Prometheus (2012) (DVD review).

Finally settling down to watch Ridley Scott’s prequel to ‘Alien’, I ended up being rather ambivalent about it. He scores well on visuals but very poor on emotional content. Whether this is his fault or that of his scriptwriters or somewhere in between, I haven’t decided yet.

Having the story set in 2093, which is only 80 years in the future and where we have become advanced enough to have faster-than-light spaceships and viable androids is far too close to the present day for that to happen. I would have thought a good couple centuries more would have been a lot more realistic.


There’s an incredible flaw at the beginning where they identify the planetary system where the aliens…excuse me, Engineers were pointing to. Sensibly, these Engineers are avoiding pointing at their home planet but it seems like an odd clue to leave to primitive humans as to where they should go next. Why show the planets? Surely a star chart would have been more effective and if there was problems with the expanding universe, then matching this to Earth rotation would surely have helped to point the direction for this particular outpost. Then again, who truly left this information? Doesn’t appear to be the work of the Engineers but those pesky humans decorating their wall paintings looking at alien maps and thought them balls to be included.

The Weyland company organise an expedition to see what is there, solely on the word of scientists and believers Elizabeth Shaw (actress Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (actor Logan Marshall-Green) who want to investigate. Of the seventeen crew, only one stayed awake throughout, that being the android David (actor Michael Fassbender) who is crash-coursing a lot of ancient languages to be a better linguist. It’s interesting that their starship, the Prometheus, is a lot cleaner than the latter Nostromo but presumably one of the activities we don’t see is David cleaning things up with a feather duster.

The crew is totally dysfunction. Captain Janek (played by Edris Elba) who isn’t even interested in being briefed on the mission when they get there. An anti-social geologist Millburn (actor Rafe Spall) who later instead of going out onto the alien planet to make sense of the environment, prefers to look around the Engineers territory. Even Shaw and Holloway tend to exhibit being more religiously inclined towards the Engineers than scientific curiosity as it belief is enough. I think I’ve got the parts noted down right, especially as so many are in make-up. The fact that none of the crew really connect to each other also doesn’t help when danger abounds and they just take it in their stride like headless chickens.

Clues abound that link the location to things we know about the xenomorphs further along the time-line. It was always suspected, even when I watch ‘Alien’ back in 1978 that the xenomorphs were bio-tech and a lot of this film goes along with confirming this, although not really the reason, especially as the Engineers are also vulnerable to it. If you’re creating a weapon, who are you planning to use it against? I doubt if the humans were the first choice although invading a poisoned environment, it is understandable that the surviving Engineer would think it would make sense to kill them all. Maybe to fight the hunter predators out there? Although a weapon that can kill from within and is dangerous to any species does not make much sense, even from a ‘superior’ species.

The expedition is very much done by numbers and the evolving xenomorphs are rapidly evolving from something smaller than insects to something much larger shows an experiment way out of control. It’s only when they start using recombinant DNA to bond with other species that they stop looking like Lovecraftian worms and take on more humanoid characteristics. It does make you wonder what else the xenomorphs absorbed to get the extended piping on their backs.

There are some surprises along the way and if you’ve delayed watching until now, like me, then it would be too much spoiler. So, let’s concentrate on my reactions.

Take the atmosphere in the Engineers’ environment. Granted they were lucky enough to find it comparable to Earth’s and eleven degrees below zero centigrade, taking their helmets off to make it easier to speak also forgets a certain element of quarantine from a potentially dangerous environment. If humans are similar to Engineers, then surely to Betsy we would also be susceptible to the same bugs as well. I’m still not too sure on that one and even some of the science crew remind us about it contravening evolution. I suspect, there are some similarities to the Monoliths from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ in that they might have done some manipulation of primitive apes. The Engineers show that they have some grasp of recombinant DNA manipulation so maybe they just helped the Earth bipeds along a bit.

The worse thing by far is that you don’t really care for this crew. They are bitchy or have too much self-interest to compare about others that when they get killed off, you don’t really care. ‘Prometheus’ lacks emotional content which could surely have been added had the script been allowed another re-write to develop this.

