Now here’s a funny thing. In a world where major movies are so desperate for any kind of name recognition they’ll share titles with theme park rides, toy lines and board games, we have a film that is actively trying to not be associated with the franchise that spawned it. Despite only producing a handful of movies in over three decades of existence, the ‘Alien’ series has sadly fallen a long way since its two outstanding first instalments, the creatures’ last screen appearance being ‘Alien vs. Predator: Requiem’. This is not reason enough to disassociate oneself though, particularly as original director Ridley Scott is returning to the series for the first time.
The mooted fifth instalment was actually discussed prior to the unnecessary ‘Alien vs. Predator’ films’ appearance, with Ridley Scott and James Cameron apparently teaming up to revisit the iconic franchise, what a film that could have been.
What we have now, is ‘Prometheus’, a science fiction film set in the same universe as the ‘Alien’ films, and that apparently shares ‘strands of ‘Alien’s DNA’, but is not a direct prequel, or a reboot, or a spin-off, or whatever you want to call it. It wants to be judged purely on its own merits. While that’s an admirable desire for a filmmaker, it’s also something that’s just impossible to do when viewing ‘Prometheus’ (unless you’re someone who for some reason had managed to live their life thus far without any knowledge of the existing franchise). Expectations are extremely high, and comparisons will inevitably be made.
After a mysterious opening sequence, a pair of archaeologists discover what they believe to be a star map shared among art work from various different ancient cultures on earth. They think this may answer the question of humanity’s origins and are funded by Peter Weyland (recognise the name?) to embark on an expedition to follow it, in the ship ‘Prometheus’. Upon their arrival at the distant moon LV-223 they are awakened from hypersleep to explore, and you know it’s not going to be a walk in the park. This all takes place a number of years before the events of the first ‘Alien’.
Already one can see that ‘Prometheus’s ambitions are considerably greater than that of ‘Alien’s in terms of the questions and mythology it wishes to explore.
(You see I can’t help it, I’ve already referenced ‘Alien’ numerous times)
Something one has to just accept going into ‘Prometheus’ is that the famed ‘Alien’ creature, or ‘Xenomorph’ as its come to be referred to, is not waiting to make an appearance. What we may see more of though is the fabled ‘Space Jockey’.
Unsurprisingly, the film is visually outstanding, both in the digital effects and the practical sets. It offers a thrilling journey into an unknown world, with a number of very tense sequences, and never resorts to cheap jump scares. One scene in particular is extremely uncomfortable to watch and really lingers in the memory afterwards.
It has a solid cast behind it too, though Guy Pearce is somewhat underused. While few actresses seem more suitable for a role that Sigourney Weaver would have played many years ago than Noomi Rapace (original ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’), the acting honours really go to Michael Fassbender who, playing an earlier model of the synthetics seen in previous instalments, raises the bar for android acting.
If there is a big issue with the film it’s with the script. Some air of mystery is commendable but raising numerous tantalising questions that are left unanswered by the end is frustrating, and I struggle to be convinced by the argument that this is a case of sequel baiting. Simply having not yet thought of satisfactory explanations seems much more likely, especially considering that this is scripted by one of the creators of ‘Lost’.
At some point in the months prior to its release, expectations for ‘Prometheus’ reached stratospheric levels, leaving the resulting film with no chance of ever meeting them. In turn this has resulted in many reactions being undeservedly negative. What ‘Prometheus’ is, is a thrilling, ambitious, big budget sci-fi horror adventure from a great filmmaker. Not a third sci-fi masterpiece from him but a worthy effort nonetheless, that will likely be revisited in future years.
Finally, if I were to compare it with all the other ‘Alien’ films, it would rank third.