Later this month (June 25th) Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner will celebrate its 30th Anniversary which coincidentally was Scott’s last foray into the science fiction genre. He would go on to direct films encompassing many different genres but until now had stepped completely away from a genre he helped redefine. Now in an unprecedented move on his part Ridley Scott is returning to the ‘universe’ that singlehandedly changed his career and the face of horror and sci-fi forever… or is he?
The crew of the deep space research vessel Prometheus is on a mission to determine the origins of human life on Earth. Led by Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Dr. Charlie Halloway (Logan Marshall-Green) they believe that mankind was created by an alien race that influenced ancient societies all over the Earth and that they left clues to their planet of origin. Their discovery quickly turns into a life or death battle not only for the lives of the crew but also mankind’s existence.
The question of whether Prometheus is a prequel to Alien has been hotly debated since the project was first announced. Ridley Scott has been adamant that he wasn’t making a prequel to Alien and even though that appeared to be a bold faced lie he was actually telling the truth. In reality Prometheus is a standalone film that shares several ties to the Alien franchise. In essence it’s an indirect prequel; not a prequel in the typical sense like we’ve come to expect from films like Star Wars or the recent prequel to The Thing and it shouldn’t be treated as such.
Categorizing Prometheus is difficult; obviously it falls into the sci-fi genre but it’s hard to come up with the right sub-category. Prometheus is not a sci-fi horror film, nor is it a sci-fi action film. Elements of horror and action are scattered throughout the film but in the end Prometheus is a purer form of science fiction than anything the Alien series has presented so far by asking deeper questions about humanities origins, faith, and what makes us human. In terms of tone Prometheus feels somewhat similar to Danny Boyle’s Sunshine but only in the most general sense because their goals, themes, and execution are completely dissimilar.
Since Kingdom of Heaven I’ve felt that Ridley Scott’s career has been on a downward slide; Robin Hood was rather miserable, Body of Lies was just plain terrible, American Gangster was decent but forgettable, and A Good Year was anything but good. Prometheus illustrates without a doubt Scott still has some gas in the tank and is still a master of his craft. He held firm to his word that he wasn’t going to just make another Alien film; he’s created a unique, visually arresting film that is extremely thought provoking and open to interpretation.
As with almost every Ridley Scott film Prometheus has an impeccable cast that’s not overly heavy with star power but is instead filled with quality character actors. Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is a decent ‘stand in’ for Sigourney Weaver by displaying an appropriate amount of moxie while still remaining feminine and believable in a situation fraught with chaos and stress. Stealing the show however is Michael Fassbender’s ambiguous portrayal of David. His role is not one of Prometheus’ most original story elements but Fassbender’s performance more than compensates for the rehashed idea. David’s story arc is sometimes predictable but opens the film up to some very interesting questions about humanity.
Prometheus isn’t without its problems however. There are several aspects of film that imitate Alien a little too closely, most of which I can’t mention without getting into spoiler territory. The big one that isn’t going to shock anyone is again having a woman hero. When Alien used that strategy it was still a new concept, one that is still used today in the majority of horror films. While Prometheus shouldn’t be described as a horror film it still exists in the Alien universe and follows the Alien formula of having a woman protagonist. Astute fans of the Alien franchise will notice other story retreads that could have been altered to further set Prometheus apart from Alien. These are rather minor quibbles but it still begs the question of why Ridley Scott would be so vehement about not making a prequel to Alien and then rehash several key story factors.
The script also makes several large jumps in logic that stretch (but don’t break) the believability of the several characters and their motivations. Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof’s script at times relies a little too heavily on forced foreshadowing which borders dangerously close to “wink and a nudge” territory which is something that Alien never had to rely on. Marc Streitenfeld’s score leaves a lot to be desired especially when considering some of the great composers Ridley Scott and the Alien franchise has used in the past. Scott has used Streitenfeld as his composer for all his films since 2006 which corresponds with the dip in the quality of Scott’s films. Prometheus’ score serviceable but there’s no “wow factor” and main theme doesn’t flow with tone and look of the film. I can’t help but wonder what Hans Zimmer, the late Jerry Goldsmith, or even Vangelis would have done with Prometheus.
I can’t say at the time of this writing that Prometheus is going to be another Ridley Scott classic like Alien or Blade Runner. Prometheus has grand aspirations and while it doesn’t always succeed credit must be given for even attempting to make an indirect prequel to Alien which many said couldn’t be done. Ridley Scott doesn’t just make another haunted house in space film, he doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat little bow, and he challenges the audience to draw their own conclusions on how Prometheus ties into the Alien universe. Only time and possibly a Director’s Cut will tell whether Prometheus will live up to its cinematic cousin in film history but as of June 8th, 2012 it’s a must see film.