Film Review: Prometheus

With Prometheus (in theaters today) director Ridley Scott returns to the film universe he started with Alien in 1979. Co-written by Star Trek’s Damon Lindelof, the new movie is a worthy addition to the Alien franchise, but also a different film that poses as many questions as it answers. More in the TrekMovie review below, including some spoilers.


REVIEW: Prometheus

Science fiction is at its best when it is both exciting and thought-provoking. And that is what you get with Ridley Scott’s new film Prometheus.  In a return to form, Scott presents a visually stunning vision of the future as he takes us along the journey of the ship Prometheus on a mission to discover the origins of humanity. The film also explores some weighty themes including creation and religion.

Prometheus heads down

Since word of the film first came about, much of the discussion and even debate as been whether or not it is a prequel to Scott’s Alien and how does it fit into the universe. This debate is not unlike that for JJ Abrams 2009 Star Trek movie. But in a technical sense, there is no doubt that Prometheus is a prequel to Alien. It is in the same universe, and takes place a few decades before Ripley and the crew of the USCSS Nostromo were woken up to check out what was happening on LV-426. And while there are no characters from the other Alien films, you have some of the key archetypes, including the android with questionable motives (Michael Fassbender’s David), the corporate weasel (Charlize Theron’s  Vickers) and a kick-ass heroine (Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw).

Director Ridley Scott with Noomi Rapace

Prometheus kicks off in the year 2089 with Dr. Elizabeth Shaw and her boyfriend Charlie Holloway (played ably by Logan Marshall-Green) discovering a star map in a cave in Scotland, the oldest of a series they have found throughout the Earth. They decide this is an invitation from some alien visitors who guided humanity. Sparking the interest of Peter Weyland, founder of Weyland Corporation (the precursor to the ubiquitous Weyland-Yatuni from the rest of the Alien series) they and a crew of (mostly) forgettable characters are sent off to LV-223, a moon in an unknown system on board the ship Prometheus. 

Once on the moon the wide-eyed and bushy-tailed team of scientists dive into a dome that the audience can see is just a giant creepy horror show waiting to happen. Influenced by work from the original Alien designers (including the famed H.R. Giger) the production design is spectacular, from the Prometheus ship to the exploration of the moon and its creepy contents.

Hey a room full of dark creepy jars – what’s the worst that can happen?

But it is in this exploration that some things go amiss in the film, and likely not as intended by the filmmakers. We have characters who are supposedly brilliant scientists who have traveled farther than any people ever have before who soon chicken out and want to get back to the ship only to be seen soon after showing less common sense that a coed heading off into the woods alone in a slasher movie. We also have the laid-back captain of the ship (played by Idris Elba) who shows more interest in getting into Charlize Theron’s skin-tight space pants than leading the historic expedition. And most of the other characters just seem like glorified red shirts (without the shirts of course).

Charlize Theron and Idris Elba in Prometheus

On the other hand, you have Michael Fassbender’s David who may be the most interesting android yet in the Alien universe, and that is saying something. Fassbender steals the show as David pushes the story forward while almost everyone else seems to be acting like kids on the school’s worst ever field trip. Also impressive is Rapace’s Shaw, who carries much of the load for exploring the themes of the film, along with providing some of the more memorable sequences, including a "I can’t believe she is doing that" self-operation, complete with laser scalpels. Remember, this movie is rated R, so it goes pretty far when it is trying to creep you out, gross you out, or just plain scare you.

Michael Fassbender’s David the android

While the movie is part of the universe and technically a prequel, it is a different film than Scott’s Alien. Then again, each of the three Alien films that followed had different directors and writers, so no two films in the series really feels the same and Prometheus continues that trend. While there are elements of Scott’s claustrophobic monster-movie Alien and James Cameron’s action-film Aliens, Prometheus is more of a sci-fi epic than any in the series. The visuals are truly stunning and take true advantage of the 3D.

A star map on an alien ship in "Prometheus"

Besides a few lapses in logic and character motivation, Prometheus is still an entertaining and though-provoking movie. Some may feel that the film ends up leaving you with more questions than answers. It is certain that this movie will spark many conversations about both the themes and the meaning of various moments (too hard to discuss without getting into bigger spoilers). This should probably not be a surprise coming from Damon Lindelof, who with Lost was never one to tie everything up in a neat bow.

I feel that this ambiguity is likely part of the design from Scott himself who brought in Lindelof to rewrite Jon Spaihts original draft to expand the film’s scope and make it less of a direct link to everything about the first Alien movie. And in that they have succeeded in creating a new landscape that while in the universe, now has its own road to travel in what was set up (perhaps too obviously) for sequels to come.

Bottom line, Prometheus is a good movie, but short of being a great movie. It is a must see for any fan of the Alien series or thought-provoking science fiction.

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Prometheus opened today nationwide.


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