To be honest, I did have some reservations about Prometheus. Simply put, I was not sure if making a prequel to Alien was the best idea. Trying to answer any question about their origin would make them less scary. The first film was great because the monster was an unknown that could have come from anywhere. Oh sure, it was possible to GUESS where the aliens came from. But having a definitive origin may ultimately hurt the story rather than help it.
Well, I am happy to report that Prometheus does not ruin the mythos of Alien by attempting to explain everything. But then, Prometheus does not explain much of ANYTHING that happens in its two-hour run time.
Alright – considering all of the things I am about to say, I really admire what Prometheus does and hope that more people go to see it. It’s smart science fiction that has the confidence to ask some considerable philosophical questions. In a summer where an alien invasion film like Battleship was considered a good idea, Prometheus is the sort of 2001 science fiction film that I wish more filmmakers had the confidence to make.
But Prometheus makes an almost unforgivable lapse of narrative logic and…..well, read on.
The film opens with a white humanoid drinking a substance that causes him to dissolve. Flash forward a few thousand years, and Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, the original Lisbeth Salanader) and her husband Charlie (Logan Marshall Greene) find an unusual cave painting that appears to have a drawing of a distant galaxy. Business owner Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce in heavy make up) funds a trillion-dollar (?!) expedition to go to that very galaxy and discover the origin of human life, and sends the android David (Michael Fassbender) the company representative Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and the Captain Janek (Idris Elba) to accompany them. The crew makes it to the planet, only to find the species that appears to have created humanity has been wiped out – and whatever did so may be targeting the crew next.
What’s strangest about Prometheus isn’t that it does something wrong, but it does so many things right that you would think that the filmmakers would not make the basic mistakes I will describe later. Everything about the film is brilliantly executed. The effects (particularly the star map sequence) are some of the best in years, and will probably be up for an Oscar. The film, for such a big budget affair, even manages to find some humanity. Rapace finds the same confidence that Sigourney Weaver found in the original film, and Fassbender is quickly becoming one of the best actors working today. Seriously – his David is a marvelous performance that really shows an internal struggle between machine and human. None of the other androids in the series ever played internal struggle before. Fassbender does – and uses this struggle to correctly points out what the implications of humanity being “created” by any species would be. Even 2001 did not manage to create its talking points through the performances of the actors. Prometheus does.
So the film works as science fiction, and there are moments of lofty thought and great humanity in Prometheus – which many science fiction films do not attempt to do any more. These were very welcome things to see, especially on a Friday night in a crowd full of the typical summer crowd.
But Alien, and any film in the franchise, needs to also work as horror. Prometheus tries to introduce these same elements and completely fails.
To show you what I mean though…well, I am going to try to avoid giving everything away, but it is impossible to discuss that flaw without revealing some more of the plot then I would like. If you don’t want to get into spoiler territory, then feel free to skip to the last paragraph.
Anyway, about halfway through the film, after the crew lands on the new planet, a pathogen is discovered, which appeared to have killed off most of the creatures that the crew was looking for. One of the crew members deliberately infects another, which leads to all sorts of unusual body horror moments with various crew members – as well as the discovery of a nefarious plot that the humanoid aliens were planning.
But here’s the thing: WHY this crew member deliberately infected the other IS NEVER EXPLAINED, and that whole infection subplot could have been eliminated (or at least, greatly reduced) without losing anything.
Seriously – it is such a bizarre lapse that I could not think of anything else during the last half of the film. I kept running through the checklist – was the company behind it? Was it an experiment? Was it some sort of excuse to shoehorn in a villain? But it’s none of those, apparently. And what the pathogen is supposed to reveal could have been explained by a line of dialogue rather than some drawn out spectacle.
But I get it. Someone needed Alien elements, so writers Jon Spaights and Damon Lindelof added the whole virus thing so the crew could be menaced by SOMETHING on the ship. But ti doesn’t feel natural the way the first film did, and it ends up feeling more like a distraction away from the main plot. Yea, the last shot in the film kind of explains why it happened, but it’s hardly a satisfying payoff. The whole pathogen is the equivalent of a prospector striking gold, but feeling the need to cover it with mud before he runs back into town and brags about his discovery.
There is a lot to like about Prometheus, and it’s probably the best film that is playing at multiplexes right now. But it is far from perfect, and the anticipation that many had for the film means that a lot of people are going to be let down. When a film can eliminate an entire subplot, there are some serious narrative flaws present. Still, I think that everyone needs to see Prometheus for themselves. Its many moments of brilliance, which shine even brighter due to the lack of quality other blockbuster science fiction films possess, mean that Prometheus will probably be seen as a more than welcome entry into the Alien saga as time goes on.
Hey, at least it’s better than Alien: Resurrection.