If you pay any attention to the internet, you’ll have noticed that Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s anticipated return to both sci-fi and the Alien franchise, has been a somewhat divisive affair. A pummeling marketing blitz succeeded in drumming up hype but presented a relatively inaccurate picture, portraying the film as a more directly linked precursor to Alien than it actually is. As a result, cinema-goers’ hopes for the film were somewhere in the territory between a straight origin story and Alien: Again…
Prometheus was neither, leading to tepid critical response and an army of disappointed fans kicking the internet hyperbole machine into top gear. I circumnavigated these expectations but braced myself for a Phantom Menace level disaster. Going in with this pessimistic attitude and some knowledge of the viral pre-release material allowed me to appreciate what this cut of the film is: a well-intentioned mess.
This said, the resuscitation of the franchise lore, and interesting themes and ideas in the film are far more substantial than the negative response seems to acknowledge. Here’s five reasons why Prometheus, love it or hate it, is a much better film than the fanboy rants, clunkily written script and the messy cut would suggest.
1. It’s a movie, not a Wiki
There’s three areas that need to be established before looking at Prometheus: the non-direct prequel which allows for further pre/sequels, Ridley Scott’s most recent work, and the way the franchise has been dealt with post Aliens. Firstly, the only behemoth science fiction franchise that ever thought it necessary for a trilogy of blockbuster prequels is Star Wars, infamously one of the most soul-destroying trilogies of all time. Prometheus bares more direct comparison with the unholy Phantom Menace than it would seem on the surface. Both have clunky scripts, both introduce new angles on well established franchises, and both received near-universal panning upon release.
But where Prometheus succeeds is in the way it approaches the prequel idea. As opposed to directly answering questions left by the previous films, it subtly hints and suggests at what might have happened as opposed to Menace’s approach of “because Midichlorians and uninteresting political corruption.” While there’s no shortage of needlessly blunt exposition in Prometheus, the style in which it addresses the lore of the previous films is much more a victory than a defeat. Bluntly stating exactly what happened would have been lazy, awkward, and completely at ends with Scott’s vision for the film (and most likely future films).
2. Scott and direction
Compare Prometheus to Scott’s previous film, 2010’s Robin Hood, and it’s apparent that things could have been much, much worse. A brainless retelling of the classic Robin Hood story, it’s a bland remake that brings nothing new or interesting to the plate. Also note the lead roles’ attempts at accents. Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw accent has claimed some criticism, yet it’s nowhere near as bad as Crowe’s vocal tour of the British Isles. Across the space of a single sentence Crowe’s accent awakes in Ireland, takes the ferry across the Mersey to Lancashire, and in his next breath he’s taken the megabus to Cornwall.
While Robin Hood’s visual style is acceptable, the film certainly isn’t, leading to an end battle scene more “Saving Private Robin” than merry men stealing from the rich. Robin Hood was an abject failure and a weak addition to Scott’s portfolio, making his deft blending of Prometheus’ already established fiction with its evolution into new territory all the more impressive.
3. The Context of Franchise
Those disappointed that Prometheus was more Star Trek than Alien are forgetting the previous attempts at recreating Scott’s 1979 masterpiece. The last pure attempt at making one Xenomorph the main antagonist was Alien 3, the flaws of which were more in concept than direction. Director David Fincher’s (The Social Network, Zodiac) trademark style could only steer the film into the realm of an intense character drama with the Alien being a superfluous necessity. Alien: Resurrection on the other hand, is an objectively bizarre outing, a Romero-esque exploration of the nature of the creature itself. While this description of the film makes it sound worse than Fincher’s inherited mess, I hold it as one of the best films in the franchise.
After that are the two worst additions to the canon, the AVP debacles. A pairing of substandard action films with the base premise of “look! these guys fight a bit!” nearly ruins the franchise entirely. Therefore it’s excellent news that Prometheus completely rejects and overwrites the mythos established in these two films. The idea that the Predators gave human life technology is completely rejected by the plot of Prometheus, replacing them with “the Engineers”. (SPOILER ALERT) Also, the idea of the Xenomorph being created on Earth is again shunned by the ending of Prometheus, in which a xeno-like creature erupts from an Engineer after being impregnated by Shaws squid-child (SPOILER END). This represents one of the biggest victories of the film, the reclamation of the canon from the two stupidest entries.
Another factor in the films reception is the question of who the actual lead character is. Those holding the Alien: Again hopes would no doubt attach themselves to Rapace’s Shaw, as is the natural assumption following Sigourney Weaver’s series mainstay Ellen Ripley. Still, the movie is much more interesting when the focus shifts to David, not only is he the strongest character in the cast, he’s the most interesting. He also best represents one of the film’s main themes, the creation of new life.
Prometheus succeeds again in the way it humanizes its robotic character. Whilst David is quite obviously an android, you feel much more attached to his potential for humanity than you ever felt to Bilbo Baggins’ understated human-like performance in Alien.
5. The Beauty and Potential of it all
Prometheus’ visual style is surely the most pleasing aspect of the film, the opening sequence is by far one of the most stunning things I’ve witnessed in a cinema in recent years. The visual trauma that occurs in certain areas of the film is equally memorable; Scott’s brilliant cesarean sequence clearly shows he still know what’s he’s doing. The film’s potential is ambitious and huge, with the themes of creation, robotics, faith, and life and death abound. While the inherent vagueness of these themes may rub many viewers the wrong way, you certainly wouldn’t get things like a passionate fan’s “Alien Jesus” theory had everything just been laid bare.
Despite the atrtiness of it all, the movie is is doing quite well world-wide, a good sign for cinema at large. Continuing a trend started by Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Prometheus helps cement the idea that action blockbusters don’t have to be totally braindead. While the themes maybe clunkily addressed at times, Prometheus feels like a new era for the franchise, hinting at the Alien mythology to come. Prometheus feels like Scott and Lindeloff are hinting at a far wider fictional universe, a new canon that would dwarf the series’ beleaguered past and breathe new life back into a creature that’s a shadow of its former self.
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