When it was first announced that Ridley Scott would be returning to the franchise he created over 30 years earlier with an Alien prequel, sci-fi fans rejoiced. Then the acclaimed director flatly denied Prometheus would be a true prequel, instead saying the movie would simply be set in the same universe and share some of the same DNA. But when trailers started popping up with awfully familiar-looking spaceships, Space Jockeys and synthetics, well, people started getting confused. Just how much of Alien's DNA is in Prometheus?

Scott's epic pseudo-prequel takes things back to 2093, when a team of scientists head into deep space on a search for mankind's origins, eventually landing on a faraway planet and stumbling into those aforementioned familiar surroundings. Mistakes are repeated: specimens are questionably brought back onto the ship, an android's motives are called into doubt, and faces are stuck way too close to slithery alien creatures.

But as Scott expands the Alien mythos, he also takes Prometheus into grander sci-fi territory, asking big questions about where humanity came from, and borrowing from other sci-fi classics in the process. So where did Prometheus come from? I broke down its DNA in an attempt to find out.

James Cameron: In the 30+ years since Scott first introduced audiences to those acid-drooling ETs, the Alien franchise has seen three sequels and two spin-offs. So with their future (and interstellar beef with Predators) pretty much covered, it only made sense for Scott to return to the beginning. And he found his inspiration in James Cameron's sequel as much as his own genre-defining Alien.

Because as far as Scott was concerned, he left a huge plot hole in Alien -- namely, who was that giant alien skeleton (nicknamed the "Space Jockey" by crew and fans), why did he have a cargo hold full of chest-bursting alien eggs, and where was he taking them? The director assumed Cameron's follow-up would head down that obvious (at least, to him) path, but when he didn't, and neither did anyone else who followed him, Scott decided to figure out the answers for himself -- with varying success. So if you don't like what he and Prometheus' writers came up with, there's only one solution: blame James Cameron.

Blade Runner: Since Scott is still talking about making a sequel to his other unquestioned sci-fi classic, it's clear he's not quite through exploring artificial intelligence and the defining line between man and machine, whether you call them replicants or synthetics. In Alien, Ian Holm's Ash was really just a plot twist. In Prometheus, like Blade Runner before it, Michael Fassbender's David is an extended musing on what it means to be human and whether machines are capable of emotions and evil. And even as Scott takes Blade Runner's literal concept of meeting one's maker and blows it up to metaphysical proportions, David becomes Prometheus' biggest highlight, thanks to Fassbender. Because how can you stay mad at a robot who dyes his hair to look more like Peter O'Toole?

2001: A Space Odyssey: Scott's affinity for Stanley Kubrick is well-documented, so it only makes sense that his own sci-fi epic owes a significant debt to Kubrick's. Prometheus is a visually stunning showcase of modern special effects, as interested in contemplating grand philosophical questions about humanity's past (and future) as it is in grossing us out. For all the metaphysical nods though, where 2001's climactic showdown with artificial intelligence was the very definition of low-key, Prometheus' is anything but. And if you think Scott's film leaves you with more questions than answers, it's still got nothing on 2001's famously bewildering ending.

Alien: Regardless, Prometheus will always come back to the same starting point: Scott's sci-fi/horror classic Alien. And as much as fans might want a carbon copy of that film's atmospheric tension and iconic xenomorphs, Ridley is simply no longer as interested in exploring Alien's monsters as he is in the beings who made them. So we're left with familiar faces in the Space Jockeys and a universe and film that looks almost like Alien, but never quite manages to get there. The Corporation (just Weyland this time) and its motives are as questionable as ever, there's a female hero and an automaton antagonist. And in at least one scene, Scott delivers a moment so memorably gory and gloriously squirm-inducing that it rivals Alien's iconic chest-bursting scene.

But for all the similarities, Prometheus isn't Alien. And while that was obviously the point all along, it's also invariably disappointing that it's not a 100 percent match. Because after a first half that mixes and matches Prometheus' various influences with precision, the sloppy second half and hackneyed dialogue starts to make Prometheus feel like it has more in common with AVP. Luckily, in the movie theatre, like in space, no one can hear you check your watch.

Prometheus Movie Poster
Based on 43 critics

The discovery of a clue to mankind's origins on Earth leads a team of explorers to the darkest parts... Read More

categories Movies