The story of Prometheus is that of a being that came from the gods in order to give a gift to humanity. That gift was fire, with all of the metaphors and symbolism that have always been wrapped around the concept of fire to humanity. Needless to say, it wasn’t life; that was a different popular myth.
Ridley Scott’s latest film famously makes use of this myth to set up its status as a prequel to the Alien quadrilogy and to base its mythology upon. How well does it do with this?
Well, it begins with a common visual reference between civilizations
thousands of years apart. Wait, I remember this plot point: all of the
pyramid-building civilizations were united by the fact that they were
visitation points of Yautja who impregnated human sacrifices with
Xenomorphs! Actually, this is completely unrelated. Instead, each of
these civilizations shows images of a giant man pointing to a
constellation. If you’re supposing that this man is apparently a visitor
from a species that took pity on these civilizations and gave them
their amazing technology, you clearly have a better grasp of symbolism
than the writers of this film.
No, these are the Engineers, apparently a species that genetically
engineered humanity. Or something like that. Thankfully, we don’t get
any concrete answers that are impossible to learn empirically, but we do
find out that their DNA is a 100% genetic match to a human sample. If
you’re trying to figure out what human sample matched up a paternity
test with a white-skinned man that stands a head over Hagrid, it’s
because you have more patience than I do. I realized this film was
insulting me much earlier on, before the title sequence, when I was
barraged with five minutes of “Hey, this is 3-D! Aren’t you watching
this in 3-D? Come on, look at this, it’s 3-D!”
That’s not to say it’s all bad. While the concepts of science,
symbolism, and continuity were too much for the writers to grasp, they
clearly took a note from the more popular films in the franchise when
they set to work on the characters. Ignoring for the moment the fact
that every Executive in Weyland (later Weyland-Yutani) Corp is evil,
they always control an android and their founder is practically Emperor
Palpatine without any attempt at a disguise, the dialogue is very… 80s. I
don’t mean the whole neon, punk, mohawk Bebop and Rocksteady thing. I
mean the way 1980s’ horror dialogue is so very… alive. It’s all very
natural and you feel entertained just by the characters being
themselves, before the horror interrupts them. This helps you form a
bond with even characters whose actions are selfish and in many ways
seems to be a lost art of character direction that you don’t see much
any more. Lately it seems that characters are defined by which ones you
hate less than the others or by which one is less bland; in the 80s,
this wasn’t the case.
This is what the characters in Prometheus feel like: a
return to the 1980s. With the singular exception of officers in Weyland
Corp, characters are alive, with their own fears and their own
motivations. You don’t see every detail, because they’re not all the
focus and there are more people in the room than there were in Aliens, but you’re aware that it’s all there.
As for the world, when you get over the inherent condescension of a
modern 3-D film, in an era where glasses aren’t needed for 3-D when the
film makers put effort into it, it’s functional and pretty well made.
The CGI is excellent, and the only effect that I would have done
differently is one scene with unrealistically light gore, that I think
was done more in maintaining the sterile feel of the original film than
Although H.R. Giger returned for the art design, I’ve got to say it
doesn’t feel like him. Everything feels smoother, calmer, altogether
less unsettling than what I’ve come to expect from Giger’s work. This
rings true for the various aliens as well; it all feels simplified. I
suppose there’s a logic in using that approach for a prequel, but when
it comes to Sci-Fi, I think that time isn’t really proportionate enough
to display great differences in design. To further demonstrate what I
mean, these creatures were flying to Earth and back over thirty five
thousand years ago. Somehow, the fifty-seven year gap between Alien and Aliens doesn’t seem so great, does it?
By the way, my reference to the Emperor earlier wasn’t an accidental
thing. In watching this film, I took note of no less than six
occurrences of details pulled straight from the Star Wars
films. While half of these could be written off as unintentional or as
common design elements, but two of the early plot points and even the
design of the alien ship at the end screamed “Star Wars rip-off!” to me.
While the characters are likable and well written and the set and
costume design excellent, the science, mythology and even the alien
backgrounds don’t make the same kind of sense. The effect is similar to
that of a comic book with excellently drawn foreground figures and
backgrounds made of action lines and blurred colors. It doesn’t make the
end product unwatchable, but it also prevents me from calling it a good
film, either. With a little more respect for the audience and a closer
look at the symbolism that made up so much of the point of this
screenplay, this could have been one of the better films of the
franchise, but as is, it hovers somewhere around the area of Alien: Resurrection and Alien versus Predator on the sliding scale of Alien to Alien 3.
Bill Silvia is a regular contributor at Fantasy & SciFi Lovin' News & Reviews. You can find more of his content at www.MiBreviews.com.