Though the main thrust of this blog was always going to be about books and writing, I’ve been such a big fan of the Alien films for almost two decades now that I had to write about Prometheus – even if, having seen it, I’d now concur with director Ridley Scott’s claim that it isn’t actually a prequel to Alien.
Still, it’s very much of the same mythology, and as such becomes the odd middle child. Alien and Aliens were the ones that went off to university, Alien going on to postgraduate studies, whilst Aliens did very well in the corporate world. Alien 3 also went to university but dropped out and got a minimum wage job, and Alien: Resurrection, well, that one just sits around at home all day getting high, just like it has for the last decade. Prometheus, on the other hand, disappeared whilst on a gap year trip to the Far East and returned five years later as high priest of its own hippie cult.
Prometheus is very much its own beast. It’s fair to say those who identify as Alien fans are just as split as they have been about most of what gets released under the banner. It’s not a small, claustrophobic horror film or a big, bombastic action film. It reminded me most of 2001: A Space Odyssey, except with a few monsters instead of the starchild at the end. It takes ideas that were always present in Alien (if not the sequels) and runs with those instead.
Almost inevitably this led to my biggest criticism of the film – that whilst Alien and Aliens had modest ambitions but met them perfectly and then surpassed them, Prometheus has ideas that are so far above its station that they dwarf what it’s capable of pulling off in two hours. It’s a noble failure, in so far as they even attempted to make something intelligent and philosophical out of a ‘franchise’ that in recent years has been led down the path to the gratuitous exploding headshots of Aliens vs Predator: Requiem.
What we’re left with is a solid but sometimes ponderous thriller about mankind going to investigate the possibility that we were intelligently designed, but by another race, rather than gods. Needless to say, this being in the Alien universe even if it is not an Alien film, if indeed Earth was seeded with engineered life then there’s a good chance that whoever introduced life to our planet also did so on others, and maybe the others evolved malevolence that ended with sharp teeth rather than atom bombs. This isn’t a monster movie in the sense that there’s a slimy beastie stalking corridors, picking off the cast one by one, but it does explode the Alien universe out – for better or worse – from those tiny, claustrophobic confines that many fans have loved for so long.
I have been an apologist for the latter Alien sequels since I first saw them. Alien 3 is a poorly scripted mess, two hours of unlikeable characters we never get to know being gorily slaughtered, but elevated by Sigourney Weaver’s brilliant turn. Alien: Resurrection is even harder to apologise for, so many of its laughable bits almost reducing it to a parody of the earlier films, and its redeemable qualities coming from the same school of redemption as those redeemable qualities from every dull action movie – a few good set pieces. Which is sad given the director’s talents, Jean Pierre Jeunet having directed Delicatessen before and A Very Long Engagement afterwards. Blame is very easily laid at the foot of the writer, a certain Joss Whedon, whose other contributions to cinema include Waterworld, Titan AE and the execrable Avengers Assemble movie. Of course, everyone else involved had the opportunity to better the film, and they didn’t – or couldn’t – either.
I recognise Prometheus will prove divisive, probably more so amongst people who hold the Alien films especially dear than those who simply liked the first one enough to watch the rest. But it’s the first film set in this universe made since 1986 that I don’t feel, as an obsessive fanboy, the need to apologise for, even if it’s not as good as Alien or Aliens.