Prometheus marks legendary film maker Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien franchise he launched. Although it is connected to the original Alien story, it is much more than an Alien prequel. It is arguably the most ambitious main stream science fiction movie made in years. The fact that it ties in to Alien is almost besides the point. Prometheus works best as a stand-alone story.
The story centers on a team of scientists led by Dr. Elizabeth Shaw and her partner, Dr. Charlie Holloway. They have located cave paintings from several time periods across the earth. The paintings all depict a similar image of giant beings pointing to a far away solar system. Dr. Shaw believes that these beings who she calls “The Engineers” created human life on earth. Shaw convinces an elderly billionaire, Peter Weyland, to finance an expedition to this solar system on the chance to meet their creators and get nothing less than the secrets of life itself.
The mission doesn’t go as planned. Several members of the ship’s crew seem to have hidden agendas. What awaits the scientists on the planet surface raises more questions than answers. Rather than being given the meaning of life by kindly benefactors, the scientists find themselves struggling with the horrors of creation. It’s messy, violent and often ends with conflict between parent and off spring.
A lot of the elements of biological horror associated with the Alien films are present here. There is transformation, impregnation and ultimately violent birth. But while the elements are familiar, they are all presented in new ways. If you strip away the trappings of the Alien franchise, what you are left with is a thoughtful, disturbing science fiction movie.
Scott is to be credited with creating a brand new look and feel for Prometheus. Other films have been mining Scott’s original work for decades. Scott has wisely moved on. The world of Prometheus is every bit as visually stunning as the dark, drippy world of the original Alien. But this world is much brighter and broader of scope. But don’t let the brightness fool you. At the center of the film is a dark secret that could lead to humanity’s doom.
The first half of the film in which Scott takes his time fleshing out this world works best. The questions the movie raises are much more interesting than the answers that follow. Those looking for a clear throughline to the events of Alien may be disappointed. All we are left with is possible explanations and a lot more questions. But as interesting as the world of Prometheus was, I would be interested in seeing those questions explored in a follow-up as long as it was of equal quality.
As an Alien tie-in, Prometheus doesn’t always work. But as a science fiction thriller directed by a master of the genre, Prometheus has a lot to offer. It’s a return to form for a great film-maker and a storied franchise.