Alien Resurrection…Well, Sort of: Prometheus (Film Review)

A publicity still from Prometheus

Editor’s note: Please be aware that this review may contain spoilers.

In our fifth trip to the Alien franchise, director Ridley Scott takes us to the same universe where Ripley and the crew of the Nostromo encountered the original Xenomorph. In the same vein as 2001: A Space Odyssey, we’re brought on a journey that takes place not only in a distant universe, but also in existential thought.

As in the 1979 blockbuster Alien, a crew travels to a far-off galaxy in cryogenic sleep. In 2089, archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a star map among several ancient cultures from different time periods. The map is interpreted as an invitation from a race that is assumed to have created us, or “Engineers”. The scientific vessel Prometheus soon follows the map to a distant moon named LV-223 in search of the human race’s origins and in the process, may have discovered its demise.

The movie, which proposes the idea that the human race may have been the result of an alien self-sacrifice, begins with an eye-popping prologue that takes us back to a primordial Skye in Scotland. This sets the stage for what we think will be a journey to a place we’ve never been to, and maybe unscramble a philosophical puzzle in the process. Fans of the film franchise will recognize the Space Jockey (although not the same one from Alien), who is now referred to in the film as an “Engineer.” As the film unfolds, we’re introduced to a world the Engineers exist in which is very both haunting and other-worldly. At this point we’re given hints that our predecessors may be sinister in nature. However, as the plot moves forward we’re left with questions the film poses without any answers. Although the imagery and creatures we’re introduced to are interesting, we don’t really find out what’s driving the Engineers’ actions and why they created us. As the second and third acts of the film come into play, the film begins to feel like it takes a different passage than the one it set itself up to do in the first act. In the end, Prometheus comes up short at being satisfying.

The mystery of the Space Jockey is answered in Prometheus

During the 2-hour odyssey Prometheus does make an attempt to dig deeper in obscure thought, which isn’t always done in a tent pole film. For those who enjoy discussions of why we exist Prometheus provides plenty of it. Damon Lindelof, one of the creators of LOST, has a knack for inventing mythology to punch up a storyline. Questions like “Where do we come from?” and “What happens when we die?” are brought up and thoughtfully placed throughout. Although the answers to the bigger questions go unanswered, the dialogue is intelligent and at times very memorable.

One of the script’s more questionable devices are the motives of an android named David (played impeccably by Michael Fassbender) for a few acts that either seem resentful to his human counterparts or intended to interfere with the ship’s mission. Either way, you may be left feeling mystified by his behavior. That being said, his actions lead to some of the film’s more memorable scenes, one that includes Noomi Rapace and an automated operation machine that sets the stage for the final act. Fassbender’s performance is the crown jewel of the film and may be remembered as one of the iconic performances in modern cinema. It’s so good, you may forget any feelings of bewilderment and enjoy the way he performs on screen.

What works well in Prometheus are the extremely clear shots that gives you a very good idea of what you’re looking at, unlike a lot of films that use shaky camera work to help tell their stories. To add to the visual feast the special effects are absolutely stunning. This makes the trip to the outer reaches of the universe worth a visit to the movie theater. The epic scale of the spaceship and planet is nothing short of breathtaking. The film patiently enjoys the visions of space seldom seen. As in his past films like Gladiator and Blade Runner, director Ridley Scott takes his time creating a moody atmosphere.

Alien was groundbreaking and the standard it set back in 1979 is a bar set high. Setting a story that takes place in the same universe with the intent of expanding the franchise is a tall order. With some of the film’s shortcomings it’s good to see a film on an epic scale that makes an attempt at being profound, although at times it borders being silly. The film feels more like an existential discussion than a gross-out horror film, but does have its share of scenes that may have a few people jumping out of their seats. Be aware that the film raises questions that go unanswered. Hopefully, if there is a sequel to Prometheus, we won’t have to wait 33 years to get those questions answered.

Prometheus was directed by Ridley Scott, written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, and stars Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Logan Marshall-Green, Sean Harris, Rafe Spall, Emun Elliott, Benedict Wong, Kate Dickie, Patrick Wilson and Charlize Theron.

Running time is 124 minutes and is rated R for sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language.

