Making a necessary prequel seem anything but.
Set a good 80 years in the future, Prometheus is about a group of archaeologists who discover a collection of matching hieroglyphs in various locations across the globe. Upon further investigation, they conclude that the drawings are in fact an intergalactic map, left by a race that once inhabited Earth as a way to guide us to them once our technology caught up. Eventually, our technology does just that, so an aging trillionaire decides to foot the bill, puts the archaeologists on a big ol’ ship, and sends them off to space in the hopes that they’ll meet our makers. Two years later, they reach their destination and get to poking around in caves and such. Before long, they realize that those hieroglyphs were more of a set-up than an invitation, but since opportunities like this only come around so often, they stay the course and hope they make it out alive without, oh, I don’t know, getting knocked up by a demon squid.
Not sure if I’m dropping the spoiler of the century here, but since it seems to me like one of the most blatantly obvious, non-spoilers in the history of spoilers to begin with, here’s the scoop: Prometheus is a prequel to Alien. Might come as a surprise to those who haven’t seen Alien in a while or just haven’t seen it at all (for shame…), but for those of us who instantly recognized all the familiar set pieces from the trailer, it was about as surprising as finding out that The Phantom Menace was a prequel to Star Wars. Pretty confused as to why this wasn’t clarified from the get-go instead of kept as such an “is it or isn’t it?” question for people to kind of wonder about, but I have my theories. Will get to those in a bit. Anyway…
As to how Prometheus compares to the likes of Alien and Aliens, it’s apples and oranges. Alien is one of the greatest horror movies ever made, and Aliens is one of the greatest action movies ever made, plus it had some great horror elements to boot. The best things this Prometheus has going for it is that it’s set in the same universe, it’s awful pretty to watch, and Michael Fassbender. As to what kind of movie this is in comparison to Alien and Aliens, it’s somewhere in between, for better or worse. It has horror elements without being very scary or suspenseful, and it has action elements that are more gratuitous than they are exciting. Ultimately, it’s hard really to say what this movie wants to be.
In a nutshell, it feels like it’s written by the co-creator of LOST.
If you gave up after Season 4 or stuck it through to the end, there’s no denying that Damon Lindelof got away with some truly bizarre shit in that show. Smoke Monsters, time travel, tropical polar bears – the list goes on and very little of it gets explained. As the co-writer of Prometheus, he takes a very similar approach, throwing in one unfounded alien encounter after another until things kind of make sense but mostly don’t by the end. The reason he got away with it in LOST is because his characters were so fleshed-out and fantastic. The more invested you became in their stories, the less you cared about the unexplainable being explained (at least that was my experience ). Now, the reason he doesn’t get away with it in Prometheus is pretty simple: his characters blow.
For starters, there is a serious excess of characters along for this trip. Granted, I’ve never been to planet LV-223 to investigate alien life forms, but a crew made up of nearly a dozen members is at least five or six too many from where I’m sitting. It’s not like you can’t make a movie work with that many characters (just look at Boogie Nights), it’s just unnecessary having this many people involved, especially when they serve no other key purpose outside of dying before we even know their names. Aside from the fact that the central characters already feel about as human as a stuffed cabbage, drawing so much attention to even the most minimally important side characters only serves to make us care less about the group as a whole. And it’s a damn shame that this is the case, because I usually like Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, and Guy Pearce, and I usually care about whether or not they’re gonna die. But alas, their dialogue is awful, there’s nothing they can do to not sound like they’re phoning it in, and if only their characters had as many dimensions as those 3D glasses did…
Although there is an exception here, and, as I mentioned earlier, that exception is Michael Fassbender. Fassbender plays our android of the hour, David 8, and not only is his the most interesting and layered character by a marathon, but his performance blows everyone else’s out of the stratosphere. Not surprising considering it’s Fassbender, somewhat surprising considering how stark the contrast in quality is. Although it does kind of makes sense that he steals the spotlight considering that Ripley’s out of the picture and the androids were always the best supporting characters in this franchise.
So with the substance generally lacking, we make our way to the style. I wish I could tell you about how much I drooled on my shirt during this, and I wish I could tell you about how it totally redeems the movie, leaving nothing to be desire. But as pretty as this is and as much as technology has advanced since 1979, it’s really no prettier than Alien. Yes, the special effects, the art direction, and the set designs are fantastic, but it all stems from Alien and doesn’t quite channel the art of H.R. Giger in the same visceral way. Too much emphasis on spectacle, not enough emphasis on atmosphere. Simple as that.
But for all the prequels, sequels, and remakes that Hollywood cranks out every year despite no one even asking for them, it is refreshing to find one that for once feels warranted. If you think back to Alien, it actually does come off like a continuation, like the second or third part in a story that was already long underway. I wanted to know how that ship got there, I wanted to know where those facehuggers came from, and I’d still like to know how Weyland-Yutani found out about it. The potential was already there for something great, and for all of its scope and inspiration, Prometheus has its merits.
I liked the driving force behind the plot, the search for our “engineers,” and since it seems very likely that a prequel sequel’s in order, I’m interested to see how things play out/tie together. But with all the flaws I’ve already mentioned and everything being brought half-circle by its finish, Prometheus‘ reach just proved greater than its grasp. It’s a story and a film that probably would have benefited from being a stand-alone effort rather than operating in the shadow of greatness, which is probably why they weren’t making a big deal out of the Alien connection in the first place. But with the connection having been made and the plotline following so closely, it’s hard not to draw comparisons and wonder where things got so muddled.
Hell of a trailer though, huh?