By Linc Leifeste | June 7, 2012
Writers: Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Logan Marshall-Green
Of this I have no doubt: the baggage that viewers carry into the theater will play a significant role in the feelings with which they walk out of Prometheus. With the anticipation for Ridley Scott’s (sort of, maybe) prequel to his 1979 sci-fi masterpiece Alien at a fevered pitch, it’s going to be impossible to satisfy the ardent expectations of hardcore fans. But for the rest of us, those who have a non-obsessive yet warm appreciation for the Alien franchise, Scott has made a gripping and visually striking film that somehow feels fresh yet also reassuringly familiar.
In the year 2093, scientist couple Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are at the helm of a scientific expedition aboard the ship Prometheus to a distant moon in hopes of finding the answers to the origins of human life. It seems that there have been a series of primitive cave paintings discovered in various locations around Earth all pointing to a single source and a unified message, interpreted by Shaw and Holloway to be an invitation from an alien race to visit.
Of course, in the future as in the past, science and commerce are always intertwined and rarely motivated by the same impulses. The expedition is being bankrolled by aging corporate visionary Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and administered by corporate whip-cracker Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), who continually challenges the authority and plans of Shaw and Holloway. The ship is in the capable hands of Captain Janek (Idris Elba) and the crew is rounded out by a handful of hired guns, which if you’re at all familiar with this genre of film you probably suspect will serve as little more than alien fodder.
If Prometheus has one glaring weakness, it’s probably the disposable nature of the minor characters. Little time and energy is spent in developing their individual characters or crafting them memorable dialogue and so when things turn ugly, as they do, it’s hard to distinguish one death from another, much less care all that much. But the lack of minor character development is more than balanced by the well crafted major characters, none more mesmerizing than android caretaker David (Michael Fassbender). The early sequence of him wandering the ship alone while the crew is in hypersleep for their two year journey, with his obsession with Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, is brilliant. David’s blend of robotic reserve, cold intellectualism and slight mischievousness recalls earlier prototypes such as 2001‘s Hal and Alien‘s Ash, brilliantly leaving the audience guessing about his motivations from start to finish.
After arriving, the crew begins to make discoveries that quickly become more and more ominous in nature. Several crew members make unbelievably (literally) bad choices while researching an underground cave and soon enough trouble is coming back to those left waiting on board the ship. In an almost shamefully delightful nod to the most visually striking scene in 1979’s Alien, Shaw has to race against time to avoid having her uninvited internal visitor pull a John Hurt on her chest cavity. It’s hard to believe that Scott and crew could rival the tension and sheer perversity of that classic film moment, but they do.
There is not much original about this film, with nearly all the elements of the story being indebted in some way to earlier films, but as I watched I couldn’t help feeling that I hadn’t seen a movie like this in a long, long time; a big budget science fiction film with a touch of horror that had me wide-eyed whenever I wasn’t turning my head and grimacing or jumping out of my seat in fear. But beyond the visual grandeur and the sheer horror, this is also a film that touches on a lot of deep topics including the origins of humanity, Shaw’s Christian faith vs. Holloway’s scientific skepticism and the insignificance of human life when compared to the vastness of the (mostly unknown) universe. I walked out of the theater with a lot of questions running through my head, some admittedly about the coherency of the story in a film that feels more tightly crafted in its first act than its second, eager to see where the story goes next. Thankfully, originality isn’t everything.