In seeing a cacophony of 15-second previews of Prometheus, and recognizing only one of the actors in its cast, I was no doubt surprised that the tagline to the movie wasn’t actually “Stringer Bell in Space.” I mean, can’t you just imagine Idris Elba shouting, “Well, get on wit it Mu’f…” before some giant parasitic leechy alien sends a tentacle down his throat?
Alas, there is more to this film than just aliens and graphic violence, though there is that too. But director Ridley Scott’s first foray back into sci-fi since the seminal 1982 classic Blade Runner is a hit on most levels, but falls short on some as well.
Prometheus was meant to be a prequel to Scott’s 1979 sci-fi classic Alien. And while it harkens back to the movie in some aspects, it also is in and of itself a uniquely more engaging story.
The first scene opens on what we assume to be earth, with picturesque panoramas of rivers and waterfalls, and sunrises and trees and lots of other nature. Then a naked, albino being that looks human, but is clearly not begins to decay and crumble apart, pieces of his body being carried away into the water before morphing into some kind of primordial ooze.
We then cut to the year 2089 on the isle of Scotland, where we meet two of the movie’s protagonists for the first time. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are archaeologists who have found what appears to be primitive cave paintings. The paintings match similar paintings they have found from all over the world, and the duo believe that it’s a sign that the human race began in another distant galaxy. Based on the pattern of five celestial markings on each painting, they pinpointed that pattern to a planetary moon called LV-223, halfway across the universe.
So naturally, who wouldn’t want to hop on a ship and go find this race of “first humans,” right? Anyone else think this is a bad idea? Anyone?
Flash forward three years and we see Charlie and Elizabeth onboard the space vessel Prometheus, captained by Janek (Elba). We also meet David (Michael Fassbender), an android who serves as the ship’s know-it-all, do-everything form of artificial intelligence. Imagine if HAL 9000 and Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation had a perfectly-coiffed android son that looked and talked like Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, and that’s David.
We also meet the coolly-contrived Meredith Vickers, played by Charlize Theron, who is half naked and banging out pushups (hey, look, someone I recognize). Vickers is a corporate shill for Weyland Industries, the group that built the ship Prometheus and is financing the trip. She’s there to make sure everything goes smoothly, which is incredibly ironic given some of her decisions later in the film.
Prometheus eventually gets to its destination, a moon that has unbreatheable air and mountains almost twice as tall as the Himalayas. Janek lands the ship and the group of astronauts / archaeologists / explorers head out.
Naturally, the world seems primitive and uninhabited, but any fan of good sci-fi knows what’s coming. The group comes upon a giant dome structure that is the setting for the majority of the rest of the movie. They discover that they can breath clean air inside the dome and its caverns.
Eventually, the team finds that the cavern is a mass grave, and what used to be alive down there no longer is. Upon finding a disembodied head of a being that appears to be human (remember the naked albino?), taking it back to the ship and doing research, the see that the DNA of the head is a perfect match to that of humans.
“Hooray! We know where the first humans came from. Now let’s get the hell out of here” is what the team should have said.
They did not. And it all starts to go pear-shaped.
I’ll save you any spoilers, and just say that if you love sci-fi, Scott has built two worlds (one on the planet and one on the ship) that are incredibly intricate and detailed. Scott also utilizes the 3-D as a masterstroke, not invoking the pupil-dilating deluge of a Michael Bay summer blockbuster, but using it to provide depth, contrast, and stunning imagery without going overboard.
Like its predecessor Alien, Prometheus offers plenty of graphic, vivid violence that provides scare-worthy moments for the audience. One scene in particular, in which Elizabeth climbs into a D-I-Y surgery pod, in order to perform her own c-section, is particularly cringe-inducing.
For those who pine for extreme close-up shots of gooey, sticky, alien beings, there’s plenty of that too.
But what gets lost in the plot and in Scott’s mastery of sci-fi horror, are many unanswered questions.
We are told early that Elizabeth is a woman of faith (she wears a cross around her neck.) That her faith in trying to find the originators of life (which she calls the directors) wins out over the safety of the entire crew is puzzling – particularly since she appears to be alone on that theological island. Even after a couple of the crew die wonderfully horrific deaths, the decision to soldier on with research and discovery is puzzling.
Scott’s plot development led to many other questions in my mind: If these beings created life, how did they die? Who created them? Why do they want to destroy their creation? Are we actually the “aliens” on their planet? And why only the one scene of Charlize Theron doing half-naked pushups?
Despite these unanswered questions, Prometheus delivers big-time entertainment. The imagery is otherworldly, and Scott’s ability to craft story, scene and setting are brilliant. The suspense he builds with silence and the foreboding sense of danger around every corner remind us what made Alien such an iconic film. And while Prometheus probably won’t stand up as paramounts in the genre like his two other sci-fi classics, it serves its purpose well.
Rated R for sci-fi violence, including some intense images and brief profanity.