When going in to watch Prometheus there’s a quote from Ridley Scott you need to remember: "while Alien was indeed the jumping-off point for this project, out of the creative process evolved a new, grand mythology and universe in which this original story takes place. The keen fan will recognize strands of Alien's DNA, so to speak, but the ideas tackled in this film are unique, large and provocative.” While it is set prior to the original Alien and does expand upon aspects of that story, it’s a film in its own right more than it is a prequel. Rather than structuring itself upon setting up the plot to the first film, it takes the same basic starting point and then moves off in an entirely different direction. Prometheus isn’t about being Alien 0, it’s about telling its own tale and then heading off in an entirely different direction. And to be honest with you, it’s all the stronger for it.
The big problem with a franchise like Alien is that a lot of it has been tried and tested over and over again; it has become very familiar to us. We’ve had six films, countless comics and multiple games repeatedly showing the xenomorph’s life cycle; how they grow, develop and adapt to new threats. That familiarity removes a lot of the horror and the number of adaptations which have tried to expand upon new ideas have removed a lot of possibility for future innovation. What also didn’t help is that after James Cameron took over, the franchise became increasingly fight orientated. Now don’t get me wrong, Aliens was a great film but it caused the franchise to shift gears from one genre to the next. Sequels never quite managed to evoke the same terror seen in the original, and felt increasingly less like a horror film series so much as an action film franchise with horror elements.
Prometheus meanwhile is a purebred horror film, embracing the tropes and themes of the first without directly replicating them and avoiding battle-scenes in favour of body horror and tension. With emphasis upon the body horror, as there are some grotesquely Cronenbergian moments which makes the chestburster scene from the first film look tame by comparison. There’s only one battle scene in it and that serves mostly to remove a lot of the secondary cast more than anything else, to avoid a possible plot hole later on while giving the film a much needed visible alien threat. No pun intended. The rest of the time it has characters without weapons, without resources and no knowledge of their enemy facing a deadly threat to their lives.
What really helps the film is that most of these characters feel like human beings. Rather than throwing the monster at them at the earliest opportunity, having bold very stock personalities, or making them completely unlikable as so many modern horrors do; those in Prometheus act and behave like most human beings would. Think the sort of characters from John Carpenter’s The Thing or the better late 70s early 80s horror films, they’re given enough character and interaction to feel realistic without emphasis upon it strangling the plot. Two of the best examples of this are with the side characters. A few are uninterested with the fact they’re on an alien world on the brink of first contact/finding god and no interest in leaving ship because they’re just being paid to do their jobs. Another is that when a lifeform is detected one kilometer from two of them, it results in them instantly deciding to head in the opposite direction. The actors really sell the part and all of them really sell their roles perfectly both in open and subtle ways.
Now, we’re six hundred words in and there’s been no mention of either the plot or quality of the cinematography. There are two reasons for this; the first is that there’s little which can be said about the plot without divulging into huge spoilers. All which can be said you could probably find out from just watching one of the trailers. As for the cinematography, well, it’s a film directed by Ridley Scott. Even when he’s at the helm of sub-par productions like Robin Hood he still knows how to capture and set up scenes perfectly for the camera. What is worth saying is that he’s in his element working with this film and this really helps to compliment the alien environments. It probably also goes without saying that the effects and scenery are outstanding, but they really are with the film finding a near perfect balance between physical effects and CGI. While you can tell where certain scenes are pure CGI, it is often hard to tell in largely physical scenes where solid effects end and the computer generated ones begin – there’s no obvious blurring and it’s used sparingly enough to be applied only to scenes which need it. Not thrown slap-dash across the entire film or using purely CGI for everything, which gives a much greater sense of realism to the film’s events.
From all this praise you can probably guess that Prometheus is well worth seeing. Is it perfect? Not entirely, there’s one late revelation you’ll see coming a mile off, one or two things left unexplained and the scene where the heroine appears could have been removed with nothing lost; but it’s still one of the best films of this year. If not the best science fiction film of 2012 thus far. It does end with sequel bait but considering the quality of Prometheus it would be well worth making future films further exploring its ideas. While its characters aren’t quite as well developed or rounded as those in the first Aliens, it stands well above the sort of films we’ve seen in the franchise lately and is exactly the quality production people were hoping for.
Prequel? offshoot? spin-off? It doesn’t matter, it’s a damn good film and any horror or sci-fi fan should go see this while it’s on the big screen.----
Prometheus and all related characters and media are owned by 20th Century Fox.