Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel is (mostly) a face-hugging pleasure
– by Ryan Ingram
The first sign of extraterrestrial life revealed in the opening minutes of Prometheus is probably not what you were expecting.
Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien franchise – a project shrouded in ultra-secrecy before 87 different trailers and three viral videos were released – begins with a hairless albino humanoid with muscles ripping out of his muscles, literally living out that TLC song about chasing waterfalls.
The ripped, pale alien seems to be a stop sign for audience expectations – or at least a yellow light saying “Proceed with caution if you’re expecting H.R. Giger-designed xenomorphs to come busting though the screen anytime soon.”
It’s been over 30 years since Scott directed Alien, and Prometheus’ first scenes should be a clear sign that he’s not interested in simply making Alien: Redux. But therein lies the rub.
Prometheus seems set out to accomplish two missions. The first is telling the high-concept story of a motley crew of space travelers on a cosmic space adventure to find the creators of the human race. It isn’t space truckers on a claustrophobic space ship. It’s space scientists and corporate types exploring cosmic ruins on a wide-open, beautifully muted planet looking for a higher power.
But as they explore alien vistas and go all Indiana Jones in a giant alien tomb, Prometheus’ second mission creeps into the background – the fan-service prequel.
For most of Prometheus, the two missions actually work together in surprisingly effective harmony to create a great sci-fi thriller that feels squarely set it in the Alien-verse without pandering. And while it’s undoubtedly best viewed as a movie distantly related to Alien, at times it seems like it could literally morph into Alien at a moment’s notice.
For anyone at all familiar with the beloved sci-fi horror classic, it’s near-impossible not be constantly reminded of it – even before the space-men and -women wake up in stasis pods wearing underwear made of mummy wraps.
There are constant cues and tropes from Alien, from the title sequence to the sketchy android and an even sketchier corporation. There’s Giger aesthetics all over, acid-melted spacesuits, and more. And it all greatly teases towards one of the film’s most excellently disturbing scenes. It’s a cruel but subversively clever trick on audience expectations, when an entire plotline is seemingly literally aborted. But after that, Prometheus never seems to fully recover, despite everyone putting on a brave face.
Noomi Rapace does a great job anchoring the film as the head scientist. After playing the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it’s no surprise that she can handle all of Prometheus’ violence and horribleness, but her character’s vulnerability adds a nice touch for the proto-Ripley character.
Michael Fassbender’s android David is a manic scene-stealer with mysterious depth clicking underneath. Charlize Theron is able to bring a lot of strutting and attitude to a role where she doesn’t do a single thing. And Idris Elba cruises on cool charm and makes the most of another small role in a big blockbuster. And that one guy does a great job of making me think he was Tom Hardy.
For the movie’s opening credits, the filmmakers take a page from every single superhero movie and do one of those ultra-zoom-ins on molecules and DNA. Ordinarily, it’d be tired, but there might be a meta-layer here.
It shows a double helix of DNA dissolving and breaking away and it’s also a metaphor of Prometheus’ creative building blocks. It’s two stories woven together, that melt apart at the end for a scrambled conclusion, ending with something that doesn’t feel fully formed.
Scott shoots a beautiful and bold movie which channels themes and elements of not just Alien, but his other sci-fi masterpiece, Blade Runner. But while Prometheus has a good genetic makeup, it doesn’t hold a flame to his two immortal classics – which is fitting, really. (But as someone who was bored to tears by Gladiator, and wasn’t blown away by Black Hawk Down, it’s great to see Scott return to sci-fi.)
Prometheus is all about creators fighting their creations, so it makes sense that the director has created an ambitious and heady big budget piece of science fiction that branches off of his 1978 masterpiece. But it shouldn’t surprise anyone that it doesn’t come close to usurping the classic.