In the three decades in between Alien and Prometheus, Ridley Scott has gone onto become a frontline director. He stayed with genre material for the early half of the 1980s, delivering the classic science-fiction film Blade Runner (1982) and the less well-received fantasy film Legend (1985), both of which held extraordinary reinventions of their respective genre tropes that were as dazzling and inventive as Alien was. With the exception of the Hannibal Lecter sequel Hannibal (2001) and The Martian (2015) about an astronaut stranded on Mars, Scott abandoned genre material and directed a variety of mainstream films with the likes of Someone to Watch Over Me (1987), Black Rain (1989), Thelma and Louise (1991), 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992), White Squall (1996), G.I. Jane (1997), the hugely successful Gladiator (2000), which netted him an Best Director Oscar nomination, Black Hawk Down (2001), Matchstick Men (2003), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), A Good Year (2006), American Gangster (2007), Body of Lies (2008), Robin Hood (2010), The Counselor (2013) and Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014). While some of these are fine films especially Thelma and Louise, American Gangster and The Counselor what seems missing from these is the extraordinary visual flair, the craftsmanship and sense of an artist at work with light, cinematography and set design that Scott displayed in his earlier films. The middle-aged Ridley Scott has merely settled down to become a fair to reasonable commercial director.
Although he has been associated with a number of other genre productions, including Dune (1984), the Ebola outbreak drama Crisis in the Hot Zone, Tristan + Isolde (2006), I Am Legend (2007), an original title called Metropolis and sequels to Blade Runner, Prometheus marks Ridley Scotts first return to fantastic cinema in twenty-seven years. Naturally, there was a great deal of buzz surrounding Prometheus, which was originally planned as a two-part film, where it was, then wasnt a prequel to Alien, before finally being said to be merely something that existed in the same universe. The script for Prometheus comes from Jon Spaihts who previously wrote the alien invasion film The Darkest Hour (2011) and went on to Doctor Strange (2016) and Passengers (2016); and Damon Lindelof, a former tv writer who gained a cult following when he became the head writer and executive producer of tvs Lost (2004-10) and who has also produced Star Trek (2009) and written/produced Cowboys & Aliens (2011), Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013), World War Z (2013) and Tomorrowland (2015).
Prometheus shows Ridley Scott taking the time to expand the world of Alien. In the original, Scott did something unique that science-fiction had never seen before in terms of design with the rundown industrial ship look and H.R. Gigers highly sexualised alien creations. Here the former has been replaced by a cleaner ship that has holographic displays rather than the flickering tv screens, and where with designer sophistication Charlize Therons private quarters artfully boast a grand piano and changing wall-sized digital landscape displays. We get the same fascination with detail and the matter-of-fact acceptance of a technological future that we had in both Alien and Blade Runner as in all these cases, Scott moves his camera through the environment and the characters react to it in a way that conveys a gritty sense of verisimilitude and leaves you the feel of actually being there.
Prometheus has an interesting cast line-up. In the frontline position is Noomi Rapace, who wowed the entire world with her electrifying performance at Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), although here she plays against expectation and tones the jaggedness she had as Lisbeth down to be the sympathetic heroine. Equally, Charlize Theron goes against the grain and plays a supporting role as someone more cold and guarded than we usually see her. Michael Fassbender is cast as a variant on Ian Holms android and is much more smilingly friendly, yet at the same eerily alien the opening scenes watching him prowl around the sleeping ship on a bicycle, potting a hoop with a basketball every time holds something perfectly cool and detached to it. Michael Fassbenders performance is one of the most fascinating aspects of the film one that holds a friendly ambiguity that leaves you unsure which side he is on.
When it comes to the prequel aspect, Scott thankfully holds back on the desire to go for cutsie in-references and/or cameos placed there as fanservice for the audience. We get a few pieces that tie up with series continuity elsewhere mention of the ubiquitous Weyland Corporation, an appearance an embryonic version of the Alien at the end but mostly the film resists what must have been numerous opportunities in this direction. Prometheuss premise has largely been pitched around the question of who the skeletal alien that we saw sitting at the telescope-like console in Alien was. The film here ventures into some more areas of the alien ship and answers questions about why it crashed and the navigators species although the answers provided are not nearly as profound or as interesting as the publicity lead-up expected one to believe. (Certainly, the sequel that the ending clearly leads to gives the impression we will be getting more of these).
