If you were tasked with bringing new life to a franchise you created thirty-five years ago, what would you do? If you’re familiar with some small science-fiction properties like Star Trek or Star Wars, you know the best option is to ditch the established lore with a clean slate. Retcons – or retroactive continuities – are ways that writers can add to new universes without having to abide by many of the rules established prior. So it makes sense that in pursuing his first science-fiction film since Blade Runner, Ridley Scott would have the hots for telling a prequel to Alien that doesn’t hinge much on that film’s existence. While Scott’s been busy since then, science-fiction stories have changed a lot in that time, so how does he do?
Everything about Prometheus is big. From the glorious opening shots panning over the terrain of early Earth and exquisite creature effects throughout the film to its exquisite marketing and all-answering ‘God question’ at the center of the plot, it’s obvious that somewhere between Scott, 20th Century Fox, and co-writer (and Lost showrunner) Damon Lindelhof that the film probably got carried away. In fact, Fox had gone so far as to demand a PG-13 rating of the film to get more butts in seats, a requirement dropped only a month before we caught the midnight premiere at Hollywood’s Arclight theater. A pair of archaeologists (Rapace, Logan-Marshall) convince the head of the Weyland Corporation to fund a trip deep into the cosmos on the Prometheus to seek our forerunners, a notion derived from a coordinate series of prehistory etchings from around the world. The diverse crew of seventeen includes a pent up executive (Theron) and an enigmatic android (Fassbender) who comes across as a happy puppy at a funeral. The crew land on this new planet in search of clues about the origins of life on Earth.
Plumbing the tunnels of a massive alien structure they find on the surface, they come across ghosts of our predecessors, the Engineers, and bring a decapitated head back to the ship. Combined with a dripping vase (of many tens of thousands in the dig site) smuggled onto the Prometheus by Fassbender’s David, things begin to go awry as chemicals are exchanged and alien DNA starts spreading. It’s not long before the ship and its crew are in danger, but the truth about humanity’s origins must be uncovered by any means necessary. Despite some excellent physical performances, an excellent score, and amazing special effects by Weta (or maybe, perhaps because of), Prometheus still largely feels like a grandstanding, epic film for its originally intended larger and younger audience. Special effects fly left and right and while there are some gruesome moments (including Rapace’s emergency surgery), I never felt the tension rise beyond a low pulse, ironic considering its predecessor (and ultimate descendant) became a landmark film known for its incredible use of suspense and technology to set a high new bar in horror. It doesn’t lessen the film, Prometheus is a beautiful piece of cinema on its own merit, but rather, prevents it from truly becoming its parent’s child.