For months cinephiles and die-hard Alien fans have been trying to work out the connections between Prometheus and Ridley Scott’s original Alien film. Meanwhile, the filmmakers have spent just as long attempting to put distance between the movie and the notion that it’s nothing more than an Alien prequel, so as not to limit Prometheus‘ potential appeal. Given the state of the Alien franchise (after the underwhelming Alien vs. Predator installments, as well as Alien: Resurrection), it’s no wonder that 20th Century Fox is interested in attracting both the casual moviegoer as well as the die-hard xenomorph faithful.
Unsurprisingly, the movie does offer plenty of tie-ins to the 1979 franchise starter – but does Prometheus find the right balance between loving nods to Alien while also working as an intelligent and captivating standalone sci-fi drama?
Fortunately, the answer is yes – most of the time. While Prometheus delivers a sci-fi experience and story that is nearly unmatched in a modern movie theater experience, its connection to the Alien films is, from time to time, a bit heavy-handed or awkwardly handled – and worst of all, far less compelling than the new storyline unfolding in this film. As a result, Prometheus is going to offer a different experience depending on who is watching it. Both casual audiences and Alien fans should enjoy the core narrative (and breathtaking visuals); however regular moviegoers will likely be confused by some of the time spent addressing Alien universe mythos, and conversely, hardcore fans may be at times equally befuddled by some of the answers provided.
Ignoring any pre-conceived notions about xenomorphs, the Prometheus story follows a pair of archaeologists, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her partner Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), who discover a series of ancient cave drawings (from different cultures, separated by thousands of years) that point to a single location in space: a distant moon, LV-223. Shaw and Holloway believe that LV-223 is home to an ancient truth about humanity’s origins – a belief that is also championed by billionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), CEO of the Weyland Corporation. After hearing their findings, Weyland agrees to send the pair – along with a fifteen-person crew – to LV-223 aboard the spacecraft Prometheus. However, when the team arrives on LV-223, it quickly becomes clear that Shaw and Holloway underestimated the implications of their expedition, as age-old questions are answered and new horrors are brought to light – horrors with Earth-shattering consequences for humanity.
Moviegoers who have been underwhelmed by Ridley Scott’s non-sci-fi efforts (most recently Robin Hood, Body of Lies, and A Good Year) will be glad to know that the director slips effortlessly back into the genre that he helped define over thirty years ago. Not only does Prometheus feature one of the most captivating and carefully-paced opening acts in recent memory, it also offers a masterful visual aesthetic that easily raises the bar for onscreen sci-fi imagery in modern cinema. In a time when sci-fi/action films snag astronomical box office money (Transformers: Dark of the Moon), it’s easy for studios to rely on a recognizable brand, or visual spectacle, over core filmmaking components – such as competent world building (not just “cool” CGI characters) as well as intelligent scene composition (in favor of non-stop explosions). No doubt some moviegoers don’t want to think about the actual process of filmmaking, but for those who do care, Prometheus should serve as a breath of fresh air (and a welcome reminder) that inspired directing can make a real difference in the onscreen experience.
Similarly, co-writer Damon Lindelof (along with Jon Spaihts) succeeds at delivering a prequel movie that isn’t undermined by later installments and, instead, tells an all-new sci-fi story that (as mentioned before) is much larger and significantly more interesting than its core “source” material. Prometheus provides answers that many Alien fans will certainly appreciate, but at the same time raises much larger (and significantly more relatable) questions about the wonders – and horrors – of creation, and humanity’s place in the cosmos. As a result, the actual connections to the Alien universe are unnecessary to the success of the new story – and could, for less-interested moviegoers, come across as tacked-on.
All of the major players (Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green) deliver enjoyable, or at the very least believable, performances. However, despite solid work from everyone involved, both Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender offer especially memorable turns as Dr. Shaw and David, respectively. Fassbender’s David is easily one of the most fascinating (and disturbing) characters of 2012 – and Rapace holds nothing back in a number of especially challenging scenes (not to mention one especially brutal one). As an ensemble fueled by heavy-hitting talent, there is a definite purpose for each of the characters’ screen time, and few of the players are wasted. That said, a couple of them are short-changed by the end – which doesn’t detract from the overall success of the film, but in a few cases can be somewhat underwhelming in the moment.
Prometheus was shot entirely using 3D cameras, and much like Avatar and Hugo before it, the film once again proves that in the hands of a smart filmmaker, the format can enhance the moviegoing experience. Plenty of detractors will surely assert that seeing any movie in 3D is a waste of money – and plays into the hands of greedy studio executives. However, Prometheus is well-worth the upgraded ticket. The format isn’t distracting and successfully highlights details in the alien landscape as well as internal (yet massive) environments – not “pop out of the screen” jump scares. Scott’s use of the added dimension throws fuel on the argument that instead of decrying every 3D film, we should be sending studios a message about what type of 3D experiences we’ll support, boycotting tacked-on 3D (Men in Black 3) and poorly implemented post-conversions (Clash of the Titans). To make the experience even more potent, go the full distance with a 3D IMAX viewing.
Regardless of the connections to the Alien universe, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is a welcome return to form for the director – delivering a fascinating sci-fi storyline, gorgeous 3D visuals, and competent filmmaking choices that – especially for summer blockbuster fare – are sorely missing at the box office these days. While less-informed moviegoers might be a little confused about some of the Alien tie-ins, Prometheus finds a healthy fan-service balance that doesn’t detract from Lindelof’s rich (and horrifying) new franchise storyline. In space no one can hear you scream, but 20th Century Fox is going to have no trouble finding moviegoers who, after seeing Prometheus, are eager to scream for more Scott-helmed projects in the Alien universe.
If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our Prometheus Spoilers Discussion!
Still wondering about how – exactly – Prometheus connects to Alien? Read our ‘Prometheus – Alien Connection Explained’ Article.
For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant team check out our Prometheus episode of the SR Underground podcast.
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Prometheus is Rated R for sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language. Now playing in theaters.