over the course of Alien, was forced to learn to take charge and survive. She became strong because she had to. Shaw is a scientist who believes in God, a concept some people may struggle with. The core themes of the film are that of parentage and the origins of life. Her religious beliefs and her desire to find who the fathers of creation are come into the film multiple times over. Those themes are shared from various viewpoints by all the characters. Shaw represents the religious side of the themes whilst David represents the parental side. Noomi shows some exceptional skill here, at times her character really gets put through the ringer but at no point do we see her become a Ripley facsimile. Maybe a slight hint of it, but not fully. One note of her performance though, her British accent is all over the place. Her native Swedish shows through at times and there’s an odd little bit of Scottish in there.
The rest of the cast is a very impressive collection of great actors and the odd genuine star. Charlize Theron is leading the Prometheus crew as an employee of the Weyland Corporation as Meridith Vickers, who has her own issues with the mission but what would be giving a little too much away. We also get Idris Elba, Rafe (Probably pronounced Ralph) Spall and Sean Harris amongst others. Watchmen’s Patrick Wilson even makes a brief cameo which was quite cool to see. To add to that Guy Pierce gives us a brief but performance but one that’s unmistakably him as a very old Weyland. Almost makes me want a prequel to Prometheus to see him at his prime. None of them phone this in and each character provides a little something different in terms of their views and personalities. Even the side characters that get little screen time manage to be more than just fodder for any creatures they come across.
The bulk of the film is set between two locations, the Prometheus and the alien structure on the moon they have landed on. In this structure various clues to the origins of humanity are found and also it’s potential demise. They find a chamber featuring the giant human looking head from the trailers along with a host of small capsules that house a strange black liquid. The liquid has the ability to mutate life into something new. This is where the first steps to what we assume will be the aliens we know and love come from. A few of the creatures have been seen in the trailers and while you can see the little nods and winks to the classic Alien design you’ll be surprised where it all leads.
The film is full of these little nods to Alien, and less so it’s sequels. The Prometheus has a slightly retro design to it that keeps it in key with the Nostromo of Alien but it also has holographic displays and flashy little bits of future tech. Obviously showing a space ship 80 years into our future with 70s style computer displays would have looked silly. But it is easy to assume that this ship, being a trillion dollar vessel, is a little more advanced that the aforementioned Nostromo. It does have actual switches that need flicking though which I thought was cool. Reminded me of how in the Star Trek universe they explain away the designs of the 60s series as being retro because that was the fashion in the era that series was set in. There’s no design elements that jar as much as the overly futuristic look of the Star Wars prequels when compared to the look of the original trilogy.
Prometheus throws about a lot of ideas and this may in the end be one of it’s biggest issues. Whilst it’s good to see a film that tackles the sheer amount of religious and parental themes as this does it’s usually better to whittle down how many are focused on to a few. Here there are so many that when coupled with the deviant nature of the alien creatures sexual imagery the film runs the risk of trying to be too many concepts at once. Ridley really is throwing every idea he has about these themes into this film. Also, if you thought the chest burster scene from Alien was a horrific allegory for child birth wait until you see what Noomi goes through in one similarly themed sequence of scenes. Basically there’s a good chance your other half will not want a child any time soon.
The presentation of Prometheus is second to none. Special effects are just astoundingly well done. What really helps them is that there’s actually a lot of well done make up and practical effects work. Sure there’s a lot of CGI but it’s the well done and tasteful kind reserved for the biggest set pieces and creating vistas not possible in a Earth bound location. The films score is also excellently done never once distracting but making sure you notice the small cues from Alien when you need to. As for the 3D it’s well done and rarely used to create some sort of forced excitement. There’s a couple of scenes where the 3D is used very well, such as a scene featuring a space map, but generally it’s used merely to create space and depth. Basically Ridley has shot this as a real film and not a gimmick laden attraction whilst still taking into consideration the limitations of the format.
Overall Prometheus is a film that juggles a lot of ideas that don’t all get their chance to shine but it is so well produced, so intelligently crafted that it is a stand out piece of science fiction. There may be a few issues some people may have with certain unanswered questions but I’d remind them that Ridley has always thought of this as a two part story. It would be best to see where he takes us from here. I’m sure after seeing Prometheus that it may not be exactly the direction we’d expect but it’ll certainly be an unpredictable and unique one.