Director Ridley Scott’s latest venture takes audiences back into space…where no one can hear you scream. It’s been 33 years since the original Alien film and the franchise has seen a number of sequels directed by some of the industry’s most prolific filmmakers–Aliens by James Cameron, Alien 3 by David Fincher, and Alien Resurrection by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Each director stamped their signature style on their respective installments, but Prometheus, which premiered in local theaters yesterday, is the first prequel. It only feels right that the movie returns to the hands of its creator.
When boot-knocking scientists Elizabet Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover archaic cave paintings from numerous ancient civilizations on planet Earth, they realize they are maps pointing towards a distant planet that may house the origins of the human race. They convince wealthy entrepreneur Peter Weyland (a barely recognizable Guy Pearce) to fund an expedition to the dark recesses of outer space.
Aboard the spaceship Prometheus, captained by Janek (Idris Elba), but overseen by the icy Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), are a cast of characters that have a clear divide: one half are simply alien prey, horror movie archetypes bound for extraterrestrial extermination. The second half are fueled by impervious personality traits that almost always (take note, almost) see them surviving for the bigger picture.
The most interesting is Michael Fassbender’s David, a platinum blonde robot who has a creepy obsession with Lawrence of Arabia. As in: He'd say lines from the film as he combs his hair, trying his best to act human, but he never will be. Fassbender is a force to be reckoned with onscreen. There is a precision to his method, his soullessness a catalyst for questioning the character’s motivations. When he asks Dr. Holloway why they made him, Holloway answers, “We made you because we could.” To which the robot says, “Maybe that’s why they made you.” Pretty insightful observation for an android.
The two female leads come at a close second, providing some depth to the hollow hunk of hovering metal. Scott has found his Ripley 2.0 in the original version of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. Rapace’s intensity pays homage to the stalwart women he likes taking charge of his films. Theron’s Vickers is damaged, hiding behind the façade that she’s on this expedition for the money. Theron’s statuesque presence easily trumps her costars with radiance that is matched by a clinical bitchiness only she is capable of.
The first half of the movie is a veritable discussion on theology and astrology where the characters are constantly challenging each other’s beliefs and faith. The moral lines are blurred in the name of science. Meeting your makers, as the crew would soon find out, may come at a bloody penance. Who is on this planet for the right reasons? What constitutes right and wrong anyway? Who has a hidden agenda? The danger of poking and prodding where humans aren’t supposed to is met only by mayhem, and it is in the latter half of the film that these queries are answered.
It is in the second half of the movie that the cringe-worthy comes into play. Though the tactics employed in Prometheus mirror that of the original Alien, it is the new technology that 1979 could not offer, that ups the gross factor. There’s a less-evolved face hugger (creepy crawlies that cling on your face and inject spawn through your mouth), a gut wrenching stomach-ripping-apart scene, and the talking severed head, all present in the original but given not-so-fresh spins in this prequel.
The fear factor is less. The original played on claustrophobia and fear of the unknown predator offing each crewmember one by one. Prometheus on the other hand feeds on the fantastical, using a grand scale to induce its thrills and chills.
Speaking of fantastical, the production value is decadent. Costumes and set design for science fiction can border on campy, but here the future tech is believable. Both the Prometheus and the planet’s mysterious caverns are intricately tailored to please the eyes. The spacecraft’s metallic and futuristic interior is juxtaposed with the organic and festering pits of these wondrous caves.
Prometheus is a masterful contribution to science fiction. It doesn't surpass the original movie—very few prequels can surpass the original movie!— but it is a clever gate-way film to new mythologies.