Awaited like a messiah by science fiction fans, and in particular the Alien saga fans all over the world,Prometheus has been the subject of numerous debates after it hit the screens in June, and performed rather well at the box office since it scored nearly 400 million dollars worldwide, securing a sequel which has already been planned for 2014.
This month the DVD and the BLU-ray are being released in stores all over the world, which gives me the occasion to raise some questions about the movie.
We will focus here on the BLU-ray edition, since it contains the most interesting bonuses, including an in depth making of and an impressive number of deleted scenes… As you might already know, the movie takes place a few years before the events described in the first Alien, and although the director Ridley Scott has denied multiple times that Prometheus is indeed a prequel to the Alien saga, well, it mostly is… The story focuses on a group of explorers who travel to a distant planet in order to meet an alien species who they think might have created us.
The premise for the movie is in itself a bold statement, if not a new one, which promises nothing less than a 2001 A Space Odyssey-like adventure, one of these science fiction epics that redefine the genre every once in a while. Unfortunately, the film does not offer any fresh take on the subject, and the questions that it raises have been largely treated in books and other movies over the last few decades.
The engineers species that it describes is one of the ties to the original Alien, since we had observed the skeleton of one of these giant humanoid beings in the ship full of eggs that the crew was exploring in the first chapter of the saga … One of the main problems with Prometheus is that it keeps playing cat and mouse with its audience, without ever daring to explore the questions that it raises. It also fails to bring us the revelations and fragments of truth that we might expect from such an ambitious offering. The reality that is unveiled all along the movie… “The engineers have created us”, does not really come through as a surprise, especially since the first scene gives it all away.
A lot of critics have stated that the movie suffered from its constant tie-ins to the original alien, and that it should have better focused on the new mythology and the engineers. On the contrary, I think that it should have embraced its alien prequel identity, instead of throwing in elements without really making them fit in the grand scheme of the saga … In this regard the promotion of the movie during the few months before its release has been quite enlightening. Ridley Scott and the rest of the crew were apparently told to deny the film being a prequel, Scott even coming up with the formula -“it has got some of the Alien DNA”, to justify his take on the story, but for those who have already seen Prometheus, and especially its’ last scene, it is clear that this statement is a bit of a rip off. Apparently, the first drafts of the script were more in line with the prequel option, which raises the question of Hollywood’s overused technique of rewriting scripts over and over, until they become shallow shells. The most frustrating thing for me is that by watching the movie, we can get a glimpse of story lines which could have worked a lot better. A typical example is the relationship between Elisabeth Shaw and Holloway, which works quite well on screen but is not developed to its full potential. Holloway dies halfway through the movie, having been contaminated by an X files like black substance which transforms its’ hosts’ DNA… The main idea here is that this substance used by the engineers as a bio weapon is the origin of the famous xenomorphs, but why show its effects over different members of the crew, when focusing the attention on Holloway’s transformation could have paid off so much more?
Seeing the doctor slowly mutate into the biomechanical monster, Shaw being unable to stop his mutation into a beast, and perhaps having to kill him in the end, would have drawn audiences into the movie in a different and definitively more emotional way, drawing interesting parallels to stories like The Beauty And The Beast or The Fly. Instead, we have to witness the zombie like transformation of a second hand crew member, who on top of that is quickly gotten rid off.
Another issue in the movie is the miss-use of locations: in the first Alien, as well as in the second one, one of the big components of the fear it induced was that the crew was trapped in a closed space, having to fight for their lives and escape from the xenomorphs. Here we almost never really get a sense of danger, and therefore the scary moments in the movie are extremely scarce. The main reason for that in my opinion is that the crew is free to come and go between the ship and the pyramid hosting the last engineer. Therefore it never really feels as if their options are limited, which is always the first base for a claustrophobic thriller, science fiction or not. The editing is also to blame, as in the previously mentioned scene in which an infected crew member attacks the rest of the crew. The fact that several scenes are intercut with this one does not help to convey the idea of an imminent danger. Even the scene in which the giant humanoid is coming for Elisabeth Shaw feels understated and does not really take its time to build any tension or fear.
These elements of frustration are emphasized by the BLU-ray extras, which as I mentioned earlier contains a lot of deleted scenes as well as different versions of existing ones. The engineer’s attack on Elisabeth Shaw is presented here in a longer version, which takes its’ time to show Elisabeth trying to hide from her opponent, and works a lot better in my opinion. Therefore it is hard to understand why this version was not included in the final cut instead of its disappointing counterpart. The BLU-ray also contains a very interesting making of which takes us through all the different hesitations and miss-steps which might explain the movie’s lack of, if not for a better word, authenticity. It is especially enlightening to witness the constant back and forth between the different concepts for the creatures, the final result being more lukewarm than anything else.
Now don’t get me wrong, Prometheus is still a very entertaining science fiction movie, with incredible special effects and a certain sense of scope, especially in the amazing sets such as the
Prometheus itself and the pyramid’s interior, but it had built such expectations that we cannot help but being a tad disappointed by the result. It will still be very interesting to see what Ridley Scott has in store for the sequel though, which will likely focus on Elisabeth Shaw’s trip to the engineers’ native planet.
I hope that you enjoyed this first post, and that many more will come!