Few films evoke such wild anticipation as Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. Not only does the film see the seventy-four year old director return to the science fiction genre for the first time in thirty years, but it also sees him return to the territory of his seminal 1979 film Alien; perhaps the film that defined him as a director. Not a fan of sci-fi, Scott took on Alien knowing the scope of his vision would make for a truly striking space-set horror, but with the part-prequel, part-spin-off Prometheus Scott has much bigger fish to fry – the very origins of mankind. What he achieves is thrilling, intriguing, but bound to be divisive.
From the outset it was difficult to know precisely what to expect from Prometheus. As the marketing team released more footage and posters, the film’s cryptic evocation of humankind became recognisable, but simultaneously so did its resemblance to Alien. It was as if Prometheus was promising to provide new theories for human existence, as well as the outlandish organisms of Alien (designed by Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, who provided murals for Prometheus).
In narrative terms, Prometheus resembles its predecessor surprisingly closely, but its thematic focus is different. Instead of the space age blue collar workers of the previous film, we are introduced to scientists and researchers, eager to discover and communicate with an advanced species well versed in space travel. Aboard their space ship named Prometheus the scientists are lead by Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her boyfriend Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green). Their mission is funded by Weyland Industries, represented by the icy Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron – on frosty form). Conflict arises when the scientists suspect that Weyland Industries have ulterior motives for locating extraterrestrial life.
The film is brilliantly cast, particularly with Michael Fassbender representing android-kind as David, an existentially complex being like those in Scott’s Blade Runner. The problem arises however when we realise that the ensemble are simply not as well drawn as the characters of Alien; this lets slip cliché lines and superficial drama that ticks plot boxes. Fortunately, Scott’s choice cast guide us through the scripting superficialities with aplomb. There too is occasional comedy, courtesy of Prometheus’ captain Janek (Idris Elba) and even Fassbender himself.
The film is at its most intriguing when the crew encounter the Alien-esque world, for which is it most anticipated. Scott utilises the alien species’ ability to conceive, birth and evolve rapidly to amp up the horror, as he did in his previous film – this is a welcome return. While the varying creature design in Prometheus does not live up to Giger’s achievements for Alien, the film still continuously provokes our curiosity, before rewarding us with a violent dose of horror. Despite his interest in the loftier themes of existence, Scott still knows that his job as a director is to shock, move and entertain.
But what of the film’s answers for man kind? And how does this fit with Alien? To say too much would be irresponsible for viewers to-be, but Scott tells a tale that does away with Darwinist theories and revels in a compelling fiction for which you must be willingly suspend your disbelief. He also evokes a new horror that will inflect future viewings of Alien; evidence in the evolution of the Xenomorph (Alien) species itself.
As to be expected with a story that has taken thirty years to follow up, not all audience members will feel satisfied. Some audience members will wish they knew less, others will want to know more (and for those a Prometheus sequel feels due). As for audience members who have not seen any of the Alien films, Prometheus will thankfully not alienate them. For this viewer though, Prometheus is the most compelling Alien instalment since the 1979 original.