By Ron Peltier
Prometheus, the new movie from Riddle Scott, has a lot going on. It’s kind of a sequel to his 1979 film Alien, but not entirely; it takes place in the same time, and supplies some clues as to the origins of the “alien” creature that bursts out of the stomachs of its “hosts,” but not much more. It also is no less concerned with the very origins of humanity. Where did we come from? How did we get here? Who made us? With these expansive and weighty themes, I was reminded of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and even last year’s provocative Tree of Life from Terrance Malick—films that explore the genesis of life on earth and our position relative to it. Like those films, Prometheus examines these notions in a marvelously shot and well-crafted visual story in a swiftly moving plot. Indeed, the plot can move too quickly at times.
The film begins, we assume, on Earth, but exactly when is not clear—the future or the past? A hairless, pale but absurdly buff—it reminded me of Doctor Manhattan from the Watchmen film sans the blue hue and pupil-less eyes—is deposited by a space ship next to a raging waterfall. He drinks something, and in one of the many excellent special effects, we follow the ‘substance’ into the body as it breaks down his cells and DNA. The ‘man’ falls into the waterfall and essentially disintegrates. One assumption is that his DNA results in the life forming here on earth. Of course, this is a supposition as the film does not explicitly indicate such.
Cut to 2089 and a cave in Ireland. Scientists have discovered cave drawings depicting people pointing to the stars. Not that unusual, you think. The two main scientists (Charlie Holloway and Elizabeth Shaw played by Logan Marshal-Green and Noomi Rapace, respectively) have pulled together various drawings, some separated by millenniums, to arrive at a simple premise: we are being invited to visit. How cave drawings can pinpoint precisely where in the vastness of space is a bit more questionable, and the film really does not want to get bogged down with that. At times, the film does push believability too far, but not nearly as far as, say, the absurd Avengers film.
Next, the film cuts to the spaceship Prometheus as we meet David, the android, played by Michael Fassbender. As the human crew travels in “stasis,” David monitors the ship, watches both the Lawrence of Arabia film and the crew’s dreams. In particular, David attempts to mimic Peter O’Toole’s character, T.E. Lawrence. Creepy, eh? Fasseinder’s portrayal of the android fascinates and repels. As the movie develops, suspicion regarding David’s loyalty naturally arises. I say naturally because if science fiction films have taught us anything, androids are not be trusted as they often have nefarious intentions—even though they are not supposed to have interests. One of the many “minor” conflicts the movie develops occurs between David and the ship’s corporate overseer, Meredith Vickers, played by Charlize Theron. Her and our suspicions are confirmed as David seems to be pursuing his own agenda, even going so far as to “infect” one of the crew. He certainly provides the skills necessary for the crew to “find” the source of the artificial structure and the paintings.
Once the ship arrives and begins to explore a large, artificial structure, all hell breaks loose, and the film moves quickly. Once inside the structure, the crew apparently triggers a “defense” mechanism, and ooze starts dripping from the pods. We learn later that they are destined for Earth to, I guess, transform the population. Additionally, David furtively brings back pods from the structure and hatches a plan to hasten things along.
Here, the plot becomes a bit convoluted but it doesn’t matter since the ride is rather fun. The team returns to the ship, the mystery begins to unravel and the realities of the “cave drawing” prove to be invitations to humanity’s destruction. They were just waiting for us to show them the way to our nice planet. But why do our creators want to kill us? Not sure. Perhaps that’s coming in the sequels.
The film wrestles with big ideas and does so in a taut, energetic fashion. The film is interesting and good summer fun. While it is not as strong as the original Alien, not close to being as suspenseful and intense, this film has its own intense scenes. The best of these scenes center on Dr. Shaw as she performs self-surgery to remove something from her stomach. This draws obvious parallels to the original film’s best scene-the baby alien bursting from John Hurt’s stomach. The trope is maintained here but imagined differently. That Shaw can run around after the operation strains credulity, but that can be overlooked. Prometheus maintains other tropes too: being an android can make one lose one’s head, for example.
Overall, Prometheus does not easily offer up a clear, resolved conclusion. One has to work at it a bit, and many don’t like working when seeing a film. The ending does offer some idea as to the genesis of the alien creature that will plague a resolute Ripley in the years to come and how it’s so damn strong. However other aspects still remain unclear. For example, aside from Dr. Shaw, Vickers makes it “out” and onto the planet during the film’s frenetic third act. The film suggests that she is killed by the falling alien spacecraft, but it is not explicitly stated. One is left to wonder. Further, is Vickers really human, or is she an alien? And did I mention that her “father,” Peter Weyland, played by a barely recognizable Guy Pierce, funds the entire one trillion dollar expedition? Think Howard Hughes here.
So while the film has a lot going on and the plot seems a little unclear, the film still is quite strong and effective: The visuals, the acting, the special effects and even the grandiosity of the story are all worth the time.