Friends, I’ve done it. I’ve watched my way through two decades worth of ALIEN movies (it’s not that impressive; there’s only four) and have caught up to the modern prequels. Time to see what exactly was so compelling about this premise that Ridley Scott felt the need to revisit it 33 years after making the original.
If you need to catch up on the previous installments in this series, you can do so here:
So, I literally only know three things about Prometheus:
- It is an Alien prequel (and not a direct prequel, as I know that there’s at least one movie between Prometheus and Alien).
- It is directed by Ridley Scott.
- Michael Fassbender is a robot.
“But surely you know that [actor] is in this?”
Nope. All I know is Fassbender. Everyone else will be a surprise. I seriously paid absolutely no attention to this movie when it came out.
“Come on, I’m sure you’ve at least heard about [thing].”
Guys, when I said “it is kind of shocking how little I know about the Alien movies,” I really wasn’t speaking hyperbolically.
So anyway, it’s kind of hard to make predictions about this one, since I don’t have the previous movies to springboard theories off of. I’m not sure exactly why Ridley Scott felt the need to revisit this franchise in this way — I tried to google it, but all that got me was a bunch of thinkpieces on Alien: Covenant, so obviously I closed that tab posthaste — but I have my suspicions, mostly based on why I would make a prequel, were I in his shoes.
My best guess is that the sequels didn’t build on the themes of Alien in the way Scott wanted, and that he felt like the only way to course-correct was to go back before any of the Alien³ or Resurrection nonsense had happened and dig into the parts of the original that he found the most interesting — which was probably not jump scares and gross-out alien attacks. And given Scott’s sensation-centric approach to filmmaking, the fact that the script for Prometheus was penned by LOST scribe Damon Lindelof (yes, I just looked that up, because I’m still annoyed at myself that I didn’t factor Joss Whedon into my Alien: Resurrection predictions), and the foreknowledge that Fassbender is a robot, I’m willing to make some educated guesses as to which elements pulled Scott back in.
Tackling the Lindelof piece of the puzzle first, he showed us with LOST that he was far less interested in delivering satisfying answers to the show’s many “mystery box” plot elements than he was in exploring why its characters acted the way they did, and how their experiences shaped who they fundamentally were as people.
So on a script level, I don’t imagine Prometheus will be super concerned with answering questions like who the original inhabitants of the crashed alien ship were or how the ship crashed. I’m guessing it will be more character-driven than previous installments have been, perhaps digging deeper into The Company and laying the groundwork for why Ash had instructions to bring back a xenomorph at any cost, but mostly, I imagine Prometheus will want to explore the relationship between humans, aliens, and androids in the Alien-verse in general, and lay the emotional groundwork for the circumstances and worldviews that made the events of Alien possible.
And then layering the Ridley Scott-ness of it all over that, I imagine that these prequels will return to the sensations of isolation and claustrophobia that made the first movie so effective, maybe by physically stranding the characters somewhere, or maybe by singling each of them out on an emotional level, or perhaps both. The original Alien did a lot of work establishing boundaries between its characters — some literal, by scattering them throughout different parts of the ship, and some figurative, by challenging their preconceived notions of trust and safety — and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Prometheus return to those thematic roots, especially if it decides to deep dive the tensions between humans and androids (which were hinted at in the Alien sequels, but never explored to my satisfaction). After all, under the right (wrong?) circumstances, prejudice and fear can isolate just as effectively as walls.
Unrelated to any of this, the practical effects of the Alien series have always been great, but if Prometheus could give me some actual good CGI this time without sacrificing the visceral, grounded nature of the visuals from the first two movies, that would be great.
Okay, here we go. Time to watch a prequel my husband really doesn’t like and see how right/wrong I am about all of this.
Watching the movie:
- Noomi Rapace? Guy Pearce? IDRIS ELBA? Wait, why is this movie supposed to be bad again?
- I was assuming this movie started on Earth due to all the water and mountains but now I’m seeing a weird White Walker-looking dude in monk robes so now I’m not so sure.
- He drank… something… and then… vaporized… or something… but now… his DNA… is evolving? Or something? Help, I’m already very confused.
- Okay THIS is definitely Earth. Yay Earth! First appearance in the franchise, unless you count the end of Resurrection.
- I can never remember this lead archeologist guy’s actual name, so I’m just going to call him Discount Tom Hardy.
