This was a haunted-house-with-a-gorilla picture set in outer space. It reached out, grabbed you, and squeezed your stomach; it was more gripping than entertaining, but a lot of people didn’t mind. They thought it was terrific, because at least they had felt something: they’d been brutalized….. Yet there was a backlash against Alien – many people were angry at how mechanically they’d been worked over.”
— Pauline Kael on Alien
After having had the chance to sit and watch Prometheus I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on how I felt about it. As with anything else in life, much of how you might feel about any experience comes down to the arena of expectations. “Is this what you expected going in?” A shady area to be working in, no doubt, but this was the cards we were dealt. If this is the simplest way to gauge the film for yourself, then this review is easy. Pauline Kael’s observations on Alien above were apt for that time. We may disagree with the negative context that she places the critique in, but she was right about one thing. Alien brutalized your senses in a way that film-goers had never been brutalized by sci-fi before.
This does not in any way accurately reflect Ridley Scott’s current offering. It is not that there are no connections to the Alien universe. They are there. The creators of this universe just chose not to be weighed down by the burden of swimming in the deep pool that is a four-film series. To put it simply, Ridley Scott and Co. are never 100% beholden to their perceived franchise. It seems that they have chosen to separate themselves from it. The name itself, Prometheus, distances itself from the aforementioned series as to lay the groundwork for a new start. This is with good reason. Prometheus simply is not that kind of film. It’s almost as is if Pauline’s words above had been playing on Ridley’s gulliver for the past 30 years and he sought to vindicate himself in a pseudo-independent universe. A directorial clearing of the throat, if you will. To put it simply, Prometheus does not brutalize. It ponders.
Prometheus ponders on the nature of man. On the nature of God. On the nature of creation. On the nature of theology. On the nature of science. Hell, Prometheus ponders on everything except much having to do with the Alien universe. Again, it almost feels as if this a film of vindication. Ridley Scott’s last stand against those 1979 naysayers that believed that Alien was nothing more than a haunted-house-with-a-gorilla picture. At heart there should be deeper meaning than face suckers and acid-blooded parasites, right? Well, yes and no. Again it comes down to a question of expectations.
I’ve always found it a little deceitful to dig back into a franchise for the sole reason of rediscovering its relevancy. Upon first hearing about Prometheus I found its separation from the Alien universe rather intriguing and set my expectations accordingly. With that being said, I also knew that given their very powerful and effective viral campaign that this was a world that they wished to straddle. Never quite committing to either publicly, the studio apparently wanted to court the hardcore Alien fan base without ever committing to a true Alien story line. It’s a sales trick. “I know I showed you you Alien, but I never once promised you Alien. Nowhere in the title does it say “Alien.” This is the greatest lie of all.
We, as the movie going public, have become much too sophisticated to not know when we are being lied to. Every color, every image and every sound screamed ALIEN. The studio wanted you to believe you were buying Alien, but wanted a nice out. After all, if you did not like their product, it was only because you had not read the fine print. In other words, if you do not like the movie, it was your fault.
Now, having said all of that, how does Prometheus stand? Honestly, all shenanigans aside, not bad at all. Once removed from the Alien universe the film asks many profound and deep questions. Those same questions that I had mentioned before about the nature of man, God, theology, science, etc. The questions do have a certain militaristic tone, as can be expected in any Alien movie, but for the most part it is something entirely different. It is the difference between your first kiss and your last. The first is extremely memorable, but your last, no less sweet.
This is a movie about exploration and discovery, rather than a countdown to the last man standing. A noble conceit if it were not sold as an Alien movie, but alas, it has. As an Alien film it is a failure. As a general sci-fi film, it is a great but rather dark beginning. I can wax on about the acting and nit-pick about the inconsistencies of where this film ends and Alien begins but this would only take away from the discussion we should be having. “How does Prometheus stand as a whole?” It stands pretty damn well.
Expect the unexpected. Just don’t expect answers and don’t expect Alien. Prometheus gets 4 out of 5 Nerdskulls from me.