I’ve actually watched a fair few movies in the past few months, but just haven’t had the interest or energy to review them – and also because who cares? (for those who do care, I aim to have one of those “Games I Played in 2012″ articles by the end of the year and will cover TV and movies and books and whatnot, simply because I ain’t got nothing better to put on the website!)
I watched Prometheus last night, though, and figured I might as well waffle a bit to keep up with my reviews of the Alien quadrilogy (I just love how hilariously dumb that word is – I’d use it in every sentence if I could. Somebody stop me!). Spoilers ahoy.
In the futuristic world of 2089, archaeologists discover that a bunch of civilisations across the earth in different times happen to cover the same event in their various art – big dudes from space pointing to the stars. Well, golly gosh, that sounds like an invitation! … doesn’t it? I didn’t really get the logic behind that, besides “optimism!” A bunch of dudes later go into space to snoop around the planet depicted, and find weird shit! Also, people are scheming against each other!
Okay, the movie doesn’t exactly bill itself as a sequel or prequel to Alien, but it’s a nice change of pace that we’re not dealing with xenomorphs this time around. The monsters aren’t quite as well defined, but that adds to the horror – when you see these things, you really don’t know what you’re going to expect. The body horror and alien sexuality of the xenomorphs is most assuredly freaky, but it gets less horrifying the more you see them, y’know? It’s freaky the first time, then they get turned into generic mass mobs in the later films. You know jack about the new alien threats, and as such I was squirming in my seat on occasion just out of fear of what they’d do. There’s nothing as horrific (or as memorable!) as the chest burster, but just seeing a worm snap a dude’s arm in half and dive inside his mouth was shocking because, hey, I hadn’t seen that combination before!
My worst bit was easily Shaw’s caesarean. Just – jeez, ugh! Squid in your belly! It’s funny, monsters bursting out of chests didn’t faze me, but a monster being cut out of a stomach had me squirming all over the place. Oh, I’ll never be a father.
Despite talking about them in the first bloody paragraph, there’s very little in the way of actual monster encounters. What carries the movie is the mystery and sense of exploration. You’ve got a strange vast structure to explore with weird tech lying around, you’ve got grumpy people scheming against each other behind the scenes, and a totally uncooperative android being an asshole. Not to mention all the strange new landscapes and environments. The movie has some really spectacular environments. I am a plain ol’ sucker for scenery. It was pretty neat seeing the familiar style of ship design from Alien, except on the big screen. It feels like more could have been explored of both the structure and even the ship, but that’s just me seeking my world building.
I wasn’t dying about the characters, though. David the android was an intriguing character, and Janek the captain was fun, but none of the characters really made much of an impression. Too many of them felt like archetypes than actual characters: the cold authority figure, the friendly-to-a-fault scientist, the paranoid bloke, we’ve seen it all before. The scene where everyone is seated at the presentation was a brief little exposé on their mannerisms, and I was expecting more scenes like that to follow… but by the end of the film, I still felt like I barely knew the crew.
It doesn’t help that even in the final stretch of the film, new faces were showing up I’d never seen before. Alien had only seven crew members, while this one has seventeen. With that scale it’s hard to see them all for an equal length of time and get attached, but it also meant you never knew how much cannon fodder was left – in the climax we see several new faces, and it almost felt like they were plucked out of a broom closet just to supply an extra death or two.
Ultimately, the movie doesn’t give satisfying answers. The mysterious creatures seen early in Alien weren’t really aliens, but big ol’ humans in alien-looking helmets. Why did they create humanity? Who knows. Why did they want to destroy humanity? Why not? Did they create the xenomorph? Not intentionally.
If you view it actively looking for answers to the little mysteries from the original movie, you’re probably going to be disappointed – not only does it answer very little (if that!), it ends up diluting the mystery of the original film. Viewing it as a standalone flick does make for better watching, but let’s face it, when it’s advertised as being in the same universe as Alien, that’s practically a big invitation to start unfairly comparing them.
I had a good time. I went in with no real expectations, but I won’t deny I left comparing it to the original Alien… and I suppose if I were to rank it among other films, I’d place it alongside Moon, Sunlight and so on. Putting it in the same category as Alien and Aliens, films from thirty years ago, seems out of place. Alien is a great film and as much as I’d love to see that same brand of gritty, industrial space atmosphere captured in a recent film, I don’t think anything will quite compare.