Prometheus – a Failed Homage to Alien
Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) is one of the milestones of the science fiction cinema. While in its core Alien is just a haunted house story set in space, it provides enough stunning imagery, provocative ideas, and interesting characters to raise above a simple premise. It is also a unique combination of two film genres, i.e. horror and science fiction. It is considered a classic of both genres. Since its release sequels, rip-offs and cross-over films tried to recreate the original’s unique atmosphere and mood with a relative success. The audience has been waiting for another successful Alien film for decades. The dedicated fans wanted questions, raised in the first film, to be answered. It has resulted in a prequel, or a spiritual successor, to the first Alien film, made by the same director – Ridley Scott – Prometheus (2012). It has contained many of tropes and plot points from Alien and even raised some curious philosophical ideas. While an improvement over the previous films, it was still no match for the original one. Prometheus can be considered a homage to the Alien film, but not equal. Both movies contain similar science fiction elements, resembling characters, even same lot points. However, Prometheus never quite matches the heights of a predecessor. To understand, why such similar films, created by the same author, have turned out to be so different, they must be compared and analyzed.
The plot of Alien is rather simple. A group of astronauts lands on a mysterious planet to study a supposed alien ship. One of crewmembers is infected with an alien parasite, which hatches and starts to hunt other members of a crew. Despite the simplicity of the story, the most interesting elements of the film are in minor details. The entire reproductive cycle of an alien creature is recreated in details. It provides the plot with much needed probability.
The production design of the alien creature and the planet is found on what has been created by a famous artist H. R. Giger. It was unique for the time and still looks impressive. The alien ship itself looks unearthly, with Giger’s famous combination of flesh and technologies. It looks like entrails of a living organism. On the ship, the astronauts find the first artifact that will be later used in Prometheus, i.e. a creature called “the space jockey.” It is a figure of a supposed pilot of the alien ship, operating a giant console, with his chest broken from the inside. There is no explanation if the jockey-creature is a suit or an alien itself. The intention of filmmakers was to create a mystery.
Prometheus tells a story of a group of scientists. They travel to an unknown planet, following the coordinates found in different parts of the Earth in order to find the supposable creators of humanity. The following events mostly mirror the plot of the Alien, with a mysterious liquid, which causes genetic mutations, instead of alien eggs. The mystery, which has surrounded the space jockey, is answered almost immediately. It turns out to be a humanoid alien in a space suit. The aliens, called engineers, have created the humanity. This process is shown in an opening scene of the movie, which does not leave much for the viewers’ imagination. The title of Prometheus is a reference to an ancient Greek myth about a hero, who gave fire to the humanity against the will of gods. This reference was supposed to mean that science, which helps the humanity to discover secrets of the universe, can also bring the wrath of unknown forces.
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The most noticeable difference between Alien and Prometheus is related to the characters and the way their actions influence the plot. The heroes in Alien are a crew of a cargo ship, being not the professional scientists in comparison with the characters of Prometheus. They act adequately according to the situation. They are killed n0ot because of some stupid and absurd decisions. It happens because of the alien creature being a natural predator. The surprising part about the cast of the film Alien is that the main protagonist, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), is a woman. It was unique and progressive for the time to have a strong female leading in a sci-fi film. Moreover, the character of Ripley is not presented as the protagonist until the third act of the film. It has created an illusion of vulnerability of all characters. Another surprising twist in Alien is that one of the characters, Ash (John Hurt), turns out to be a dangerous human-looking android. It is shocking and original, mostly because nothing in the movie is pointing to such an unusual turn of events. It is because the scene, where Ash is revealed to be an android, was brutal and intense.
In Prometheus, the characters are scientists, so their actions should have been more logical and well thought out. That is why all absurd actions they commit seem inadequate and insulting for a viewer. The protagonists of the film are Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and android David (Michael Fassbender). He is also the antagonist in this movie. His character is the most interesting one because he embodies a main conflict between the creator and his creation. It takes the center stage in the plot. The hero of David is ambiguous. While he is the one who puts everyone in the crew of Prometheus in danger, by infecting one of crewmembers with the liquid found in the alien ship, he is also very sympathetic. As he is the one of the few interesting heroes in the film, the audience is almost forced to relate to him. The rest of the cast is rather bland, despite being performed by great actors. The problem with the film is that most of horrible events shown are caused by the characters acting irrationally. For example, they show a total disregard to any safety measures. These inconsistencies are used to move the plot of the movie forward.
While the plot and characters in Prometheus are very flawed, it has some features that the creators must get the credit for. Unlike Alien, it deals with more interesting philosophical ideas. The plot of Alien is mostly devoted to the survival of memorable characters in an extreme situation. There is no place left for deep sci-fi ideas. The main motive of the film is the fear of rape and violation of a human body by a parasite. The motive of sexual violation is present throughout the film, from the set design with various phallic images to the way the face hugger alien attacks an astronaut. Moreover, there is the above mentioned scene, where android Ash tries to recreate the alien conception when attacking Ripley. This motive is also present in Prometheus. However, the fear of the human organism being taken over and changed by the alien force is now much deeper. It is presented not by just the parasite, but by some changes on a genetic level, by hideous mutations caused by the alien biological weapon. The infamous scene in Alien, i.e. the birth of a creature, which remains one of the most shocking gruesome scenes in the history of horror films, has its analogue in Prometheus. There Shaw goes through the operation to remove the alien parasite growing in her womb. This scene, being very naturalistic, does not have the same effect as the alien birth.
Unlike Alien, Prometheus does feature some ideas on the humanity’s role in the universe, and the attempts of mankind to discover its roots and understand why our creators decided to destroy humankind. These questions are answered in the most obvious ways possible or left unanswered for the possible sequel. The decision to create a new film from Prometheus works against it. There are a lot of loose ends and unanswered questions left. The display of the early version of the alien creature in the closing scene does not help to join the film with its spiritual predecessor, but feels forced.
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With all of its flaws, Prometheus was a very brave attempt to recreate the unique mood and atmosphere of the legendary Alien film. The movie has its strong sides, like actor performances and visual effects; there are numerous impressive action scenes and some intense horror. It is also heavy on scientific theories and symbolism, including mythological and religious motives. The failure of Prometheus lies in the fact that it tried to be the homage and successor to the first Alien film too much by recreating whole scenes from it. It attempted copying the characters and complicating the background of the very simple concept. In Prometheus, Ridley Scott and the crew of screenwriters have tried too hard to please all possible audiences, by creating an action blockbuster science fiction film with deep ideas and elements of the Alien mythology. The parts of the plot in this film are used, recycled, and reassembled throughout the movie. It results in a lack of originality. When compared to the original Alien film, Prometheus lacks its own subtlety and concentration. However, it is very hard to follow such a legendary movie, which is now an integral part of the modern culture. Anyway, Prometheus is still a brave attempt, which deserves the attention to be paid to.