The point of this piece is not to point out the plot holes of Prometheus or to answer any of the many unanswered questions, there are plenty of articles that attempt to do that already on this website, no answers here. The seed for this piece was planted when I innocently (or so I thought), suggested to some friends that I quite enjoyed the film, boy did that open a can of worms.
Even the most staunchly ardent defenders of Prometheus are unlikely to concede that there’s nothing wrong with it, though the level of criticism from some seems harsh in the extreme, like Ridley Scott had punched their child, hard, in the face. Calls on message boards of “Ridley Scott is a jerk” and Damon Lindehof (co-writer) “ruined Prometheus”. But why? It’s just another slightly nonsensical, yet largely well-made, big-budget, science fiction movie isn’t it? A summer blockbuster made by arguably one of the greatest living directors. So what’s with all the anger? No one cared when Kingdom of Heaven flopped or when Russell Crowe couldn’t decide whether Robin Hood was Irish or Australian, so it doesn’t seem like it’s the Ridley Scott fans.
The obvious answer is Alien. With Alien comes expectation, years of fans of the original and best Alien film started to get excited, anticipation began to grow; the guy who started it all is returning to LV-426, or at least somewhere close by. Despite Sir Ridley and his “this is not a prequel to Alien” warnings, it clearly is. It was initially announced as a prequel and anyone who’s seen the film can clearly see it still is. Just because it’s a different planet Ridley, the film is about the origins of the xenomorph itself, the thing that was pretty crucial to the masterpiece you made in 1979. Not only did Prometheus have Alien breathing down its neck, it had the budget and was marketed and released as a summer blockbuster, but it also had to please the sci-fi fan boys, the most discerning of all fan boys.
Despite Ridley’s protestations, it doesn’t seem there are many further arguments denying Prometheus is a prequel, so lets just agree that, for the rest of this article at least, it is. Arguably, if it weren’t linked with Alien, Prometheus wouldn’t have been made. Who’s going to bankroll a $130 million original sci-fi movie directed by someone whose more recent track record has been pretty sketchy, in the same year The Avengers, Spider-Man and Batman are all scheduled to be released? It’s unlikely, but say a studio did take that leap of faith, would the box office have gotten to the level it has? We all saw what happened with John Carter. Sure, that is subjective, but the likely answer is probably not. Prometheus has received far from unanimous acclaim from the critics, despite the rise of Michael Fassbender, has no A-list level stars and as evidenced by Ridley Scott’s inconsistent box office haul, audiences haven’t gone to see it because of him, Alien and its legacy are surely a direct cause of Prometheus success.
If Alien is the reason for Prometheus’ success then Prometheus is in its debt, it owes the original and possibly more importantly, its fans, a great deal of respect, so maybe this is why they got angry?
Speaking in general terms, the criticism surrounding Prometheus seems to be regarding the writing – the script, the ideas, the theories, and the questions. So much so that the fact that it was mostly screened in 3D seems of little cause for concern. It looks great, its largely well acted with Fassbender’s performance receiving particular acclaim, and truth be told, its well directed. It’s suitably tense when it should be and the action set pieces (whether they make sense or not) are exciting. Occasionally, dare it be said, it’s reminiscent of Alien.
Not to say Alien wasn’t well written, the relationships and camaraderie of the crew is somewhere the films are directly comparable and one where Alien is far superior (did Idris Elba’s right-hand men even say a word?) but lets not forget, it was famously pitched as “Jaws in space”. It didn’t ask questions, it didn’t explain, a crew on a spaceship was terrorised and killed one by one, but we cared.
Now Prometheus is a prequel (sorry Ridley), it has to explain, and this is where it gets tricky. Maybe its naïve, maybe it’s ambitious, but rather than just explain “how” John Hurt and co came to make a discovery they wish they hadn’t all those years ago, but it tries to explain “why?”. “Explain” is a strong word, it at least toys with the idea of “why?” It introduces ideas about faith and asks bigger questions, questions that aren’t unfamiliar in science fiction, but questions it doesn’t even try to answer, like that show Lost.
Remember that hit show Lost, the one that asked question after question without seemingly knowing the answer? The one that thought, one season in, that a suitable reveal, the one we’d all been waiting for after 25 episodes, was the discovery of a ladder, fade to black, season over. Well Damon Lindelof does.
Prometheus was co-written by John Spaihts (co-writer of, according to Shaun Munro, “worst sci-fi film since Skyline”, The Darkest Hour) and Damon Lindelof, whose major writing credits include the poorly received mash-up movie Cowboys & Aliens and 45 episodes of Lost, as well as being co-creator. This is at whose feet the key criticisms levelled against Prometheus lie. It’s one thing to propose the big questions and grandiose theories, admirable even, but it’s another to have no answer, even worse, to not even give the impression you know or care what the answer may be. Whereas Lost was a somewhat trashy, increasingly ridiculous TV show, Alien is something with a heritage, it means a lot to people, its one of the greatest ever science fiction films. The way Prometheus was written didn’t respect this, which in turn disrespects the fans, which is what makes them angry. It feels like an insult when a cherished legacy isn’t treated with the care it deserves.
Its not Lindelof’s fault he got hired to write Prometheus, but someone hired him and with potentially 2 further Prometheus sequels to come, will the ideas set up in Prometheus start to make sense? Will the questions be answered and will they be satisfactory? By the time the 3rd film is released, will anyone care? It took Lost 121 episodes and an ever-decreasing audience to get where it got, and it’s not even clear where that is.
With a few tweaks here and there, any links to Alien could be removed from Prometheus and then it’s just a reasonably enjoyable sci-fi flick with 2 more films to come, no pressure. The thing is, remove those links to Alien and the film probably doesn’t exist at all. Prometheus owed Alien and its fans, but it didn’t respect that, and that is why the fans justifiably get upset. Maybe there’ll be a director’s cut that goes someway to appeasing the disgruntled. Maybe the damage has already been done. Now for the sake of fans everywhere, can someone stop Ridley before he starts on that Blade Runner sequel, if that gets made the Internet may well implode.