My issue with Aliens is how James Cameron changed what the Alien-story is about. Ridley Scott, in Alien, shows that it is about bigger issues than simply creatures-chased-in-hallways. It is about what it is to be human, issues about class and expectations of life – and what we all desperately seek: answers to profound and philosophical questions regarding faith. Prometheus takes us down the road that Ridley wanted to take us down – no wall-to-wall, “get-away-from-her-you-bitch!”, guns-and-gore sequences here. This is epic in scale, personal and creepy with you left wanting more. You ask more questions than you get answers. And this is what Ridley Scott does best with Science-Fiction – both Blade Runner and Alien leave you thinking about the questions raised, rather than simply cramming the film in action.
Ridley Scott knows how to frame a shot. Think about the overhead-shots in Mogadishu in Black Hawk Dawn or the awe-inspiring scale of the Colosseum in Gladiator. Scott shoots this film knowing that we anticipate his return to Sci-Fi with baited breath. Every shot, still, is breath-taking. The opening sequence portrays robot David (Michael Fassbender) wander around the spaceship ‘Prometheus’ as all humans are in hyper-sleep. Camera fixed to shoot symmetrical-doors and rooms alongside exceptionally advanced equipment. Screens that dominate entire-walls. On the one hand, we know the similar aesthetics are akin to the ‘Nostromo’ – the shape of the doors, the logos and layout of computers. On the other hand, it is a ship of the highest-quality and provides first-class service from Weyland Industries. This is the most important financial-project Weyland has committed to – costing three trillion dollars, according to Vickers (Charlize Theron), our manager of the crew.
Small nods to Alien are littered all over the place – from the meal-time introduction of the crew, through to the planet we visit and the ‘space-jockey’ reveal. Storms on the planet provide ample opportunity to show the scale of the planet – much-like the 1979 original – and we see the small size of the humans in correlation to what they discover. Like the original, every shot could be freeze-framed and hung on a wall.
From the introduction of Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), we know that faith is important to her. Despite her huge interest in seeking answers to questions that are found in the farthest reaches of space, and exploring historic sites that existed thousands of years before Jesus, she still wears a cross with pride. This is human – faith and belief is human. We believe in these things because, whether we seek it on earth or in death, we desperately want something more than our small-stay on this planet.
Shaw and Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) have differing outlooks that represent their gender. Holloway is stubborn and impulsive, Shaw is maternal and emotional. In one sequence, Shaw shows Holloway how humans are directly connected to the “Engineers” through a DNA sample – it is shot in a way that implies the two are sharing, and observing a positive pregnancy-test.
Being impulsive and passionate, holding onto faith and personally craving a child all connect to our human traits. The two doctors are at odds with David and Vickers – they have different belief systems. Some believe in seeking answers for the sake of understanding mortality, others seeks answers to control mortality and gain immortality.
The overarching theme – from the very first scene – is Death. Almost every character shows a different attitude towards death. There are those like FiField (Sean Harris) and Millburn (Rafe Spall) who fear their death. It is something they do not understand and are not willing to accept. There are those who fear it – but accept it. Shaw specifically has experienced both her parents death – but she accepts this is a part of life. Others understand what it is to sacrifice their life, whilst others want to extend life, and achieve immortality.
Like the quadrilogy, the theme of capitalism and greed does come up, but it is not the same as what we have seen before. Does anyone have the right to control life? That is the bigger question. Wealth and money is merely a means to an end. Aliens manages to deeply explore how greed and money are what fuel the future but, the same capitalist attitude will be what destroys us. Prometheus merely uses this idea as a backdrop – because one thing everyone connects to – and will experience – is the end of life. Power, wealth and control cannot and will not give life.
I write this following a viewing at an IMAX. It is my first viewing. Still, I want to know more. The final few scenes raise more questions about the future of the franchise. But it seems that Ridley Scott has ensured that the franchise is back on course – it can now explore the galaxy further to ask the questions we seek ourselves. Cinema can be mesmerising and, the fact that this film does not have big guns (indeed, flame-throwers and pistols are the only weapons we see – whilst Shaw clearly states how “this is a science expedition” and weaponry shouldn’t be required) and relies purely on a magnificent artist wielding the camera, alongside brilliant actors in front of the camera, mean that this film will last the test of time. David states at one-point how “Big things have small beginnings”. The beginning of the Alien saga has an epic-scale asking ginormous questions – it is bigger than any film in the franchise. I will revisit the film and I’m sure I could explore more…
One thing I haven’t touched upon is femininity – a theme that is weaved into Prometheus at its core.
A great reboot that simply reaffirms how great a filmmaker Ridley Scott truly is. Re-establishes what is great about Alien and, at the same time, manages to modernise it with an outstanding cast. But, if you like the Alien series because of Aliens then be a little cautious going in – this isn’t shoot-em-up, guns-blasting territory.
Prometheus seems to have the potential to raise some very interesting questions about what indeed could possibly be out there, and raises a few questions about our society as a whole.
And what questions would they be?