- They’ve found cave drawings. Of… I mean, it looks like softballs, but I’m guessing it’s supposed to be alien eggs? Or constellations?
- Is it just me, or is the score here reminiscent of the original Superman?
- So Fassbenderbot can spy on people’s memories/dreams? How? Why was this technology not in any of the other movies? Also am I supposed to know he’s a robot yet? He’s acting very mechanical, but he’s also eating oatmeal, so maybe he’s supposed to pass for human?
- Honestly the blonde hair alone is enough to make me question his humanity.
- Right now I’m having a little bit of an issue with how sleek and clean this ship looks. It’s the Star Wars prequel problem. Just because the movie was made later doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have to fit with the continuity of the original. Why would the ships of the future look more archaic than the ships of the past?
- CHARLIZE THERON? I missed her name in the opening credits, apparently. Her push-up form is terrible, so I’m guessing she’s not a robot.
- Benedict Wong! Missed his name, too. He looked YOUNG in 2012.
- Guy Pearce’s old person makeup could be better. Why not just cast an actual old person? Is there going to be a scene flashing back to him as a younger man that makes this piece of casting necessary?
- I like how they just painted a Rubik’s Cube silver and were like “future tech!”
- I’m finding it slightly hard to buy that this whole crew wound up on this ship in cryosleep without 1) knowing who they worked for, 2) why they were there, or 3) who the custodian was in charge of waking them up. But okay.
- I predict the automated surgery pod will be coming back later.
- I really enjoy that Idris Elba is captaining this spaceship in cargo pants and a baseball cap, while Charlize Theron is walking around looking like she raided the Star Trek costume vault.
- Again, why do the spacesuits look way more advanced than the suits in Alien? I just looked it up; Alien is supposed to take place in 2122, nearly 30 years after the events of Prometheus. And yet in Alien, Ripley has to creep her way into what appears to be a ’90s-era bulky white suit, even though according to Prometheus, there was an option for sleek blue suits. Continuity, people.
- I liked that little exchange where David explains that he’s wearing the space suit to make the humans feel more comfortable, because they need familiarity. Already probing at that android-human tension.
- Oh no, the helmets are coming off. Never a good sign in sci-fi movies.
- David found goo, XENOMORPHS MUST BE HERE.
- Whaaaaaat on earth were those running white noise projections and how did David know how to summon them by poking that wall panel? Can he read those symbols? Was that one of the languages he studied on the way to this planet?
- That’s a very… human-looking giant face on the other side of that door.
- Is that a xenomorph egg? Is that a giant picture of the queen? I have a very bad feeling about this.
- Wait, is that the weird liquid that made that guy at the beginning disintegrate?
- Getting the impression that David just wants to watch the world burn.
- Oh I DEFINITELY do not think it is a good idea to bring back one of these weird wormy urns.
- Don’t go for the head NOW, in the middle of a SPACE SAND STORM, what are you THINKING?
- How did the geologist get LOST, he’s the one who mapped the tunnels in the first place.
- I do not anticipate an uneventful or restful night for those two guys who have to stay in the tunnels.
- Oh hey, it’s one of those White Walker guys from the beginning, which the internet tells me I’m supposed to be calling “Engineers.”
- “I think we can trick the nervous system [of the decapitated alien head] into thinking it’s still alive” yes sure this seems like a great idea.
- David clearly has a secret set of orders, and is communicating directly with Weyland — definitely shadows of Ash’s secret agenda for The Company in the first movie.
- David, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? What ARE those weird vial things in that urn, and why is he acting like he knows exactly what he’s dealing with? In 300-ish years androids are going to evolve into a deeply sympathetic Winona Ryder, but in the time of Prometheus, androids are sketchy as heck.
- Okay I’m definitely not feeling great about cutting straight from the weird black substance on David’s finger to David offering Discount Tom Hardy a drink. Especially on the heels of the “the alien DNA is our DNA” reveal and the 2,000-year-old head exploding. Oh dear — is his head going to explode too? Or is he going to disintegrate? Neither option seems particularly fun.
- Of course Captain Idris Elba plays the accordion.
- This whole innuendo-laden encounter between Idris and Charlize feels super forced.
- Aaaaaand this is why they had to manhandle in a reason to get Idris Elba off the bridge. So that no one is there to hear these guys encountering a weird snake thing because they’re all busy having really contrived sex. And now they’re both going to die horribly and no one’s going to know why. Clumsy, clumsy writing.