Out of all the Alien sequels, the plot of Prometheus adheres the closest to the original film spaceship and crew land on a planet and investigate an alien ship where they become infected by a lifeform that rapidly takes over the ship and starts eliminating the crew, leaving only a single surviving human woman who must fight off the alien in the tiny escape vessel, while there is also an android of sinister purpose aboard and The Companys skulduggery thwarting their groups survival. The main difference here is the focus on the archaeological quest centred around The Engineers and their mystery more than on an alien lurking in the corridors. This becomes the least satisfying aspect about Prometheus where the film goes from a first half that starts reaching for epic cosmological mysteries and revealing secrets about the origins of humanity to largely forget about this in the latter half where it decides it is time to imitate Alien and have people being infected and attacked by aliens. However, the menace they are dealing with here is not particularly well defined vying between tentacular things, something that infects humans and impregnates Noomi Rapace, and the vague threat to Earth posed by the revived Engineer. There is not much explanation offered of what these things are. No matter how wonderfully ick the image of Noomi Rapace conducting a home abortion on herself in an automated med machine and delivering an octopus-like creature, it is never as classic a scene as John Hurts chestburtster sequence was in Alien. Nor do any of these amount to as sleek and primally stripped a menace that the H.R. Giger-designed alien hunting people from the shadows was in the original.
Despite an epic opening tour of the Icelandic landscape (which look great in the 3D conversion), I became disappointed with Prometheus from its opening scenes where the archaeological dig uncovers the cave paintings and the film promptly delves into loopy von Danikenean/Ancient Astronauts theories. Erich von Daniken was a popular author who started publishing with Chariots of the Gods (1969) and gained a following with sixteen other books that put forward the theory that aliens had visited Earth in the past and guided the human race, having helped build places like The Pyramids and Stonehenge, and who were portrayed by the ancients in the Bible, the Easter Island heads, the drawings at Nazca and so on. These ideas have been ridiculed as pseudo-science by any serious historian and archaeologist but remain persistent and have crept into a number of other science-fiction works including Starship Invasions (1977), Battlestar Galactica (1978-9), Hangar 18 (1980), Sky Bandits/Sky Pirates (1985), Stargate (1994), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), 10,000 B.C. (2008), The Fourth Kind (2009), Stonehenge Apocalypse (2010), Killer Mountain (2011) and Prisoners of the Sun (2013), as well as the von Daniken documentary Chariots of the Gods (1970). I was disappointed in someone like Ridley Scott who had raised science-fiction to new levels in his earlier works dragging his exercise down by indulging in such nonsensical pseudo-science. (If nothing else, this at least makes Prometheus fall into continuity with AVP: Alien vs Predator, which had similarly absurd von Danikenean notions).
I ended up disappointed with Prometheus. It is a film of great potential, great build-up, it arrays the design and hardware, creates epic mystery. There are a good many aspects to it great production design, top drawer effects, fine casting. This works well for its first half but it in the end reveals itself as an empty hand of cards half-baked von Danikenism and an eventual settling for rehashing Alien in ways that leave all of its promise up in the air and unfulfilled. I expected more from Ridley Scotts return to genre material and especially to the Alien franchise.
Ridley Scott has also produced the erotic horror anthology series for cable tv The Hunger (1997), the psycho black comedy Clay Pigeons (1998), the historic Tristan + Isolde (2006), the tv mini-series remake of The Andromeda Strain (2008), the heart transplant horror film Tell-Tale (2009), the tv mini-series remake of Coma (2012), the tv mini-series Labyrinth (2012) about the quest for the Holy Grail, the horror film Stoker (2013), the web series Halo Nightfall (2014), Child 44 (2015) about the hunt for a serial killer in Stalinist Russia, the dystopian sf film Equals (2015), the tv series adaptation of The Man in the High Castle (2015 ) and the artificial intelligence film Morgan (2016).
(Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender) and Best Special Effects at this sites Best of 2012 Awards).