Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Logan Marshall-Green, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce
(20th Century Fox; US theatrical: 8 Jun 2012 (General release); UK theatrical: 1 Jun 2012 (General release); 2012)
In each one, the premise predetermined the payoff. Yet for every installment of the Alien franchise, some differing aspect of the genre was explored. The initial film was more than a mere haunted house in space, the monster offered and the mythos behind it enough to fill at least three more stories in the series. The second film was action on top of angst, the dread driving the point about survival and motherly instincts…on either side. The third movie was a mess, but it amplified the dark and foreboding nature of the ongoing narrative. By Part Four, we were fed up with the acid-blood xenomorph and its many configurations, wondering if that proposed Alien vs. Predator series would satisfy our need for scares (it didn’t).
Now, the man who started in all, Sir Ridley Scott, is back to take the cinematic legend in a whole new direction, and when he says that Prometheus has the “DNA” of Alien in its story, he’s not exaggerating. In fact, he’s being literal. Sans spoilers, this is a movie that centers on the creation of life on Earth, those who may or may not be responsible for same, and their connection to the events that would eventually transpire between the crew of the Nostromo and the already established inhabitants of the planet known as LV427. Taking place several decades before Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley came face to face with feat itself, this ‘prequel’ re-launches the sci-fi series in a wholly new and original direction.
It’s 2089 and archeologist couple Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover that a series of cave drawings, captured at different times and in different civilizations, all seem to point to one conclusion - that Earth was visited by extraterrestrials in the past. They even offer a map to where they came from. Hoping to discover their purpose on our planet, the duo team up with eccentric businessman Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and his company for an expedition to a far away world. Onboard are Captain Janek (Idris elba), synthetic lifeform David (Michael Fassbender), a botanist (Rafe Spall), a geologist (Sean Harris), and cruel corporate overseer Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron).
Upon arrival, they discover pyramid like rock formations that indicate intelligent life. They then explore these vast monuments and discover several shocking things. First, there has been some sort of massacre involving a race of giant humanoids. Next, the DNA of these beings matches our own perfectly. Thirdly, there is a massive inner room holding a statue of a large human head…and several canisters of something sticky…and possibly alive. As they go deeper and deeper into the mysteries of our origins, they come to a shocking conclusion: whoever or whatever decided on turning Earth into a biological experiments is intent on returning - and destroying its creation in the process.
An initial caveat to those heavily invested in everything Alien. This is not, repeat NOT, a real prequel to the entire franchise. Instead, it’s an initial offering meant to make way of other films that might, repeat might, lead to a link to the discoveries of the Nostromo. There is a definite connection up front, and it pays off so beautifully that you instantly recognize it was worth the 33 year wait. Yet those who want to see the slimy, slinking creatures with acid for blood and the razor toothed double mouth will need to hold out a bit longer. Prometheus is not about the result, but the process. It’s not a monster movie in the same sense as the original. As the title suggests, the story is more concerned about the right to play God, and the Frankenstein like result of doing same.
Alongside the debate regarding God vs. science, Prometheus asks us to speculate on what happens when life gets out of hand and demands retribution - or in other words, when unplanned byproducts grow too big for their interstellar britches. There are parallel narratives here - the Earthlings discovering the truth behind the planet and its purpose, and the actual ‘weapons’ being bred to bring about some manner of recourse or massacre. There are loose threads in abundance, intriguing speculations and conclusions that allow for the material to move and breathe. These pieces give room for philosophy and power politics to creep in and take over, removing the overall atmosphere from one of horror to intriguing questions of humanity.
For his part, Scott realizes the stakes at play here. He knows that he must not only compete with his original vision, but find way to make this revisit as satisfying as his first trip to this particular galaxy. Armed with the amazing CG work of his F/X crew (the last act spaceship showdown is mind-blowing) and a sense of purpose predicated on his return to glorified geek relevance, there are moments of pure motion picture majesty here. The treatment of the space jockey, nothing more than an enigmatic backdrop originally, may throw off the fanboy fascination with the franchise, but for the most part, it works and works incredibly well. If you’re willing to give it a chance, Prometheus delivers in devastating cinematic splashes.
Of course, for the purists, nothing will match the original introduction to this material. No matter the various homages and half-baked borrowing from sci-fi schlock of the past, Ridley Scott reconfigured the fiend unfound formula into something elegant and eerie. The same thing happens in Prometheus, except this time, the target is our own sense of self and the realization that we are not alone - or necessarily liked - in the universe. For all its flash and finesse, this thoughtful thriller represents the very best that serious science fiction has to offer. You may miss a few of the previous series’ shocks, but the promise inherent in this new premise argues for a clever and creative continuation. Prometheus is not Alien. On the other hand, it’s just as intriguing…and important.