Prometheus: A Weird and Wonderful Sci-Fi Horror

The new Alien: Covenant trailer was met with understandable applause upon release. Part of the reason for this is completely by design.

Following the lukewarm fan and critical reaction to Prometheus and the newer elements of the mythology it introduced, there seems to be a clear shift back towards classic Alien territory. Sure, the upcoming franchise entry is still a sequel to Prometheus, but everything about it screams Alien: the title, the setup and the presence of the iconic Xenomorphs to name a few. In theory, none of this is bad – Alien is a great franchise with three films that I love.

Alien

Alien and Aliens are a given, but the third film I’m referring to is in fact Prometheus. For this reason, while I welcome the return to more frequent iconic Alien elements, I am really hoping that these are blended in with the new stuff Prometheus introduced.

Firstly, the film looks beautiful. Given that we’re talking about Ridley Scott, the man who made Blade Runner, Alien and Gladiator, this is no surprise. No matter what you think of Scott’s many movies, they’re always great to look at. When you’re talking about a film that shows us far away worlds and their unknown inhabitants, this becomes key to world building and the success of the overall story. Prometheus gets an A+ in that department.

Then we have the lead. I’d like to talk about Elizabeth Shaw, a fantastic character played with great strength by Noomi Rapace. Comparisons to Ripley are inevitable when it comes to female leads in the Alien franchise, and whilst Shaw certainly had some of her steel and resolve, she was also very much her own character.

Shaw’s faith adds another layer of complexity to her character, and it ties in nicely with the film’s larger themes of creation and the origin of life across the universe. Rapace balances Shaw’s crisis of faith with her newly developed determination to survive very effectively. Every time I watch Prometheus, I find myself rooting for Elizabeth Shaw come the film’s end. Her supposedly limited involvement in Covenant is one point I’m already slightly disappointed with, but I’ll reserve judgement on that until I’ve actually seen the new movie.

Elizabeth Shaw as portrayed by Noomi Rapace

We can’t talk about characters in Prometheus without mentioning David, the resident android who continues the franchise tradition of having a compelling artificial presence on board the ship. Fassbender plays David as childlike and endlessly curious. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it works.

Shaw and David are the beating heart of the film, so it was only right that it ended with the former holding the latter’s head before departing for the Engineer’s home planet.

That leads us nicely to my final, most important point: I think Prometheus worked because the new mythology that it introduced into the Alien franchise was unique, compelling and weird.

 Yes, there’s a weird little sci-fi horror film hiding in the guts of Prometheus. The stuff I’m referring to includes many of the things others hate: the Engineers, the flute, that mysterious black liquid, the Hammerpede, the Deacon. I could go on. It all poses more questions than answers, but strange and different creative decisions surrounded by larger thematic elements with some great horror moments peppered throughout – that’s a cocktail I can get on board with.

Many of the stranger intricacies of the film are often said to be the doing of writer Damon Lindelof, which makes sense if you’ve seen any of his other work. But Ridley Scott is not a filmmaker who shirks on his own vision, so what we see on screen is absolutely his work.

The Engineer's

The Engineers and their practices are particularly fascinating. Did the large, pale humanoid creatures create human life? We are led to think so. But what is the next link in that chain? Why was there already a mural of a Xenomorph like creature on the walls? What is the significance of their home planet? How does this all lead to LV-426? The Engineers are interesting in design, too, as they appear simultaneously human and alien. They’re anther interesting wrinkle in the franchise mythology, and I can only hope that they continue to play a role going forward.

Prometheus does gives you your iconic body horror moment – Shaw’s Trilobite C-Section is wince-inducing, expertly crafted stuff and stays long in the mind. But it’s the interesting mixture of these familiar franchise elements, along with new mythological aspects that dared to be different and the posing of larger universal questions, that makes Prometheus such a joy to watch. I love Alien and Aliens, which are masterpieces of horror and action cinema, respectively. Prometheus is not a masterpiece; it’s messy, but it’s a very good mess that has taken the story in a new direction whilst moving it towards a familiar end goal. Alien can have its cake and eat it too. I just hope the powers-that-be have realised that and Covenant delivers yet another fine mess.

Ultimately, however, if Ridley Scott delivers another Alien with Alien: Covenant, you won’t find me complaining. I’m 100% game for that outcome. However, if he delivers another Prometheus, I’ll also be 100% there for that – and pleasantly surprised to boot.

The C Section scene in Prometheus

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Connor Davey

I write about film & tv for pleasure, digital & social media for work. I love horror, sci-fi, western and experimental or avant-garde cinema.

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