Prometheus has been billed as the big high-concept sci-fi film of the year. It’s directed by Ridley Scott, who returns to science fiction 30 years after he made Blade Runner, which many consider to be the best sci-fi film ever made (It most definitely is one of the most visually enthralling films ever made, and this was before CGI and 3D).
Scott’s other iconic film is of course Alien (1979), which merged the space fantasy and horror genres to create one of the nastiest pieces of claustrophobic entertainment ever made. Prometheus has been described as a prequel to Alien, though Scott himself has been ambiguous about it in interviews. Well, what is very clear is that the story of Prometheus takes place in the same universe as the Alien films, though perhaps a couple of hundred years before the space tug Nostromo landed on an apparently uninhabited planet, in Alien.
But while in that classic monster movie, Scott was primarily concerned with scaring the pants off the audience, Prometheus has much bigger ambitions—to find out how human life came to be on earth. Questions can’t get much bigger than that. In fact, Prometheus leaves you with the sense that Scott and his writers thought up the question, and then threw some random darts at it, and then just scratched their heads some and said bugger it, let’s just stick with some tantalizing hints and focus on some truly gruesome scenes.
The net effect is general audience puzzlement, as if we missed something that was hovering in the film, just on the periphery of our attention. That’s the charitable explanation. A more cynical view would be that the film’s makers too don’t have a clue.
And you are also left with a niggling suspicion that Scott has just remade Alien, with cleaver high-concept camouflage, and this time with a much bigger budget and better technology. Because, on our way home after watching the film, I was telling my daughter the story of Alien, and at a certain point, both of us looked at each other and said: “Isn’t that more or less the story of Prometheus?”
Meanwhile comes the news that Scott’s next film will be a sequel to Blade Runner. Surely this is too much of a coincidence? To me, it sounds like an old man having a very good time, trying to make his best stuff even better, and not bothering to struggle with new ideas. At least with Prometheus, he hasn’t been able to improve on the original. Can he do it with Blade Runner? It’s a huge ask, given the uber-cult status of the film. Millions of Blade Runner freaks will be already cracking their knuckles in anticipation. And cultists can be awfully cruel sometimes.