I have tried where possible to avoid major spoilers. Anything that might upset people will be in indented italics
With the release of Prometheus in the UK this weekend and the forthcoming US release this coming weekend, I thought I would give a brief analysis of the film from the point of view of a writer. With such a rich and finely evolved mythology over the last 33 years, it would have been easy for Director Ridley Scott to feel overwhelmed and either angrily trash what followed or attempt to rewrite it. I’m pleased to say that neither of these premises come to pass. What he does do is attempt to give us answers to questions from the very first film long since argued over.
A True Prequel in Honour of the Original
Ignoring the travesties that were AvP and AvP: Requiem, we are quickly thrust into the plot that many ancient civilisations who had no contact with each other and were sometimes not contemporary all had once thing in common: the mysterious inclusion of what appears to be a starmap. Months into the voyage to one of these planets, the truth is revealed to the assembled team including the archaeologist that found such an example of cave art in Skye, Scotland. Highlighted as proof of non-human intelligence on other worlds, this single scene quickly discards the two films without further regard. Okay, so that was the biggest obstacle for the writers out of the way. Hardly genius, but much appreciated by fans of the original nonetheless.
The next issue was perhaps to decide whether the moon they visit would be the same as that visited by Nostromo on its ill-fated voyage. The less observant might not have realised that it is in fact a different moon/planet. Designated LV223 (the moon in Alien is LV426), it has a similar topography, weather patterns and it too has a crashed ship although this one is under the ground. Having visited the IMDB boards over the weekend there seems to be some confusion so let me make this point once only: This is a different moon around a different planet with a different crashed ship.
Okay. So, the more difficult issue for the writers was how to make a prequel that did not contradict the films that Scott did like – particularly his original film. Too often screenwriters can go overboard and forget to use the baseline original material and the audience comes away feeling quite exasperated. But now that we have established that it is a different ship they can – to an extent – have free reign to populate the ship with whatever they pleased. Some of you may squeal in delight at seeing the chamber of… not xenomorph eggs… but cannisters arranged so as to look like Kane’s discovery of the eggs and these cannisters later prove to have a black liquid inside that have ominous properties. The only major inclusion is the giant human face and the xenomorph mural. Later on we get a clear look at the navigation system that is identical to the fossilised creature that Kane discovers.
SPOILER: The black liquid seems to be either a substance that accelerates evolution or mutates anything that ingests or otherwise absorbs it – witness the worms transforming into the thing that is being called the “hammerpede”.
Yet the Engineer we see at the beginning drinks some of this black liquid and his body disintegrates into the waterfall. Is this the creation of life on Earth as hinted at throughout the film?
Do We Get Answers?
I think what most readers and viewers want from a prequel is answers. Unfortunately, I think we get too few with this film though for me it hints heavily toward an answer to the biggest question: did the xenomorph evolve or was it created by the spacejockeys (called in this film, Engineers)? It heavily hints toward one of these answers but stops short of making it beyond doubt. Amusingly, I think the answer may be somewhere in the middle.
It does answer the question of what the spacejockeys look like and…
SPOILER: I was personally disappointed to see that they were not actually pachydermic, that the apparent short trunk was a helmet, part of the Engineer’s spacesuit and breathing apparatus.
We actually get more questions than answers which sets up for the inevitable sequel but the problem for that is that the more prequels you create, the harder it could be for the directors and writers to keep it coherent and faithful to the original. By setting this on a different ship on a different moon, Scott has given himself some leeway in expanding his universe within the boundaries of his original film and its direct sequels. So far, there has been nothing to contradict those sequels but the more films are made (there will undoubtedly be a sequel), that danger increases.
SPOILER: I think the biggest problem is going to be the giant facehugger and the proto-xenomorph. Scott originally said that no xenomorph would appear in the film. Well, that was a half truth because we see a creature that is clearly a primitive version of our beloved xenomorph. Exactly how Scott intends to show how genetic manipulation changed it from the green leathery thing of Prometheus into the black chitinous creatures we know from the original films may make or break the concept.
There are a handful of plot holes but the screenplay is largely coherent, tantalising hints of what is to come may cause some grumbles of not having to wait another 33 years but I think most viewers will be satisfied with Prometheus.