Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Logan Marshall-Green, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Rafe Spall, Sean Harris, Benedict Wong
At this point, 15 years after the last installment, the Alien franchise seemed, for all intents and purposes, dead and buried. Going back and starting a series of prequels may have seemed like the last thing that fans would want. The franchise had run its course. After all, how many times can we watch a xenomorph board a space vessel and kill all of the crew, only to be jettisoned into space through an airlock by a sole survivor, before it gets old?
But with Ridley Scott returning to the franchise that he started with the seminal sci-fi horror masterpiece Alien all the way back in 1979, just like that, the film was on the right track. And sure enough, not only did he reinvigorate the franchise with new characters, places, and ideas, but he made the best film the series had seen since 1986.
The film, set in 2089, follows a crew of archaeologists, led by Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), who discover ancient cave paintings depicting maps of far-away solar systems, which they believe were left by the beings that created mankind. Funded by the Weyland Coporation, the team sets off to that solar system and land on the moon LV-223. While on a mission to discover their origins, they soon find a threat that could face mankind with its extinction.
Since its release nearly five years ago, this film has received more than its fair share of criticism and backlash amongst fans. That’s why this review may be somewhat controversial, because quite honestly, I think Prometheus is worthy of being recognized as a modern day science fiction classic.
Right away, it becomes clear that this film is a visual masterwork. Opening with graceful, wide pans over pristine, hazy cascades, cliffsides, and hilltops, the film draws a clear distinction between Earth, mankind’s current place in the universe, and the place of their alleged creators.
LV-223 is a gorgeous work of sci-fi world-building. With an absolutely seamless blend of practical effects and CGI, the moon looks authentic, completely foreign, and lived-in. The framing, color, shot composition, and special effects all work together to bring to life an entirely believable alien world.
The film also properly reincorporates the original concepts of H.R. Giger, particularly in the Engineers’ spacecrafts. Everything on display here, from the exteriors on Earth, to the barren landscapes and set designs, evoke a specific type of science fiction that just doesn’t get made anymore. The film doesn’t bombard you with silly alien technologies and architecture. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Choosing to have LV-223 seemingly desolate and untouched plays into the film’s themes of creation, isolation, and the origins of life. It looks like a world that has yet to be truly born, which only heightens the film’s sense of anticipation and discovery. It’s one of Scott’s best-looking films.
I’m putting quite a bit of emphasis on the visuals in this film, but it’s warranted. The cinematography, effects, and sets are breathtaking, and play a huge hand in telling the story. However, the performances are also top notch.
Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw is easily the franchise’s most interesting character since Ellen Ripley in Aliens. Brilliant, eager, and full of curiosity and fascination, her intriguing questions and will and determination for answers made her one of the most compelling characters in the film. Rapace plays this character with extraordinary charisma and energy – she flawlessly captures the character’s smarts and interest.
In fact, I would even go as far as to say that, in certain regards, Shaw is more interesting than Ripley was in the first film, and that all comes down to one characteristic that Shaw has that Ripley didn’t have quite enough of: vulnerability. Despite her scientific brilliance and unwavering curiosity, Shaw is still vulnerable, feeling the fear of what the answers she seek might mean, and the consequences that they inevitably bring.
Just as compelling as Shaw, if not more so, is David, the resident android aboard the Prometheus, played by Michael Fassbender in one of his biggest breakout roles. While Shaw is a strong protagonist, David is the most interesting character that the film has to offer.
Yes, the Alien franchise is no stranger to the inclusion of androids; they make an obligatory appearance in every film. However, David is by far the most complex of any of his kind in the series so far. He isn’t just there to assist the humans on their expedition; he has his own desires, his own curiosities, and his own motivations. Hidden behind his cold gaze and eerily poised demeanor is a being full of questions, searching for his own purpose. It’s that extra layer that makes David so unique, and Fassbender plays him to perfection in what is, to this date, still one of my favorite performances of his.
And that’s what makes Prometheus a worthwhile installment. Though it might share many similarities in its story to that of the original film (the inclusion of an android, a crew being attacked by an alien presence, and concluding with one remaining survivor), its script tackles heavier and more complex themes and ideas than any previous film had.
The film explores mankind’s constant search for its purpose in the universe, and the meaning behind its existence. It suggests that these questions have answers that we might not want to know, and that it might be dangerous if we go too far in that search. It poses the all-too terrifying question: What if we were to meet our makers? What if they decided they had made a mistake when they made us, and there was nothing that we could do about it?
These themes, explored so well through great dialogue, characters, and visuals, work to make us, as an audience, as humans, small in such a large, imposing, and mysterious universe, which in turn makes the entire viewing experience all the more unique and rewarding.
Of course, the film isn’t without its flaws, and they’ve been talked about to death by this point, but are still worth delving into. The supporting characters, save for Charlize Theron’s Vickers, Idris Elba’s Captain Janek, and Logan Marshall-Green’s Holloway, are expendable, and lack likability, depth, and above all, common sense. A few too many plot holes arise from characters’ behaviors and decisions, and that can oftentimes prove frustrating.
And although the film is all about asking the big questions, and with characters whose motivations are to seek answers, it leaves a bit too much to the imagination, to the point where some of the ideas that it establishes get confusing within the larger context of the rest of the Alien franchise.
But at the same time, some of these questions will more than likely be answered in future sequels, including the quickly-approaching Alien: Covenant. And furthermore, when it explores questions as grandiose as the meaning and origins of life, questions that mankind has been seeking answers to for its entire existence, maybe they don’t need to be answered. The biggest questions in life still don’t have answers. Perhaps the film is stating that these questions aren’t meant to have any resolution. It’s all about the experience, the mystery, and the journey.
The Verdict: Prometheus is an unsung, modern day science fiction classic. Through its complex and thought-provoking themes, stellar performances from Rapace, Fassbender, Elba, and Theron, dazzling cinematography and visual effects, and atmospheric direction from Ridley Scott, this prequel successfully revived a franchise that, at one point in time, seemed beyond hope. It’s an entrancing viewing experience that entertains just as much as it makes you think, and for that, it deserves far more recognition.
And with that, my series of Alien reviews has concluded, that is, until May. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them!