Here’s the 1979 trailer for the original Alien

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6 Responses to “Alien Resurrection…Well, Sort of: Prometheus (Film Review)”

  1. […] Ridley Scott’s Prometheus was expected to have a larger opening, it has made number three on the list of “Biggest Opening […]

  2. David Derks says:

    By the way Don, have you ever heard of a novella called “At the Mountains of Madness” by H.P. Lovecraft? It has a lot of similarities with Prometheus: There was a race referred to as The Elder Things that were here before us; they were the creators of all life on Earth; their civilization was eventually destroyed by one of their creations (an unnamed evil); we discover hieroglyphics that tells us what happened to them; the monster that killed them is still alive.

    • Don Nutting says:

      At the Mountains of Madness is a classic. HP Lovecraft was a big influence of the concept artist of Alien. I couldn’t help but think of that when I saw the monster in the escape pod. Very Cthulu-esque.

      I agree that the biologist was irritating and deserved to die. As my Drill Seargent once said: Anyone stupid enough to pet an alien snake deserves to get caught up in the gearworks of evolution. He was too ignorant to survive.

      Another theme in Alien movies—don’t insult androids. It never ends well.

  3. David Derks says:

    Don, I completely agree with you on your points. I don’t mind a little mystery (2001: A Space Odyssey has plenty of them and it’s one of my favorite films) but for whatever reason it didn’t work in Prometheus.

    The film had a lot of plot devices that didn’t make sense. I ignored the concept of cave drawings being an invitation to visit an alien planet. How did they come to that conclusion? I thought it was an interesting art from different civilizations had the same map, but going into deep space because of a perceived “invitation” was a stretch. I kept saying to myself “These are scientists. Why are they thinking like that?” In Alien, they make one small mistake that brought the Xenomorph on board, which made complete sense.

    I couldn’t figure out some of the idiodic moves the characters made. Why would a scientist take their mask off on an alien planet? Just because the system says the air was clean doesn’t mean an intelligent scientist would take the mask off and let water drop down their face. And you’re right about two men and the snake. I thought it was lame that the same men were running back to the ship in fear after the discover of life get lost (how did that happen?) and said “Hey little buddy” to an alien snake. Deep down I was sort of glad he got killed for acting so stupidly.

    The make up on the old guy was odd wasn’t it? I couldn’t figure out why they just didn’t hire an age-appropriate actor (I know there are plenty of them in town).

    I thought it was interesting the Engineers wanted to attack the Earth 2,000 years ago. That would have been around the same time as Christ. I wondered if there was a correlation or just a coincidence in writing.

  4. Don Nutting says:

    I thought the visual effects were amazing and I saw it in 2D. The only thing that bugged me was the make up job on the owner Wayland who looked more alien than the Engineer.

    I thought the writers missed numerous opportunities with the acting talent that they had and the story got a little fuzzy in the middle.
    Alien and Aliens had a broad cast of characters that were more rounded than the flat characters they had in the film. For instance, I didn’t like how the biologist and the geologist move from cowards who want to go to the surface to bold explorers who want to pet snaky aliens. What if there had only been six of eight seats available as the storm comes in and the over eager biologist was teamed up with the geologist who drew the short straw? Moments like that bring out the character like when Charlize Theron’s character bars the door to the ship with a flamethrower until they go through decontamination. And how could you waste Idris Elba’s talent like that? This guy is an up and coming superstar in my view. He brought Heimdall to life in Thor with fewer lines than they gave him in Prometheus. It seemed like they took a script from a bad teenage thriller/Friday the 13th script flow chart–ie–insert stupid action here—let’s split up and ignore safety there–. There was no surprise or tension when the snaky alien thing came along.

    The film advances questions but I think they chicken out on the answers. Why was mankind abandoned? What happens when we die? Then why invite us to a planet and then the moment we arrive go on a bombing raide to erradicate Earth? The way the writers did it did not align itself with the original Alien theme: Mankind is self serving and treacherous. If I were the writer I would have had the Engineer explain that mankind was really a biological weapon designed to ruin a fertile planet–the Hollywood libs would love that. We were designed to be treacherous and like any biological virus crafted in a lab, the Engineers feared that our treachery would kill everything it came into contact with. After all, even the noble Christian beginning came from mankind murdering God made flesh. I think this would have aligned itself better with the Alien/Aliens theme. At the end I was scratching my head.

    I think you are right Dave that the 1979 bar was set very high. Alien was one of my favorite movies. One thing I liked about this movie like I did the last was the music. Jerry Goldsmith did a marvelous job in Alien and I think the composer created a great score in Prometheus.

    I liked your review. I think you put out exactly what I was thinking when I watched it.

  5. […] All is not lost. I enjoyed sitting through Prometheus and the epic scale on which it was filmed. If you want to read my full review on Beyond the Marquee, click here. […]

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