Trying to find another person who enjoyed Ridley Scott’s notoriously divisive Prometheus is as insurmountable a task as discovering a living organism in the vast expanse of space. It’s a movie that was so profoundly hated on release by the majority of filmgoers that—in hindsight—it feels like one of the inaugural lightning rods for the swathes of nostalgic, disillusioned fans to rally against in unison.
In other words, Prometheus was arguably one of the first victims of today’s growing pop culture backlash behaviour. You just need to look to the overblown fan backlash of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Alien: Covenant to witness this widespread internet-age phenomenon. But why was Prometheus one of its first victims?
Frankly, I believe there’s one major reason why many walked away from Prometheus disappointed: Hype. It goes without saying that the Alien series is a beloved cinematic franchise. It’s also fair to say that 20th Century Fox has found it difficult to recapture the iconic magic of 1979’s Alien and 1986’s Aliens. Both films are, understandably, regarded as sci-fi masterpieces within a series that spans four mainline films, two cross-franchise offshoots, and two prequel features, too.
To craft a prequel within the context of a well-established cross-generational horror franchise, with the director of the OG Alien flick at the helm, was a tantalising prospect for sci-fi fans. Unfortunately, it’s in this writer’s humble opinion, that unrealistically sky-high expectations got the better of Prometheus and the aforementioned fan backlash was the end result. It also doesn’t help that Scott’s oft-derided pic tried its best to strike out in a brand-new direction, which possibly alienated lifelong fans of the series.
Why’s there a tall pasty dude drinking black goo next to a waterfall, in an Alien movie? Why’s the Weyland corporation going on a mission to find the origins of human life, in an Alien movie? Why are there no Xenomorphs, in an—you get the picture, right?
Sure, if Prometheus is anything, I hope we can all agree that it’s a thematically complex piece of sci-fi horror filmmaking that asks big, existential questions. Where do we come from? Who created us? Why were we created in the first place? Clearly, Scott’s deep, cerebral enigmas are the centrifugal force that propel the movie forward, and it’s hard to not at least respect the British director’s sheer ambitiousness with this project. This ain’t no cookie-cutter Alien clone like 2017’s decent-yet-uninspired Life horror flick. Prometheus is something new, something fresh, and something noticeably bold in narrative, style, texture, tone and delivery.
Like a piece of well-written prose, akin to classic sci-fi literature from the likes of Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke, it’s a borderline anti-hollywood cinematic experience that sometimes asks the viewer to join the opaque dots themselves, and figure out what its big questions mean to them. Undoubtedly, it’s a movie to mull over, dissect and talk about for years to come. And you know what? I love Prometheus because of that.
I appreciate how confidently it holds its narrative cards close to its chest. It’s a film that has the utmost faith in its own vision and boldly does things its own way. And, as a result, I have supreme admiration for Prometheus. Perhaps even more so than its oft-maligned sequel, Alien: Covenant.
For some context, I very much enjoyed Alien: Covenant, as well. However, when compared to Prometheus, 2017’s sequel-to-the-prequel is a film that often feels like it had been strong-armed by the whims of its studio and fanbase, and inevitably bowed to these aforementioned pleas. Essentially, the studio and fanbase won. Ironically, though, this studio meddling and attempt to placate the fanbase backfired significantly. You wanted more Xenomorphs in Prometheus? Well, guess what? Its sequel is going to have ‘em shoehorned in at the end… and you’re still going to hate it. Go figure.
Make no mistake, there are elements of Prometheus that could’ve been refined. One of the major plot-holes within the film is the sheer ineptitude of the scientists on-board the titular spacecraft. Milburn and Fifield, who, quite hilariously poke a hissing snake-like extraterrestrial critter expecting it to “come in peace” is admittedly head-scratching stuff. Interestingly, in one of the original scripts, Vickers—Weyland’s disgruntled, disenfranchised daughter (who is often theorised to be a synthetic herself)—attempts to sabotage her father’s mission for immortality by deliberately hiring a second-rate, dunderheaded team. Curiously, this narrative tidbit was left on the cutting room floor, which is frustrating as it would’ve ironed out one of the oft-levelled criticisms that haunt Scott’s feature to this day.
Ultimately, Prometheus—and its 2017 successor—may not be the “perfect organisms” like the iconic monsters that sit at the heart of this awe-inspiring franchise. But credit should be given where credit is due. Visually, Prometheus is arguably one of the most stunning sci-fi films ever made. Narratively, it’s a piece of filmmaking that ardently tries to strike out in fresh, new directions. Plus, it’s a remarkably bold and ambitious hollywood movie that asks big, philosophical questions, to boot. I don’t know about you, but I think that Prometheus got an unfair rap at first blush, and it’s a travesty that we may never truly see a conclusion to Scott’s prequel Alien trilogy.
“Big things have small beginnings,” David famously muses. Sadly, it appears that big things don’t have endings, though. And that breaks my heart.