Monday, October 9, 2023

Stealing Fire

Film: Prometheus
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

I question the idea of prequels sometimes. They can make sense for those who want the backstory on something that they love, but they cause real problems with science fiction movies. That’s definitely the case with Prometheus, which is a prequel to Alien. It’s also a movie that came out several decades after the movie that follows it in the timeline, and this is an issue, beyond the obvious problem of things not matching up the way they should.

There is also the serious question of how to classify this movie. There are definite horror elements, and anything in the greater Alien universe is absolutely going to struggle getting away entirely from the horror designation. But Prometheus is only horror in parts. There are certainly elements of horror here, but not a lot of surprises. Anyone who knows Alien knows where we are going and can assume the fates of most of the people on board the ship after which the movie is named. And so, this becomes nothing more than a playing out of events to get us to setting up the chess board for Alien the way we need it set up.

A pair of archaeologists (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green) discover an ancient star map in Scotland. While cool, the real discovery is the fact that this map matches those found in other ancient sites around the world. The pair convinces Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), head of the Weyland (eventually Weyland-Yutani) Corporation to fund an expedition to the location on the star map where they hope to find a species they call The Engineers. What they engineered, our archaeologists think, is us.

If you know the basic mythology, there’s not a lot here that is going to surprise you. The ship touches down and our crew awakens from cryosleep, aside from android David (Michael Fassbender), who has guided the ship to its destination. Teams explore the planet, discovering evidence of the Engineers who operated what looks like a military research facility on this planet. And, of course, despite the place being abandoned for thousands of years, there are still some things here that are alive and are going to make the stay for the humans an unpleasant one.

I mentioned at the top that there is a real problem when it comes to prequels. The biggest is that of technology. If you watch Prometheus and then Alien one after the other, the problem becomes an obvious one. In Prometheus, we have three-dimensional mapping robots and hologram technology, automated surgical beds, and much more. In Alien, we have green screen computers with old-school keyboards. The technology is too different. Alien takes place later, but clearly appears much older simply because technology has advanced so far in filmmaking (and in general) between the two films.

There is also the problem of setting the board for the original film. If you are familiar with Alien, you know that the planet needs to be set up in certain ways for the film to happen. That means that in Prometheus, we need to get there. The Engineers’ ship needs to be placed in a certain way. Corpses and remains need to be in certain places. The questions here aren’t really what is going to happen, but how.

Additionally, there is the fact that this movie leaves clear evidence of the humans on the alien world. It’s been a minute since I’ve seen Alien, but I don’t recall them finding a downed human spacecraft or the remains of any humans on the planet (I could be wrong here). And yet, based on what happens here, this would be almost impossible to achieve. There would be clear evidence of human visitation to this world, and unless the Weyland Corporation spent $1 trillion in secret, people on Earth would know about it anyway.

I will say it looks great, although it is quite dark and monochromatic. It also has a killer cast—Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Benedict Wong, Rafe Spall, and others round out the cast. And there are real attempts to make this film feel like it’s a story that needs to be told.

But the reality is that I don’t know that it really is. Prometheus is far less interesting than it could be because there are no surprises here. Knowing where we have to get to, this comes across as essentially setting up the board and getting things ready for Ripley, Dallas, and the rest of them to encounter the xenomorph for the “first time.”

Ultimately, that’s the problem. There’s a lot to like, but we’ve already seen behind this curtain. There’s nothing here that can surprise us, and that makes this a bit of a slog.

Why to watch Prometheus: It looks great and has a solid cast.
Why not to watch: Is it necessary?


  1. I thought it was alright though it is a slog in terms of its pacing and it doesn't really do enough to differentiate itself from the other Alien films. You're right about the lack of surprises which is why the film was so underwhelming and why I didn't bother with its sequel.

    1. I honesly cared about this so little that I wasn't aware Alien: Covenant was actually a sequel to this.

    2. Yeah, apparently Scott's original plan was to have several movies follow on from Prometheus, and they would eventually get through the chronology to where it would lead in to the original Alien at some point down the line; Covenant was the first of what was to be a series of sequels. It helps explain a lot about Prometheus, and especially how the approach of this film being a direct prequel that leads right into Alien (as you seem to have been thinking in this review) is the incorrect approach. Of course, it'd be hard to find anyone who would care that much about such a protracted timeline, as Scott envisioned it, that they'd be willing to go along for four or five entire films just to cover the amount of backstory to get to Alien that one film could reasonably get through, let alone enough people to make the budget for that series of films a worthwhile proposition, as Scott found out with the reception to this and Covenant; 99% of his audience just wouldn't care enough to invest that kind of attention long-term. He definitely could've gotten it done in one film, maybe two at the absolute most.

    3. This feels like a lot more work than is necessary to prequel and contextualize a film that is, at its heart, a haunted house in space.

      I honestly can't think of any fictional universe where I want that much backstory.