'Prometheus': A Gorgeous Mess

Ridley Scott's Alien prequel is long on visuals but short on logic.

prometheus corr 615 fox.jpg
Fox

Is Ridley Scott's new sci-fi thriller, Prometheus, a prequel to the Alien saga? The film's marketing campaign has been extravagantly coy on the question. Scott himself has allowed merely that "the keen fan will recognize strands of Alien's DNA." It's an odd, if calculated, reticence for an era in which nearly every cinematic undertaking is desperate to associate itself with a known "brand," however distant the relation. Forty-five-year-old naval board game reimagined as an alien-invasion movie? Check. Cult vampire soap opera flattened into a generic chapter of the ongoing Tim Burton-Johnny Depp weirdothon? Check. Blockbuster superhero franchise rebooted a mere five years after it was put on the shelf? Check back in a month.

"The ideas tackled in this film are unique, large, and provocative," Scott says, and he's right, provided one also appends hokey, shallow, and confused.

In any case, notwithstanding Scott's disavowals, the answer is yes: Prometheus is a prequel to Alien, and one need hardly be a keen fan to notice. Although the connection is not made absolutely explicit until late in the film, it is evident almost from the opening frames. Following two prologues—one in which a humanoid alien seeds the primordial Earth with his own DNA, and another in which archaeologists discover ancient cave drawings that point to a distant planet—we again find ourselves on a spaceship, with a decidedly familiar cast of crewmates.

There's the tough-but-pretty female protagonist, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace); the corporate tool with a hidden agenda, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron); the mannered, creepy android, David (Michael Fassbender); and the likable-enough-that-he-is-almost-certainly-doomed crewmember, Janek (Idris Elba). Rounding out the cast is the usual alien-fodder of braggarts and cowards.

The year is 2093 and the ship is the Prometheus, just arriving at the planet in the cave drawings after a two-year voyage. The crew is gradually awakened from their long cryogenic sleep by Fassbender's David—who, if you've seen the actor in Shame and A Dangerous Method, is about the last fellow you'd want around while you spent several months unconscious. David, for his part, has spent the journey teaching himself a variety of ancient languages and obsessively re-watching Lawrence of Arabia. ("The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts," he mouths in sync with Peter O'Toole.)

The ship's mission—or at least the one we know about from the start—is to search the planet for signs of an alien race that Elizabeth and her partner/lover Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) call the "engineers." She suspects (and we, having seen the prologue, can confirm) that in the distant past these advanced beings created the human race using their own DNA.

The ship quickly finds a massive dome-like structure full of catacombs, and the crew duly sets out to explore it. If you have seen other installments of the Alien franchise, you can guess—at least in broad contours—what happens next: alien artifacts are discovered; slimy, viscous substances begin to ooze; crewmembers are separated and of necessity abandoned; unsavory things start going bump in the night. Those back on the ship detect something moving in the dark tunnels and warn those left behind, who reply (reasonably enough): "Pings? Clicks? Life forms? What the fuck!"

Presented by

Christopher Orr is a senior editor and the principal film critic at The Atlantic. He has written on movies for The New Republic, LA Weekly, Salon, and The New York Sun, and has worked as an editor for numerous publications.

Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman

You don't have to tell her how big she is. You don't need to touch her belly.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman

You don't have to tell her how big she is. You don't need to touch her belly.

Video

Maine's Underground Street Art

"Graffiti is the farthest thing from anarchy."

Video

The Joy of Running in a Beautiful Place

A love letter to California's Marin Headlands

Video

'I Didn't Even Know What I Was Going Through'

A 17-year-old describes his struggles with depression.

Video

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Video

The Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

More in Entertainment

Just In