By Elford Alley. This is RETROGRADING, where in space, no one will like your prequel.
THE FILM: Prometheus
THE TIME: 2012. A simpler time. Ridley Scott announced his surprising return to the Alien franchise, promising a dark prequel that also explored our species’ origins. Audiences were hyped. A series of intriguing viral videos (“Happy Birthday David” and “Peter Weyland at TED 2023”) helped fuel expectations. However, once the film debuted, audiences were less than impressed.
RECOLLECTIONS: Prometheus is really a tale of two scripts. The first script, by screenwriter Jon Spaihts, was a direct prequel to Alien, which ended with a wrecked derelict for the Nostromo crew to later find. The second was a near-complete rewrite from Damon Lindelof (with help from Ridley Scott), which added a layer of mystery and focused more on the Engineers (the inhabitants of the original wrecked ship in Alien, previously known as Space Jockeys). At this stage, the decision was made that, instead of a direct prequel, the series would be a new trilogy (or quadrilogy) running parallel with the 1979 classic.
Before one joins the rest of the internet in blaming Damon Lindelof for killing the film, you need to look at the two drafts. Spaihts’ version definitely featured a more professional (and competent) crew of scientists, and there were definitely more xenomorphs, eggs, and facehuggers. But! The script lacked character development: all the character building moments for David’s (Michael Fassbender) android character? Elizabeth Shaw’s (Noomi Rapace) faith, which she holds onto in the face of finding out her God’s true nature? All Lindelof.
However, Charlie Holloway’s (Logan Marshall-Green) random android hate that felt like a plot contrivance? The laughably unscientific methods of the scientists? A 100+ year old stowaway? Black goo borrowed from the world’s least favorite X-Files episodes? That belonged to him too.
On paper, Prometheus sounded incredible. A group of scientist travel to a faraway world to find the secrets behind our origins, secrets which tied into the dreaded xenomorphs of the Alien franchise. Even the behind the scenes changes seemed to imply we were going to get something special. One would expect a major studio to demand a by-the-numbers Alien film for quick cash. Instead, Fox supported Scott’s desire to focus more on Spaihts’ original story aspects — the Engineers and a Lovecraftian exploration of our origins — and allowed Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof to rewrite the screenplay into a more enigmatic piece of horror sci-fi.
The extended edition does improve Prometheus substantially. We see more of the Engineers and come to understand the strange ritual that opens the film a little better. We also see Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) muster the courage to attack the Engineer, an important step in her character, from nervous explorer to a woman quite literally willing to bring the fight to the Gods’ door.
Most notably, we also see more of Peter Weyland (Guy Pierce) and David’s (Michael Fassbender) conversation with the awakened Engineer, which helps us understanding the beings sudden anger towards them once Weyland literally tells David to ask the Engineer to make him immortal. The Engineer is understandably pissed because his entire crew apparently died 2,000 years before prepping a ship to eliminate humanity because we killed Jesus. (No, for real.) Honestly one wonders if the film, who’s reputation has improved over the years, wouldn’t have been so disliked initially had the extended edition been what hit the theaters in 2012.
THE DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott is a great filmmaker. Sure, for every Alien and Blade Runner there is The Counselor or Hannibal, but he can still craft magnificent films. Even the most ardent critics of Prometheus have to admit it’s a beautiful film. Not only that, but a beautiful film willing to take on big ideas we don’t often see explored in movies with blockbuster budgets (even if those ideas are fumbled in execution). Prometheus also allowed the director to finally tackle the origins of the xenomorph and explain what was piloting the derelict, something he’s wanted to do since 1979.
THE CAST: The film’s excellent cast is often squandered. Guy Pierce radiates as Peter Weyland in the TED talk promotional video, but makes a barely passable elderly man. Charlize Theron is an intimidating presence as Meredith Vickers, the hardass leader of the mission, but is given little to do with the role. Idris Elba arrives as Janek, a pilot who ultimately crashes the Prometheus to save mankind, with his loyal crew by his side. But we know nothing about him, or them, which prevents their grand sacrifice from being as heroic as the film would like.
There are two bright spots of course: Noomi Rapace as Shaw, the film’s suffering protagonist who somehow manages to face down an Engineer hours after having a proto-facehugger removed from her via an emergency c-section. Michael Fassbender’s David blends the likeability of Aliens’ Bishop with the psychopathic tendencies of Alien’s Ash, acting as the villain and also one of the few truly fleshed out (and, paradoxically, human) characters. He’s definitely way more defined than any of the other scientists or crew, especially Logan Marshall-Green’s mopey character.
NOSTALGIA-FEST OR REPRESSED NIGHTMARE? Too soon to say. There’s always a chance that Alien: Covenant will help redeem the film’s reputation. Perhaps future audiences will enjoy the film’s charms and overlook the glaring inconsistencies. But it’s only 2017, we’re not there yet.
RETROGRADE: 4.5 out of 10