Although the CGI effects are good, the use of them when applied to ground vehicles is as dicey as used in the CGI ‘Captain Scarlet’ series a few years back. The vehicles have no gravitas and move far too quickly for you not to think they aren’t real. Considering the advancements in technology, why weren’t there any flying vehicles or was Scott afraid to draw comparisons to Jim Cameron’s ‘Aliens’ dropships?

Certainly, he’s borrowed from a lot of different sources. The pyramid where the alien ‘Engineers’ are found borrows directly from HR Geiger’s original designs although it doesn’t look that much like a pyramid. The spacesuits the humans wear remind me of those painted by artist Jim Burns. I’m going to have to look for the exact picture, but the Engineers themselves resemble one of his pictures as well.

Some elements from the ‘Predator/Alien’ films have been taken on-board although the Weyland company has yet to merge with Yutani or maybe they are having a name crisis at the time or the loss of their CEO changed things.

The android David could have given a better explanation as to the need of a spacesuit on the planet as a means to protect his sensory equipment. In the massive credits, I didn’t spot a science advisor although I might just have missed that.

As to aspects of the xenomorphs themselves. Even with the original ‘Alien’, it was pretty obvious that they had absorbed the space jockey/now Engineer physiology into their anatomy and were bio-tech creations out of control themselves. It’s a bit of a grey area as to how they can grow so large without eating something, although the ‘Alien’ novelisation pointed out that that particular xenomorph helped itself to the Nostromo food supplies, this isn’t attributed to in any of the other films. They can’t have just been created to act as a pesticide against humans and considering the physical differences between Engineers and humans, I would have thought it doubtful that we’d ever be a threat to them. Saying that, reviving an Engineer and his first reaction is to destroy those who wake him can hardly be that of a thoughtful sentient trying to work out what has gone on or wrong unless David was rude to him…well, unless he saw them as being contaminated. You’d have at least thought he might have a watch to tell him how long he’d be in hibernation.999

Why would Shaw think the Engineer head would have a similar brain to human, let alone react to a drug that would be unlikely to be used onEarth?

On the plus side, this is probably the first genuine Autodoc in all but name to be shown in a film.

There are a lot of unanswered questions. If all the people were killed or missing, including key Weyland personal, why weren’t more rescue teams sent and why was the company still interested a couple centuries down the line? How could Shaw send a message out when she no longer had a long range radio? Speaking of messages, you might want to play ‘Spot The Dialogue’ where lines or their emotional content were used in the other ‘Alien’ films.

Although this is probably spoiler, at the end, Shaw and David takes off in the Engineer starship that is likely to contain hibernating Engineers and possibly the contagion. I mean, it wouldn’t have been just one team running for safety. Maybe we’ll see the answers to that in the second ‘Prometheus’ film currently in pre-production.

I’m at a loss how director Ridley Scott thinks ‘Prometheus’ is divorced from the ‘Alien’ film or reality. The emphasis had to have always been the Space Jockey or Engineers and their part in the rise of the xenomorphs. In that respect, this film does address these questions, although it does raise more questions as a result.

The extras are confined to deleted scenes which contributed to my reluctance to splash out until now. As Ridley Scott is working on ‘Prometheus 2’, I can’t see a special edition arriving any time soon in DVD format. Saying that, he has stated in interviews that he actually filmed a two and a half hour film, so I wouldn’t be surprised in seeing a DVD special edition released prior to the second film release and see if the omitted material covers some of the failings pointed out in this version.

I’m still trying to work out what the difference between the US and rest of the world editions would be. I have to confess that I don’t think ‘Prometheus’ is a classic like ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens’ are. If anything, I think it is trying too hard and falling short of being truly great. Saying that, I suspect it’ll get further analysis.

GF Willmetts

May 2013

(region 1 DVD: pub: Twentieth Century Fox 2281400. Price: about £11.00 (UK) if you’re prepared to look abroad. 124 minute film 1 DVD with a couple extras)

cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green and Charlize Theron

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