The Alien franchise once again sails into theaters, this time aboard a scientific vessel, the titular Prometheus, and the filmmaker who started it all, Ridley Scott, is once again at the helm. Previously, blue collar roughnecks, military battalions, homicidal prisoners, androids, and even an interstellar bounty hunter have vied with the spaced-out, acid-blooded, lizard-like creatures. This time around, scientists of all ilks have journeyed light years away from earth in search of the origins of life only to find the celestial creepy crawlies waiting for them.
Prometheus, when it isn’t very self-consciously referencing the other Alien movies, is a very interesting and engaging movie. The visuals are fantastic, the world of the story is complicated and engrossing, the acting is top notch, and the questions asked are profound. For two-thirds of Prometheus‘ running time, I was enthralled.
However, interspersed throughout this otherwise intricate science-fiction tale are what feel like obligatory nods to the Alien universe, things like riffs on face-huggers, inexplicably flashy cabin lights, ax wielding heroines, critiques of unchecked capitalism, and rampant sexual symbolism. Unfortunately, none of these things matter to the narrative undergirding Prometheus‘ references. It’s almost a shame that this has to be an Alien movie. It might have been spectacular as a piece of stand alone science-fiction cinema. As it is, it seems like very expensively produced Alien fan-fiction.
The best science-fiction, regardless of medium, uses out of this world time frames, situations, creatures, and locals to ask very pertinent questions about what it means to live in this very present, very real, and very human world. Prometheus attempts this when it isn’t trying to be an Alien movie. Prometheus is explicitly concerned with questions about humanity’s origins and destiny beyond death.
Dr. Shaw, Prometheus‘ main character, conspicuously wears a cross around her neck, and characters debate both the origin of humanity and the usefulness of that debate at all. The movie also, whether in an attempt to broaden the appeal of the story beyond the Christian world or to make a statement about the relative sameness of all religions, prominently features a scene explaining that all cultures across human history have known about these alien forebears whom are the source of the Prometheus crews’ search. Unfortunately, these themes buckle under the weight of Prometheus‘ need to be “awesome” and “shocking.” There are also numerous details added to the story (that would come across as spoilers if I included them here) peppered throughout the movie that add nothing and simply distract from the greater story being told.
Furthermore, Prometheus seems to understand that in universalizing (no pun intended) humanity’s origin, it has essentially removed all credibility of its theories. “If they created us, who created them?” one character asks. “That’s what I want to ask them,” the other character replies. By removing the idea of a divine, eternal creator from the conversation, Prometheus has removed any chance of an actual answer.
There is no nuance in this movie, and by the middle of it, when the audience realizes that everything in this movie is going to be explicitly shown or said, Prometheus stops being suspenseful or scary and simply becomes silly. In this way, it is much like the Alien franchise which over the years, has distressingly become a caricature of itself.