By its nature, ‘Prometheus’ had large shoes to fill, and just as large expectations. The second the term “Alien prequel” was thrown out, and that it would be original director Ridley Scott’s return to form with Damon Lindelof working on the script, the stakes were immediately raised. Pair that with a marketing scheme that was not only meant to invoke ‘Alien’, but was seemingly inspired by the success of ‘Inception’, and you’ve got a perfect storm of high hopes. ‘Prometheus’ is an enjoyable movie but all of this may have worked to its disadvantage.
It should be said, that I saw this at midnight on proper, large format IMAX in 3D. (At the Lincoln Square AMC. If you live in the NYC area you’re likely familiar with this screen, and if you’re not, you should be.) It’s hard for a movie to look bad on that screen and ‘Prometheus’ delivered ten fold in overwhelming, immersive imagery. Whereas ‘Alien’ (and ‘Aliens’) contains much of its action to claustrophobic hallways and air vents, Prometheus, the ship, and ‘Prometheus’ the movie felt big and inviting. This worked to the film’s favor in putting the human heroes at a properly inferior place. Practical special effects combined with detailed and purposely-‘Alien’-evoking production design gave the movie a visceral and striking aura. This comes out all over the place (literally), but mostly in gut-wrenching, unexpectedly gruesome set pieces. Its imagery is purposeful and memorable and makes it worthwhile.
The question of whether this is a prequel or not is an interesting one to look into. For a while now Scott and Lindelof have been denying that it’s a true prequel. Perhaps that was to avoid those aforementioned big expectations (didn’t work) or to misguide the audience story-wise, but in the end, SPOILER ALERT it pretty much is an ‘Alien’ prequel. That said, it may be one of the stronger prequels ever made, if only because it doesn’t end up at the beginning of ‘Alien’, but it still takes a lot of the right cues. It’s akin to JJ Abrams’ ‘Star Trek’ in that it’s a play on the original universe and tropes but manages to be thoroughly modern. “Spiritual sequel,” “not prequel,” or just straight-up “prequel”, whatever you call it, ‘Prometheus’ did a superb job in honoring the original without bastardizing it with a formulaic sequel. If it was a choice between another ‘Alien’ movie and this, I’d pick this every time. And though structurally and sometimes thematically the two sync up very well, other times … not so much.
It’s hard to ignore the fact that ‘Prometheus’ frequently gets lost in its own head. It has a lot of big ideas and is trying to say a lot about creation, evolution, gender roles, rape, free will, religion, why are we here, what’s point of it all, and on and on, that it inevitably ends up skimming most of these. A movie shouldn’t ever give all the answers but maybe pick one or two of these issues instead of all of them and go a little deeper. For every eye-popping set piece and thought-provoking theme, there’s a heavy-handed metaphor or clunky reveal. The script presents a lot of creativity and interesting sci-fi that manifests well, but most of its characters lack characterization and it takes some unfortunate leaps for sake of plot. All of this comes under a microscope largely thanks to ‘Alien’ and the film’s marketing. We’ve been set up for such a stunning, revolutionary movie, that anything short is a disappointment.
Then there’s the issue of spoilers in the promotional material. While I’m sure the onslaught of trailers and TV spots will get people in the seats, it comes at the cost of them knowing everything that happens. The entire climax of the movie is in the trailers and commercials. This is a big problem and while I’d normally criticize people for complaining about something being “ruined” for them, in this instance, it took away a lot of the magic of this film. Especially, SPOILER ALERT, the fact that Prometheus plunges into the alien ship at the end. That is the freaking climax of the film and it has no business being shown outside of the movie.
Being a reincarnation of ‘Alien’ clearly had its pros and cons, but ‘Prometheus’ is far from a total waste. I’d recommend seeing in the biggest theater possible and in 3D (which it was shot in), I’m not sure I would have liked it as much if I saw it any other. If for nothing else you’ll get to see Idris Elba play a mini-accordian.