Here’s a movie that got as much hype for what it wasn’t about as for what it was about. While not a direct prequel to the first “Alien” movie and its subsequent franchise, “Prometheus” (from “Alien” director Ridley Scott) is set in the same universe, riffs on some of the “Alien” films’ classic tropes, and does answer some questions raised in the first film—while raising many new questions of its own.
Wisely, I think, the marketing for “Prometheus” has been purposefully vague, implying lots of darkly lit space terror without revealing much of what the movie’s actually about. That’s refreshingly rare in an era where many trailers give away not only key plot points but frequently the ending as well.
While we’ll try to stay spoiler-free here, I can tell you this: “Prometheus” tells the story of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), an archaeologist who finds cave paintings that indicate the worship of celestial beings in a particular sector of space. Taking this as an “invitation”, she convinces Peter Weyland, CEO of The Weyland Corporation (the evil company from the “Alien” films) to fund a trillion-dollar mission to this location, believing she’s on the trail of the origins of humanity on earth.
While that may sound like the start of a metaphysical, cosmic-journey-type of sci-fi film, “Prometheus” is anything but. Once they get to the planet, the film quickly becomes a journey into terror, with a variety of life-threatening forces coming into play. I won’t go into what the crew encounters there, but I will say that “Alien”-philes will see some sights and encounter some story points that feel rather familiar. And there’s one scene in particular that will rival the original film’s iconic “chest-burster” scene for pure ick factor.
“Prometheus” is a movie that began as an idea first. Ridley Scott decided he wanted to revisit the “Alien” universe, and a script was generated for a direct prequel; that story was rewritten by “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof to be its own thing, tangentially related to the original movie but a unique story exploring different themes.
Idea-first is not the best way to write a movie, and unfortunately, the “Prometheus” script does have some holes—some so large you could drive a bus through them. Some character decisions will have you going, “Why did they do that? Why did they go back there? Don’t they know it’s CERTAIN DEATH?” The science (not my area of expertise) is probably suspect. At the times the plot feels like it’s missing some connective tissue.
Still, “Prometheus” triumphs on the strength of its strong performances (Rapace is excellent, as is Michael Fassbender as the “Lawrence of Arabia”-inspired android David—and let’s not forget Charlize Theron, very effective as the company ice goddess), Scott’s assured direction, and its brave, original, imaginative approach to the sci-fi/horror genre. Despite its story flaws, I was captivated the whole time, engrossed in the action, thrilled, scared, inquisitive—all of the emotions a good movie experience should inspire.
“Prometheus” is one of those films that audiences will discuss long after leaving the theater. While it answers some questions about the “Alien” universe, it raises more, and definitely leaves a lot open for the inevitable sequel by its conclusion. But it’s a thrill-packed, compelling journey into the dark side of space that, for its script shortcomings, still offers a richer, more engrossing experience than most of the popcorn flicks available on screens this summer.