You Won’t See What’s Coming in Prometheus

And not just because the movie was filmed with little lighting.

The Alien series is arguably one of the—if not the—most influential sci-fi movie series of all time. Not just for proving that a horror movie could transcend the genre, or that a female character, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), could be an ass-kicking, box office draw, but also for its amazing pedigree of talent: directors Ridley Scott (Alien), James Cameron (Aliens), and David Fincher (Alien 3), and writer Joss Whedon (Alien Resurrection). In Prometheus, Ridley Scott returns to the helm and delivers a stunning, if not fully successful, not-a-prequel prequel to Alien that will appease fans with origin tidbits and some gnarly alien attacks.

It is the year 2093—nearly 30 years before a certain something busts out of Kane’s (John Hurt) chest. Two archaeologists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), lead a deep-space expedition, financed by Weyland Industries, aboard the Prometheus. With Weyland executive Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) along to supervise and the android David (Michael Fassbender) to monitor, the crew sets out to find the origins of human life, but instead finds its potential demise.

It is no easy task to follow in the footsteps of Sigourney Weaver, but Noomi Rapace (the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) gives a muscular performance. Theron is perfect as Vickers: her controlled stoicism, a foil to the bright-eyed Shaw. It is Fassbender, as the android David, who gives the standout performance. By now, the android character is almost banal. But David, unlike his antecedents, is not interested in being more human. (And is certainly not bound by Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.) It is merely knowledge that compels him: whether looking into the crew members’ dreams while in stasis or collecting alien specimens that may or may not be lethal.

Arthur Max’s massive sets (including the gargantuan head, seen in the movie posters and previews) are epic and eerie. The digital scenery is staggeringly beautiful, specifically the spectacular sequence of Prometheus entering the alien atmosphere. And the costumes, from Academy Award-winning Janty Yates (Gladiator), are completely unique. While Scott filmed in 3D, the end result is less spectacular. Meant to immerse you into the world, there are no gimmicky effects (e.g., no facehugger flying at the camera). However, as most scenes are dark or filmed with little lighting, it interferes with depth perception. So, often, while characters and objects in the foreground do appear to exist in a 3D-world, the images look flat.

So is Prometheus a true prequel to Alien? Yes and no. With a script by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof (Lost), it attempts to be more than just an Alien origin movie (less focus on “facehuggers” and “chestbursters”). This is not to say there isn’t any acid blood or gore (there is one excruciatingly intense sequence that gives the Alien chestburster scene a run for its money). Instead, like Scott’s Blade Runner or Lindelof’s Lost, Prometheus looks to explore bigger questions (like, who are we?) rather than providing quick scares or easy answers. And while the movie suffers at times from being too much of an intellectual exercise—like Lost, you may feel you have a grasp on what’s going on, but moments later, you’re completely confounded again—it is never dull.

And isn’t it better for a movie to reach for something new, then revel in the expected?

My Grade: B+