- Discount Tom Hardy has a WORM IN HIS EYE. Gross eye things are at the TOP OF MY NOPE LIST, Prometheus.
- So far the plot of this movie is mirroring the original really closely. Crew awakes from cryosleep to go investigate a mysterious alien structure, encounters an unexpected alien life form, and it starts killing people. The suave charismatic male lead seems okay, but then turns out to have an alien inside him, and is probably going to die shortly. The android is on a secret mission for a mysterious corporate sponsor.
- If it stays true to the original, I predict most of the cast will wind up getting separated soon only to die horribly (possibly with the POC cast members checking out toward the end?), the female lead will be the Last One Standing, and the climactic scene will have her trapped with an alien in her underwear.
- Okay, probably (hopefully?) not in her underwear.
- Seriously, what is David’s deal? I haven’t decided if he’s acting on orders from Weyland, or if he really is just messing with whatever variables he comes in contact with out of some sort of relentless android curiosity.
- The scene with David in the room with all the holographic planets (which, what?) once again has a score reminiscent of Superman, specifically the scene when he’s building the Fortress of Solitude, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s intentional.
- (Editing after the fact to add that I am apparently not the only one who has thought those two scores sounded similar.)
- The flamethrower is a nice callback to the earlier films, even though it’s a really impractical space weapon.
- So now we’re not going to know what would have happened if the worm infection had been allowed to progress, since Discount Tom Hardy is burned up now. Which means someone else is going to have to get infected.
- Shaw got impregnated last night and is now scanning as three months pregnant? I think I’ve seen this episode of Star Trek.
- “I watched your dreams.” Okay, Edward Cullen.
- Why is Shaw acting like she’s being attacked and beating everybody up, why not just explain the procedure she needs to the other members of the crew?
- Judging by the screaming, the anesthesia in this surgical pod doesn’t seem to be working very well.
- What. Is. That. It looks like a squid.
- I… do not buy that she’d be up and running right after having an alien squid cut out of her abdomen, ineffective futuristic anesthesia or not.
- Guys, guys, I was kidding when I made my prediction about her being in her underwear, why are we continuing the trend of Women In Their Underwear In Every Alien Movie, this is so unnecessary.
- Was not anticipating that the guy who got his face melted by acidic space snake spit would go full-on space monster, but here we are.
- Oh. Weyland is on the ship.
- Wait, two seconds ago Shaw was arguing with Weyland that they had to leave, but now she’s trying to convince the captain to stay for the sake of curiosity? Did I miss a beat here?
- Is Charlize going to turn out to be his daughter?
- It’s always such an eye bump for me when actors put a dramatic pause before revealing their relationship to another character. “No…father.” Like, who are you being dramatic for? He already knows he’s your dad.
- Oh hey, it’s the crashed ship from Alien. Or at least a ship like it.
- Hello, White Walker Bane.
- Wow, the Engineer just ripped off David’s head and threw it at Weyland. I wasn’t expecting that. Although I probably should have, considering all the other parallels to the first film. Of course the android gets decapitated, and then continues to talk afterward.
- Okay, so the Engineer is the guy the crew finds in the pilot seat in Alien (huh, I was not expecting this movie to fill in that particular blank)… but we still don’t know anything about him. I feel like I have even more questions than I did before watching this movie.
- So the Prometheus is going to turn out to be the ship that shot down the alien ship, and this is the planet the Nostromo comes to in Alien? Which is how The Company knew there was alien life there, and why they pulled strings to get the Nostromo back there? So they didn’t necessarily know about the xenomorphs — they just knew about the Engineers with the human DNA? Is that what they intended with the order to bring back an alien life form, and they just got xenomorphs instead?
- Poor Idris Elba. Poor Benedict Wong. Poor… that other guy. (But I called it on the POC being among the last ones to fall, outlasted only by the women.)
- Charlize just got smushed by the crashing alien ship, and Weyland already got killed by the Engineer, making the reveal that Charlize was Weyland’s daughter completely pointless.
- Now we have the tentacle alien fighting the Engineer and no xenomorphs anywhere, yet somehow in 30 years, xenomorphs are going to be the only thing here.
