By Jack Mansfield
(As it’s a review of an older film I’ll talk about it as a whole, so here’s a spoiler warning for Prometheus)
As part of the Alien Day super ticket at the cinema, we were treated to two screenings on top of new footage from the upcoming Alien: Covenant. The first of these was Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012), which I’d never seen before. All that I really knew about the film going into the screening was that it divided fans upon first release for taking an ‘origin story’ angle, but I went in open-minded and I was pleasantly surprised: Prometheus was an enjoyable film and also proved to be a decent prequel to the film that started it all.
The year is 2093, and the 17-man crew of the deep space research ship USS Prometheus have followed the clues to the meaning of life left by unconnected ancient cultures to the distant moon LV-223. Led by Dr Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her boyfriend Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), the crew are tasked with exploring an ancient structure in search of answers. Along with the synthetic David (Michael Fassbender) amongst the rest of the crew, they slowly find out more about their makers while at the same time facing the growing threat from the creatures that call the moon home.
I’m not usually a fan of horror films or gory scares, but Prometheus gained – and never lost – my attention when they reached the moon (I think it’d be a stretch to say from the outset, as it is, admittedly, a little slow to get off the ground.) As soon as they do, though, the film made me feel like one of the crew members, determined to find out the answers they were looking for. The film does a good job of slowly giving the audience little bits of information but never giving away anything too important too early, and I was always eager to find out what would happen next, never truly losing interest.
Tonally, the film manages to still create the claustrophobic feeling similar to that of Alien but also explore the idea of an open world at the same time, with the main setting being the ancient ruins and the plains of the moon becoming a secondary setting by the third act. The film initially takes a humourous tone, which is by no means a bad thing; it really helps to humanise the crew, and also emphasise the shift in atmosphere to one devoid of hope as the film progresses. Where there is a fairly continuous stream of quips early on, this tone is dashed as the slow reveal of the aliens is finally paid off and Fifield (Sean Harris) and Millburn (Rafe Spall) are killed by snake-like alien creatures. This was the first truly horrific moment in the film, and I felt like I couldn’t watch but at the same time I couldn’t look away.
The film did this to me on two occasions: the one mentioned above, and the scene later on where Shaw, having had sex with Holloway without either of the two knowing he’d been infected by an alien parasite, must perform an emergency C-section to remove an alien embryo. This, in my opinion, is best scene in the film, but also the most uncomfortable by a country mile: I mentioned the claustrophobic aspect earlier, but this scene perfectly encapsulated it: Ridley Scott is a master of tension and having Shaw locked in the medical pod with a baby alien was terrifying to watch. The two most harrowing scenes felt to me like the film’s way of separating the three acts, as payoffs for the tension built up over each act.
Of course, the film is not without its missteps. The scene where Shaw and Vickers (Charlize Theron) run away from the Engineer ship now lives in infamy as, rather than simply running to the side of the ship out of harm’s way, they decide to run down the middle, resulting in Vickers’ death (something YouTube’s CinemaSins calls the ‘Prometheus School of Running Away from Things’.) I realise it sounds nitpicky but it does take away from the tension when you realise they could just run to one side and be safe from danger. Not only that, but Millburn seems to fall in love with the snake-like alien that proceeds to break his arm and then inhabit him, which just seems completely out of character for a man who was previously against anything remotely dangerous.
But these are, for me, the only two howlers in a wholly enjoyable film. I can understand why many fans were initially unhappy with Prometheus, but I personally felt that the film works both as a prequel (which will hopefully be better bridged thanks to Covenant) and also a sci-fi/horror film in its own right. For me, the standout in the film is Michael Fassbender as David: his performance as the unpredictable, somewhat amoral android is spot on and probably his best role that I’ve seen him in. I was glad not to have previously seen Prometheus, as it provided me not only with shocking scares but also some more new footage on Alien Day!