Prometheus: trailer analysis

We’ve gawped and gasped at the first full trailer for Prometheus several times now, so what does it all mean? Here’s our analysis of that tantalising footage…

Screaming. People running in terror down narrow corridors. An unseen, probably horrifying unearthly presence. Ridley Scott may be at pains to distance Prometheus from the Alien franchise, but the first full trailer for his belated return to sci-fi is evidently cut from the same sci-fi horror cloth.

As good as the trailers for The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit have been, neither have encouraged quite so much frame-by-frame analysis on our part – and as we’ve picked over every tantalising shot in the promo released yesterday, more unexpected things leap out at us from the darkness.

First, the obvious: the connections to 1979’s Alien are absolutely everywhere. The slowly building type, ship design and angle and lighting of certain shots all directly reference Scott’s earlier film. The alien itself may be conspicuously absent, but Prometheus looks far more like a prequel than Scott had let on.

The trailer opens, ominously enough, with what sounds like a panic-stricken cry for help into a radio. Judging by the accent, it’s safe to say this female voice is that of Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace). “I was wrong. I was so, so wrong,” she appears say over the radio static. And then the really interesting stuff begins.

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A spaceship – presumably the Prometheus – arrives on an alien world. We know from earlier interviews and synopses that it carries a group of scientists – among them Shaw, Vickers (Charlize Theron), David (Michael Fassbender), and Janek (Idris Elba) – who’ve been sent to the other side of the cosmos in search of the origins of mankind.

We’re then shown a selection of the scientists’ gloriously retro exploration vehicles – one of which looks uncannily like a Big Trak, a must-have toy from 1979. A deliberate reference on the part of the film’s designers, or a coincidental nod to the year of Alien’s release? No matter. What really caught our eye is the glimpse of a jet of fire here – an Alien film wouldn’t be the same without a flamethrower, and this is the first of many hints that Prometheus ties in far more closely with that earlier classic than we’d been led to believe.

The next shot merely reinforces this notion: surely, this is precisely the same corridor we saw in Alien – the bone-like outcroppings haven’t grown into place yet, but the lighting and camera positioning are clearly designed to recall a shot within the derelict spacecraft from 32 years ago.

Next comes the giant space face, which has already played a prominent role in Prometheus’ teaser marketing – and with good reason; it’s a striking image. What is a gigantic, apparently human visage doing on a ship on the other side of the galaxy? That is, if it even is on the other side of the galaxy. The editing here, and the room’s similarity to the egg silo in Alien, would lead us to think that this sequence takes place on an alien planet. But could this, in fact, be a shot from earlier in the film? Could this be the earthly discovery that leads them on their voyage into space?

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At first glance, the next shot – a joltingly sudden moment of violence – appears to take place directly after the wide view of the space face. But look again; the characters are wearing space helmets, whereas before they’d taken them off. Is this just a clever piece of editing, which makes two very different scenes appear to take place one after the other? Probably not, but it’s possible.

The most pressing question, though, is just what is the strange, gas-like substance that gets inside the explorer’s space helmet? Did it emerge from the vase-like objects at the foot of the space face? Whatever it is, its effect isn’t unlike the acid that spews from the facehugger’s injured finger in Alien – it’s a similar colour, and has an equally destructive effect on its victim’s spacesuit.

And then comes one of our favourite shots in the whole trailer. We’re shown a medical bay, uncannily like the one Ash has at his disposal in Alien. Shaw, David and two other characters (whose faces can’t be seen) are poring over what is quite clearly the head of a Space Jockey. Where did they find it? Again, is this shot back on Earth or in the depths of space?

We’re quite impressed by the haircuts in this trailer. Michael Fassbender’s been lumbered with a blonde rinse, though, bless him – presumably to make him look more like a synthetic human. In the capture below, he’s gingerly pulling something out of a canister. Something that looks vaguely akin to a facehugger. A distant ancestor, perhaps?

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Shots of panic follow, and then a great glimpse of a saucer-like craft hovering over a waterfall (probably shot in Iceland, where Scott and his crew were located earlier this year).

The scene that comes after is particularly significant. For one thing, it reveals that Prometheus’ characters are armed with what appear to be fairly standard handguns – a far cry from the improvised weaponry of Alien.

In the background, meanwhile, could be standing the same figure who was attacked with the gas-like substance earlier. (On a side-note, William Gibson’s unused Alien 3 screenplay contained a gas that turned people into aliens from within – has Damon Lindelof brought a similar concept to Prometheus?)

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The shots of Vickers anxiously climbing into what appears to be a cryo-chamber reveals some great-looking set and costume design, before we see the chap who was gassed earlier, crying in agony. And then a brief, stunning shot:

Is this the control room aboard the derelict spacecraft in Alien? It looks almost identical, albeit overlaid with what appears to be a three-dimensional star map. The next sequence, which shows a horseshoe-shaped ship exploding in mid-air seems to back this theory up – clearly, this is the ship HR Giger designed all those years ago. But why the explosion? Did one of the earthlings plant a bomb on it before it could leave the planet’s atmosphere?

And then we come to two of the most intriguing shots in the entire trailer. The first shows a humanoid creature leaping from the top of a Big Trak and probably about to do something harmful to an unsuspecting victim below. Is he the mutated gas victim from earlier? He certainly appears to be wearing the same suit.

The next shot’s easily the best one of all. The familiar shape of the Space Jockey, with its telescope-like apparatus, is shown rising up from the hold of the horseshoe-shaped ship. There’s clearly a gap for a pilot to sit in it, and that pilot appears to be standing on the right. He looks human, but if we go by the scale established in Alien, he must be gigantic. When Kane and his fellow explorers stood in the same room in the original film, they were utterly dwarfed by this thing. Are we to assume, then, that the Space Jockeys are essentially 12-foot tall humans? 

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As the music rises, and various characters look either anxious or just plain terrified (including Idris Elba – his only appearance in the trailer, as far as we can tell), it appears that the trailer’s at an end. But wait – there’s more. We see the horseshoe ship crash, rolling like a gigantic runaway tyre as various characters – among them Shaw – scarper for dear life. And then it ends.

So if we put all of it together, what do we have? The trailer shows nothing obviously alien whatsoever, other than a strange thing being lifted out of a canister and a damaging yellow gas. Perhaps the gas mutates the film’s characters into rampaging monsters, which then cause all the havoc we see in the trailer. Maybe the creatures we met in Alien are a result of this film’s fusion between humans and extraterrestrial gas – a hybrid that quickly infects the rest of the cast and the horseshoe ship, turning it into the spooky, egg-filled wreck first seen in 1979.

What we can say for sure is that Prometheus’ marketing types have put together a quite stunning trailer here. It reveals just enough to intrigue, while leaving plenty of secrets intact. Somehow, all the weird events glimpsed in this minute-or-so’s worth of footage will preface the events of Alien – that much is clear, at least.

When it was announced that Ridley Scott was to return to the sci-fi genre with Prometheus, we hoped that its visual and conceptual possibilities would reignite his creative muse. We won’t know exactly how good Prometheus really is until next Summer, but for now, it looks as though Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien universe he created will be a great one. 

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