Prometheus arrives with outrageous expectations, for a movie whose title doesn’t have a 2 or a III at the end. Much has been written in the last year about whether it is or isn’t an Alien prequel, but the real appeal should be this: Ridley Scott has made another science-fiction movie.
Ridley Scott is a director whose name most people recognize, although many people also probably couldn’t tell you anything he’s directed. Legend, Thelma & Louise, G.I. Jane, Gladiator, Hannibal, Black Hawk Dawn, Kingdom of Heaven, and American Gangster are eight of his most famous. His two arguably most well-known, however, pioneered sci-fi as we know it today: 1979’s Alien and 1982’s Blade Runner.
After introducing the revolutionary idea that future civilizations and technologies may be run-down and grimy, as opposed to the established thinking of spaceships being gleaming white and cutting-edge, Scott left the genre to focus on others. It’s been thirty years since his last foray past “present day.”
Those years have not proved a hindrance or handicap for Scott. Prometheus delivers in almost every way one could want it to, even if it ends up biting off more than it can chew.
Let’s get the other question out of the way right now, though. Is it an Alien prequel? Well, only in the way that Clerks is a prequel to Dogma or that National Lampoon’s Vacation is a prequel to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Which is mostly to say: no, it’s not really a prequel.
Prometheus takes place in the year 2093. Alien takes place in 2122. Within the future imagined by Ridley Scott, the events of both movies happen in the same timeline. So, an industrial magnate played by Guy Pearce in Prometheus is name-dropped a few times in Alien. And the planet visited in the opening half of Alien is the same planet that the events in Prometheus take place on. Beyond that, however, there is really no direct correlation between the two movies.
All of which means that if you don’t like Alien, that’s not to say you won’t like Prometheus; nor do you have to have seen any of the Alien movies to appreciate or enjoy Prometheus. It’s a standalone sci-fi thriller that simply happens to share the same potential future as that explored in Alien.
What a sci-fi thriller Prometheus is, though. This, my friends, is the type of movie that deserves witnessing its spectacle on the big screen. I loved The Avengers and The Hunger Games, but I’d be hard-pressed to identify actual shots from those films I remember. There were fantastically gripping scenes, and surely the visual effects and bass explosions were aided by a theatrical environment, but there were no moments that made me stare at the screen in wonder, like used to occur in blockbusters. (As contract, think about the first reveal of a dinosaur in Jurassic Park, or the spaceships first slicing through the clouds in Independence Day, or even the now-cliché “bullet time” in The Matrix).
Prometheus, on the other hand, seems ready-made to remind audiences of what spectacle and grandeur in science-fiction used to be. It’s now been a week and a half since I first saw it, and I still vividly recall and can picture over a dozen of the individual sights and “wow” moments in it. There’s no question this is the best-shot and most visually composed blockbuster since 2010’s Inception.
The story concerns one of the oldest questions of humanity: Why are we here? Two scientists, played by Noomi Rapace (star of the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Logan Marshall-Green (Devil), find millennia-old cave drawings, etchings, and carvings that all feature the same image of a stick figure reaching toward celestial bodies. When it’s determined that the star-pattern matches an actual cluster of stars – with a planet and moon within sight of it – an expedition is sent into space to find answers. The scientists and an accompanying crew (including Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, and Michael Fassbender in an astounding performance) fly to the planet with the hopes of literally meeting their makers.
Of course, if you’ve seen a single commercial or trailer for Prometheus, you know all sorts of hell breaks loose once they get there. Spelling out how or why would detract from the enjoyment of a movie perfectly skilled at spinning its yarn at just the right speed and with just the right flair.
One thing does bear mentioning, though: this is an intense movie. While its R-rating is certainly indicative that the movie’s for adults, it relies much less on gore than people may expect and much more on nail-biting tension. One scene involving Rapace’s scientist character and an emergency operation had me gripping the armrest so hard I actually pulled a muscle. So be forewarned; while Prometheus is not really a scary movie, that’s not to say it’s without extreme moments of tension.
Prometheus’s only real problem is that it tries to do too much. With all the technology, characters, architecture, life forms, geology, and physics created specifically for this movie, there almost isn’t enough room for it to be asking so many big questions in the already-grand plot, let alone ones that pry at our very existence.
By the final third of the movie, so much is going on, with so many developments occurring left and right, it almost becomes too much for the movie. There are just too many minor characters, subplots, and veering forks in storytelling to form a cohesive narrative from start to finish, which would have served this movie better. You almost get the sense Scott was so excited to be playing in this sandbox that he couldn’t focus on just one toy to play with.
Still, complaining about a sci-fi movie being too rich with potential and ideas, when so many barely have enough to get by, is like griping about a comedy having too many jokes. Prometheus is the kind of theatrical experience that only comes around once or twice a year. If you have the nerve resolve and you don’t mind lofty questions interspersed with your action, you owe it to yourself to see Prometheus this summer. And on as big a screen as possible.