Well it’s better late than never i say. Though truth be told i think it rather fitting that i wrap up the Alien franchise with Prometheus, as it really has very little to do with the series and does everything it can to escape the trappings of a prequel.
I quite liked Prometheus when i saw it in the theatre, and just like Alien Covenant (or rather vice versa) i was really taken aback by the negative response it received. There were tons of people asking ridiculous questions like:
“Why did David poison Holloway?”
“Why didn’t Vickers run sideways?”
“Why did the Engineers want to kill us?”
All of these questions usually had answers in the movie, addressed either implicitly or explicitly by character action, context, and admittedly conjecture.
Ridely Scott’s career has been defined by memorable imagery, and Prometheus is no exception to this. As It’s filled with spectacular visual effects work and production design; visual call backs to the series are abundant and clever. With the various alien creatures designed to be prototypes of the ones seen later on in the series; like the slithering hammerpede, or Shaw’s octopus like baby being the early description of the original creature from Alien.
Great performances are also part and parcel with the great visuals, Idris Elba is perfectly cast in the lazy eyed captain role, Micheal Fassbender is excellent in playing the all too human David, and Noomi Rapace does her best to fill out the franchise’s staple Ripley character and provides the film’s biggest emotional moments.
Apart from the visuals i have to admire films that have a go at the big questions about life, asking questions like “Where do we come from?” and “What does it all mean?” Are not easy questions to even hint at much less answer, so anyone having a go and bringing a unique take on the subject matter will get and hold my attention.
While Scott actively tried to distance Prometheus from the Alien franchise, through outside interviews and the movie proper, it nonetheless is a part of the same universe and adds its own interesting layers to series’ themes. The so called pilots are now given a proper name, face, and culture. With that comes interesting subtext to the discoveries made in Alien, and the purpose of the titular creatures is revealed in subtle ways.
Lastly, Marc Streintenfeld provides decent music to underscore the events as they unfold, with some ques evoking a dark majesty (A Planet), tension and danger (Space Jockey), and wonder and awe (Earth).
Often times when people talk about sci-fi or fantasy movies the term most used is: Show Don’t Tell.
Respect the audience, allow us to come to our own conclusions, avoid unnecessary exposition, and so on and so on.
Well Prometheus is a film that takes that to heart, in fact it’s a film that shows everything and tells almost nothing; it encourages an audience member (me in this case) to rely largely on conjecture to answer the questions it poses. Let’s look at the black goo for instance; while in hindsight (with Alien Covenant in mind) the purpose and function of the liquid is explained thoroughly with action and dialog. That isn’t so in Prometheus, we only hear it talked about in a inquisitive manner; people ask what is but never posit an answer.
The visuals fill in the gaps as we see it change form: as the Engineer at the opening drinks some and dies, Holloway is fed some and changes, it mutates Fifield, it creates or mutates the worms in the soil of the planet, and Shaw gives birth to Holloway’s grotesque spawn. But we’re never told explicitly that the ooze is highly mutable, or shown examples of its effects like we are in Alien Covenant.
All of the conclusions about what it does and how it does it, are left up for us as audience members to posit based on the evidence at hand. And naturally that can lead to conjecture, misunderstanding, and confusion.
It doesn’t help that the film’s vagueness is encouraged by Scott’s trimming shears, given this quote from his approach to the cutting of Alien Covenant :
Ridley Scott: The only reason I occasionally take my hat off to screenings is you think you know everything, but you know you don’t. Something inordinately simple you’ve assumed everyone understands and they don’t. That’s the key thing, isn’t it? You know when it’s a bit too long. And also, if you’re a bit too long you then ask “Right speed? Too slow? Too fast?” If they go, “no, too fast” you go “sh*t, I’ve got to slow down” – because as you edit, you can get weary and want to cut, cut, cut.”
“Scott: I always come out at almost 2:23 first cut, look at it, and go “I’ve got to get to two hours”.
It’s abundantly apparent, given how many the deleted scenes there are on the bluray, that Scott cut helpful information out of the film to increase pace and increase the vagueness of the ideas.
This is especially so with the extended cut of the Engineer waking up:
If you watch the theatrical version for comparison (which i’m having difficultly finding, here it is in german i think), you will hopefully see how much more helpful the extended scene is in creating cohesion and answering questions. The Engineer speaks for one, he acts like a rational being by asking the important question of “Why are you here?”
The extended scene gives a crucial detail of why the engineers wanted to kill us as well, as Weyland says he made David in his own image, that he made him so he would be perfect. And indeed David is everything the Engineers wanted us to be, intelligent, pure, and most importantly selfless. That’s why he rips David’s head off and beats Weyland to death with it, to highlight the irony of our successes and failures with violent contempt.
And all of this is excised from the theatrical film, the thematic point of the movie is left in the dust by its lightning quick pace; it leaves us to piece the puzzle back together with the handicap of having a lot of the pieces missing. Scott almost seems like he’s afraid of giving too much away, like a pretentious artist who’s disappointed when you figure out the metaphors in their art on first glance; as our failures and why the Engineer’s hate us is blatantly obvious in the extended version of the scene.
Ultimately i think Prometheus is bold with its ideas, and it’s brave in flouting expectations and going about doing its own things; but it’s a bit sloppy. There are tons of things you can nit-pick about it, thousands of people already have, and for some it dies the death of a thousand wounds despite being interesting.
Thankfully in the wake of its sequel much of its vagueness has been cleared up, which leaves Prometheus as an interesting but flawed precursor to a much beloved series.
OUT OF FIVE