What kind of aliens are even scarier than the perfect predators of the original Alien and Aliens movies? Why, human aliens, of course. Prometheus opens with a strange human being standing on Earth sometime in the distant past. He drinks a black liquid which starts breaking down his body, and he plunges into a raging waterfall, literally going to pieces and seeding the pre-human Earth with his DNA.
In the late 21st century a couple of archeologists – Shaw and Holloway – find several cave paintings of large “space gods”, complete with constellations pointing the way to where they seem to come from. Wanting desperately to go visit these strange beings, Shaw and Holloway convince Weyland Industries to fund a space expedition to the enigmatic destination. They’re underway for two years, arriving at a partially terraformed moon in the last days of 2093. They find a shut-down alien bio-weapons plant at which something went wrong about 2000 years ago: some of the weapons got loose and turned on their creators. Apparently, the catastrophe was contained, however – until these clumsy Earth humans stumble upon the scene without knowing what they’re doing. And then we’ve got monsters coming out the woodwork, and the protagonists must scramble in a mad bid for survival. The plot is actually remarkably similar to that of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) – and several other movies based on that formula. In fact, to assume a critical attitude, Prometheus leaves few clichés unturned, and has a few too many copycat scenes from Alien. It also features blatant “tributes” to Hari Seldon and the prime radiant from Asimov’s SF novel Foundation, and many of the basic mysteries of the plot annoyingly remain unsolved. To be fair, though, some of those scenes have the admirable function of predating and substantiating various points from the original movies, which is great.
But fear not; the excitement and entertainment values are still high. The visual spectacle is completely satisfying. The plot sets up the Alien and Aliens movies quite perfectly, making both of them even better. And the unanswered questions may well be addressed in a sequel, which, if made, will undoubtedly make up for many of Prometheus’ shortcomings (not that everyone considers unanswered questions a shortcoming – they are after all a stable of horror movies – but I do). But, although the horror element is extant and important, this is actually more of a real sci-fi movie than any of the other installments in the Alien-franchise, which I have to applaud.
The major shortcoming of the movie is that the characters are not described in enough depth. They don’t feel anywhere near as real as in Alien or Aliens. The two stand-outs are Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender, and if only the rest of the cast were as good, it would have been a fantastic movie – a perfect 10. As it is, several of the minor characters are hardly even on the level of Wierzbowski in Aliens, and a major talent like Charlize Theron is a bit wasted. The captain of the ship, though, played by Idris Elba, is a pretty cool dude – also because he provides a much needed explanation of key plot points in a couple of lines of pivotal dialogue.
Michael Fassbender as David the robot is absolutely amazing. I do wonder, though, why he is simply described as a “robot” and not as an “artificial person” or some such term; “robot” seems awfully simple, as any automated deviced on a factory assembly line is also called a robot. Also, some of his actions are decidedly beyond acceptable human morals, and we are given no explanation for this, although it is probably supposed to be the result of company programming.
The characters are generally so sketchy that I’m suspecting a lot of background material on them to be on the disc release, which had better include a bunch of extended scenes as well – and it probably will. Even so, this is a great and action-filled movie with plenty of substance, and plenty of interesting story points to discuss with your friends afterward. I’m very satisfied, despite a couple of unclear story elements. I guess Scott left a few enigmatic puzzles in order to maintain a sense of mystery and suspense – and I guess it worked quite well. Still, I’m the type who wants to know it all. Who are these alien humans that engineered the bio-weapons? Why did they seed the Earth with their DNA? What were they about to use the bio-weapons for? If you find out, tell me, because I’d really love to know, and on these points this movie isn’t talking. But, if we’re lucky, that’s what the sequel is for. Bring it on!
Director: Ridley ScottCast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Charlize Theron, Kate Dickie and others.
Runtime: 126 min.