Back in 1979 a film hit the screens which would change the way people thought about science-fiction and horror. Ridley Scott‘s ‘Alien’ became a hit and screenings were characterized by screams and puke. The combination of horrific, often subliminally sexual, imagery and the gritty portrayal of interstellar travel struck a nerve with audiences worldwide. People had been exposed to the optimistic view of space through ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek’, now they came to know it as a dark and unforgiving terrain filled with danger.
It is only natural that Scott’s announcement to return to the ‘Alien’ series was greeted with some apprehension. Could the aging director reclaim his brand of existential horror? Would a prequel spoil the mysteries of the original movie? But perhaps most importantly, could Ridley Scott make us puke again?
Well, when I walked out of the cinema after having seen ‘Prometheus’ I came across a fresh splash of stinking barf. To any horror fan this speaks for, not against, the film. It’s a quiet testimony to the unsettling nature of at least one scene in ‘Prometheus’. Scott has done what he promised to do. He has delivered a beatiful looking film which is at the same time ‘Alien’ and not ‘Alien’. The DNA’s definitely there but this story in particular has bigger things on its mind.
‘Prometheus’ sticks to the concepts established in every other ‘Alien’ film. The universe is a cold, dark place without any regard for human existence. This Lovecraftian vision is even more pronounced in this story. Often I was reminded of the classic short novel ‘At the Mountains of Madness’, which also features an ”aliens are our Gods” scenario.
As a prequel ‘Prometheus’ works quite well. The story did evolve from Ridley Scott’s attempt at revealing the origin of the iconic alien creatures. However during development Scott and writer Damon Lindelof uncoverd a story of grander scale. What if our origins are linked with that of the aliens?
However, to me the film works better as a seperate entity. The quest for our creator is a staple in literary science-fiction but we rarely come across it in the cinema. The best example is Stanley Kubrick‘s ’2001: A Space Odyssey’. ‘Prometheus’ isn’t able to reach that level of profundity but it would be an unrealistic expectation anyway. In actuality, it is an admirably well-executed entry in the exceedingly rare genre of intelligent sci-fi.
You need a solid cast to make an outlandish story like this believable. As always Scott does a great job at choosing the best actors for any given role. He also has a flair for creating strong female protaganists, in this case he even finds room for a female antagonist played by Charlize Theron. In the lead is Noomi Rapace, who has to deal with abuse the likes of which would make any grown man cry like a baby. The portrayal of all the supporting characters isn’t as clear-cut as I would’ve liked but it is serviceable.
The best performance belongs to Michael Fassbender. His character is the robot David, who seems to be the only one capable of understanding that the power of creation isn’t all that special. When he asks a human why they created him he receives a brutal answer: ”Because we could.” What makes man think his creator would have any other motivation?
These are the kind of questions ‘Prometheus’ asks. It is unfortunate that the film isn’t able to handle all of these questions in a satisfying way. It seems too caught up in scaring us with gore to mind the bigger existential horror which lies at the heart of the story. ‘Prometheus’ flirts with these concepts on more than one occasion, but shies away from completely exploring them. However, the ‘Wizard of Oz’-like reveal of the creators is surprisingly effective. Behind all the smoke and mirrors there is just another imperfect ‘human’.
That said, I expected the film to end up connecting all the dots to the original ‘Alien’. It didn’t, there are a few loose threads left. It felt like Scott wasn’t ready to give this story up yet and therefore created an opening for future movies in this universe. You won’t hear any complaints from me. When this director is fully immersed in the stories he’s telling he can do great things. And I’ll asure you, ‘Prometheus’ is a great flick. Don’t take my word for it, trust the puke.