Prometheus asks loftier questions than it’s willing to answer, but it may just may be the best scifi-horror film since Alien.
At about the two-thirds mark in Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s unrelenting scifi-horror prequel to Alien, we are so inundated by disturbing visuals, so exhausted by the unraveling tension, so disoriented by quick-cuts to each character’s confrontation with the film’s endless terrors, that by the end we feel like we’re the ones who survived a trip to hell and back again. It’s dense and terrifying, and easily the best Alien film since, well, Alien.
The story concerns a crew of scientists sent to distant planet LV-223, after two archaeologists (Noomi Rapace & Logan Marshall-Green) discover a recurring image in ancient artifacts revealing a star map. The Weyland-Yutani Corporation sponsors the trip, with Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) overseeing the operation. After many years spent in cryogenic sleep on the long journey, watched over dutifully by android David (Michael Fassbender), the crew make it to the planet and quickly discover ruins and rubble that conclusively answer the question, “are we alone in the universe?”. These discoveries slowly begin to reveal the purpose of the ancient messages and the nature of this alien civilization, as the crew tries to survive the avalanche of horrors that await them.
Prometheus fits directly into the mythology of the Alien series, but it doesn’t require extensive knowledge of that mythology for someone to enjoy the ride. It asks far more questions than it answers, which will probably put off many people in the audience, and those questions that concern the mysteries of its fictional universe tend to be more satisfying than the greater existential questions that the film half-heartedly explores (although, how many moviegoers actually want to be intellectually challenged at the cinema these days?). It’s a scifi yarn that tries to play itself off as smarter than it is, but also doesn’t use broad strokes to dumb down its narrative; it’s a complex tale with honestly painted characters, and its scarier moments don’t rely on cheap tricks or ham-fisted reveals in order to be effective. And, oh, is it effective.
The visuals, as anyone who has seen the promotional material knows, are fantastic. We’re now well into the post-CG era of cinema, and futuristic worlds aren’t supposed to wow us anymore, but Prometheus manages to look both high-tech and spectacular, familiar and clean, but also realistically worn and lived-in, and it’s marvelous to behold. As all of the best visually designed scifi films do, we’re left wanting to see even more of this futuristic world, and the fan community will certainly be analyzing it frame-by-frame to catch all the little touches that sprinkle the film throughout.
If Avatar is the spiritual sequel to the 1986 Aliens, with its action set pieces, run-and-gun marines, and suspicion of big business and government, then Prometheus is the perfect follow-up to the 1979 Alien, with its countless mysteries, slow build-up of paranoid tension, and pulse-quickening terrors. After all, the original Alien film was never about the ideas, it was about the scares, done in a masterful and restrained but totally effective way. The criticism that Prometheus devolves into an action film is unfounded; this is a horror film through-and-through, and don’t let the disposable existential ramblings fool you, because this is also one of the smartest told scifi stories we’ve had in many years.
Score: 9.0 out of 10