In space….no one can hear you give yourself an Alien abortion. That should be the marketing tagline for Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, playing off of the tagline for Alien, of which this film is a definitive prequel.
Everyone remembers seeing Alien for the first time. I was 1979 and I was 9. I saw it second on a double feature with the cheesy action bomb Megaforce; and after watching a young Barry Bostwick fight off a band of evil mercenaries on a flying motorcycle while wearing a much-too-tight jumpsuit; I was ready for something serious…and scary.
But at that impressionable age I wasn’t prepared for the sublime intensity of Alien. Sure it starts off slow with its smooth production design by Moebius. We are introduced to a rag-tag crew of the Nostromo, trying to find what might be at the source of a derelict spacecraft’s homing beacon.
Of course, just when we think the then-untested commercial director Scott has slipped us a mickey and makes us feel all safe, he literally punches us in the chest. He wakes us up screaming with a chest-bursting H.R. Giger-designed beast terrifying enough to that spawn three sequels and two mash ups (none of which Scott participated in).
Fast forward 32 years later, and Scott finally gets his shot at expanding the story the late Dan O’Bannon and his writing partner Ronald Shushett created. Of course, Scott is an aged man that has gotten a lot headier, and begins Prometheus as a possible Tree of Life for sci-fi fans.
In a very 2001: A Space Odyssey-esque prologue, we are shown a lot of majestic scenery on a planet we are not sure is Earth. Suddenly a pale humanoid being disrobes on a cliff, drinking a dark potion of sorts. After ingesting it we realize it is bringing decay to his organs. He vomits profusely and soon falls into the rapids below. We see his DNA break down into small organisms. Is this the death or the birth of humankind on another planet? Does this symbolize what will happen to us eventually with the humans on our planet?
Jump cut to 2093 where Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), a woman who wears a cross on her chest, is on an archaeological dig with her boyfriend, Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) a man of science and Darwinism. They find yet another cave painting with beings looking to the sky at a configuration of round objects. They are soon on a trillion-dollar mission to find those similar shapes in the sky, aboard the high-tech spacecraft Prometheus.
This is where Scott begins to build the similarities to the original Alien. Sure they are on a mission in anticipation of finding beings that they hope are there instead of being in fear of what they hope isn’t. But, that is where he lulls us into a sense of safety again. We are off to find the creators of mankind. How deadly can they be if they created sentient beings like us, right?
We are introduced to the Prometheus crew, a carbon copy of Norstromo’s similar rag tag group of folks under the thumb of the Weyland Corporation that funded this discovery mission. They each have their own quirky qualities and agendas for comic relief; but, there is really no time to get to know them because Alien film buffs know they eventually will be chum.
The icy figurehead Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) rules the ship, and lets everyone know it with her do-it-or-else stare and quarters that include a grand piano and vodka bar. She is not there for science. She is there along with her conniving android “brother” David (Michael Fassbender) to help their dying zillionaire father Peter (Guy Pearce in heavy makeup) meet his possible maker. After all if you had that much money, power and ego, why wouldn’t you want to meet the only person more powerful than yourself- “God?”
They land on the distant planet after two years of hyper sleep, to find straight lines. “Human’s don’t make straight lines” they infer, and are soon in a large cavernous temple on the planet’s surface. Scott and his production team’s eye for technology and production design is once again cutting edge and flawless.
My hate of 3D was again lifted for one more film made by a director masterful enough to integrate it into their design, rather than detract from it. The only other positive experiences were James Cameron’s sensual immersion Avatar and Martin Scorsese’s playful nostalgia Hugo.
The space suits, land rovers and especially the Prometheus ship are sleek and colorful. They are a wonderfully stark difference from the dingy dark Alien lair. We are the good guys after all right?
What our heroic couple finds in the temple is astounding. A large stone head, a large spacecraft and of course a bunch of dead humanoid beings that have our same DNA. However, we also find what caused their undoing. A black substance that soon spawns some very horrific and ghastly fates for our crew, as they, of course, drop one by one.
Yes, SPOILER ALERT, blatant visual parallels are made to the Alien film. And we get to see their birth of the beast that haunted our nightmares
Let me just say that the invention of a machine in which you can give yourself surgery is genius. Watching said surgery (in this case a Caesarian abortion) had me squirming in my seat, thankful that in the present we have specialist for that sort of work.
The performances by everyone are pitch-perfect. Fassbender of course steals the show, playing David with the right innocence early on, that when we do see his true colors we wince on cue. Every actor has made a name for himself playing the androids in the franchise: Ian Holm did it in Alien, Lance Henriksen in the souped-up Aliens, and so on.
The only problem comes with the lack of romantic chemistry between our leads. But, we still care for them and their fate and when the carnage begins we wish them both the best. Rapace’s Shaw is not the new Ripley. Sure, she stares evil in the face and can run like a maniac with a stomach of surgical staples, but she doesn’t have the snarl and bite that Sigourney Weaver’s character had.
Do we find out makers in Prometheus? Many stuffy critics have said the end of this film leaves a lot to be desired. I thought it was perfect. Scott pulls a brilliant bait and switch, making a grand statement about how too much human curiosity can bite a civilization in the ass. Faith and mystery can be our greatest gift.
As we are reminded when the cold android David is sabotaging the discovery for the blind selfish agenda of his corporate creator Weyland; humans have a soul. His actions are driven by intelligence and a thirst for knowledge, but there is no desire to drive it in a humanistic and passionate direction.
Prometheus is at its core a horror movie. One of the staples of the horror genre is that the characters are always expecting to find something miraculous. With Prometheus, the cynical and British Scott’s vague conclusion to the hypothesis of the meaning of human life is that if you look too hard you will probably end up disappointed.