- Wait, if the Engineer is dead and no longer in the pilot’s chair… then this can’t be the ship from Alien. So Shaw and David are going to take a second ship and crash it somewhere else, and that’s the ship from Alien, not this one, and Shaw is going to turn out to (somehow) be the pilot they find, not the Engineer. Right? Am I right? (Although she’d have to steal an Engineer’s helmet for that to work… gahhhh, so many questions.)
- This conversation between Shaw and David about how she needs to understand why the Engineers hate us, while he feels that information is irrelevant, and how these sorts of differences in what drives them are fundamental to what makes them human (or not), is what I have been waiting for this entire movie.
- Now THERE’S a xenomorph.
I know Prometheus gets a bad rap, but I kind of liked it. It was no Aliens, but I thought this one did a better job with its character development than the past couple movies, especially since it didn’t have Ripley to use as a crutch. I’m intrigued by this new pairing of Shaw/The Head of David going off to find the Engineer’s homeworld, even if it sounds like a terrible idea to show up on the doorstep of the guy who tried to kill you to ask why he doesn’t like you.
Definitely got the feeling that Ridley Scott was going for a sort of Force Awakens thing here with the plot mirroring the first movie so closely, but I’m guessing that Alien: Covenant will pull a Last Jedi and veer completely off the beaten path, especially since Scott didn’t helm any of the Alien sequels, so I doubt he’ll want to shadow their plots. So basically, just because this first one wound up being really predictable once I figured out the formula, doesn’t mean the second one will be.
There were a lot of messy elements to this movie, so I can see why it didn’t work for a lot of people. The whole plot with Weyland was never fully fleshed out (and seriously, what was the point of casting Guy Pearce in that role?), Charlize Theron’s character wound up falling victim to what I’m going to start calling the Alien Highlander Curse (There Can Only Be One… Well Written Female Character), Idris Elba and Benedict Wong were woefully underserved by the story, robbing their heroic sacrifice of its proper weight, and several twists of the plot had to be forced into place using some truly clunky writing. Plus, while I think the script was aiming for intriguing mystery with the Engineers, it felt like it got lost and wandered into muddled and confusing territory, and the jury’s still out on whether introducing them to the mythology at this point was a good call or a total misfire.
But on the plus side, Prometheus delivered some great visual effects, had an effectively atmospheric (and very Williams-y) score, and definitely laid the groundwork to really dig into that android/human tension that I’ve been so curious about. David is a fascinating character, and although most of his scenes in this movie wound up asking questions more than providing answers, we did get a few small insights into how humans feel about androids, and vice versa. I’m really hoping that Covenant takes that ball and runs with it.
I could also use some more clarity on the xenomorph life cycle. What I gather from Prometheus is that the black goo alters DNA, although how it alters it depends on who it’s infecting. It vaporized the Engineer, while turning Discount Tom Hardy all wormy and enabling him to impregnate Shaw with a squid. And it turned the geologist into some kind of rage-fueled zombie. So the black goo possibilities are pretty limitless.
The squid wound up growing into some kind of giant proto-facehugger, which implanted the Engineer with something akin to the xenomorphs we’re already familiar with, albeit with some changes. This tracks with the dog-xenomorph in Alien³.
And assuming the black goo exists on the ship that Shaw stole, that may explain how we wind up with xenomorphs gestating on a different planet 30 years in the future. But it seems like the circumstances that lead from black goo to fully-formed xenomorph depend on a lot of variables that seem unlikely to repeat again, especially once you factor in that in order to wind up with the cargo hold full of eggs that the Nostromo finds in Alien, one of the xenomorphs that forms from the goo has to be a queen.
I’m honestly not expecting Covenant to clear things up for me here — I think Prometheus did exactly what I expect from Ridley Scott, which was make me like I’d gotten some sort of big revelation about the xenomorphs, while not actually concerning itself with whether its logic completely scanned. But if a future director of as-yet-unconceived ALIEN movies could detail how this all works in a way that both makes sense and is consistent with all the other films, I’d appreciate it.
We also appeared to get the early seeds of The Company in this movie with Weyland, although I’m still kind of in the dark as to how they go from hoping to hunt down a cure for Weyland’s deteriorating condition to wanting to weaponize xenomorphs at any cost. Seems like there’s a few important steps missing in there.
Only one more movie left (for now), and then I’m all caught up on the ALIEN franchise. It’s been quite a ride. Don’t let me down, Covenant.