I Likes Me Some PROMETHEUS

I went to see Prometheus with realistic expectations. I was not disappointed.

SPOILERICIOUS AFTER JUMP

It’s good, not great sci-fi.  Reasonably intelligent, though too often characters have to turn on their stupidifiers in order for the plot to lurch forward.

That being said, despite a few eyeroll scenes for the most part Ridley Scott’s reboot of what was once the Alien franchise is a solid, enjoyable movie.  I’d say it was the 3rd best film of the now somewhat extended series, coming in after Aliens and Scott’s own Alien.[1]

Let’s get the eyerolls outta the way first: When James Cameron made allusions to specific scenes and dialog in the first movie, it was to play off them as dramatic counterpoint.  There’s only so many times you can decapitate a robot and carry on a conversation with the severed head, ‘saright?  Likewise people doing incredibly stupid stuff like wandering off alone, poking at weird slimy creatures with their fingers, etc.

We know you have to give the audience a certain amount of booga-booga; they’re expecting it. All we ask is that you do it with a smidgen of originality and cleverness.

Fortunately, the booga-booga doesn’t completely derail the story when it occurs.  What’s left is genuinely original and thought provoking, and we don’t get that too often in sci-fi films nowadays.

You know the drill by now.  In a nod to Alien vs Predator by way of Stargate and 2001: A Space Odyssey, two archeologists (Noomi Rapace[2] and Logan Marshall-Green) find evidence of aliens visiting Earth[3] in the distant past, leaving an invitation to come find them on a distant moon of a solitary planet orbiting a star system so remote it’s not observable from Earth.[4]

Here’s where the story takes a very sharp and surprising (yet welcome) swerve into hardcore theology:  The explicit mission of the ship Prometheus and its ragtag crew is to make contact with the Engineers (as the humans refer to the aliens who seeded Earth) and find out why they created humanity.

In the course of the story they find the ruins of a vast Engineer research complex (which turns out to be a bio-weapons factory).  David, the charming sociopath robot (played by Michael Fassbender with a very knowing nod to both HAL 9000 and Peter O’Toole as Lawrence of Arabia), triggers a holographic replay that shows the  Engineers fleeing in panic from one of their own experiments gone awry.  This leads to the discovery that whatever went wrong in the Engineers experiment, it was sufficiently threatening to warrant destroying all life on Earth; had not the disaster overtaken the Engineers, trapping them on their ships, there would be no human race.

The film ends with Shaw and David taking one of the remaining Engineer ships to find the home world of the Engineers, the existential question of “Why were we created?” now replaced with “Why would you destroy us after creating us?”

Okay, sign me up for the sequel/s.

Prometheus takes this search for the meaning of existence very seriously.  The screenplay (original draft by Jon Spaihts with significant re-write by Damon Lindelof) weaves the twin search for meaning and Creator through the story, with almost every character forced to face some variant of the central question.

Rapace’s character Shaw is depicted as a sincere Christian believer; her search for the Engineers is not a search for the Creator but rather the intermediaries between God and the human race.[5] While other characters lose faith in God and themselves, she manages to cling to her core belief despite near overwhelming odds.[6]

As noted earlier, there’s a lot of eyeroll scenes in the movie, tho none sufficient to derail the movie.  And there are a number of really nice scenes, such as the captain and flight crew of the Prometheus recognizing they need to sacrifice themselves and their ship to save humanity.  That scene is underplayed nicely, with no false histrionics:  They know what has to be done and they do it, without qualm or hesitation.

This is a significant work of science fiction, well worth seeing.  Director Scott indicates this is less of a prequel[7] than a story set in the same universe as Alien only moving off in a different dramatic arc.

I’m curious to see where Scott will take this story line…and I’m curious if Fox will let the original Alien concept be subsumed into this new series, or if they’ll eventually launch a parallel line of more visceral Alien films to compliment it.

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[1]  It’s certainly better than all the other films in the extended series, though the first two Predator movies and Alien vs Predator are enjoyable popcorn munchers.  It’s lightyears above and beyond Alien3 and Alien: Resurrection.  I can’t compare it to Aliens vs Predator: Requiem or the 2010 Predators reboot because I didn’t see those films; but then again, nobody else did, either.

[2] An actress named Noomi Rapace shouldn’t play a character called Elizabeth Shaw in a sci-fi film; it should be an actress named Elizabeth Shaw playing a character called Noomi Rapace.

[3]  This has been derisively referred to as the Von Daniken scene because some of the images in it are those used by author Erich Von Daniken in his UFO bestseller, Chariot Of The Gods? Let the record show that Van Daniken and his book are never referred to in the film, and that every story is entitled to a “gimme” be it “vampires exist” or “sewn together corpses can be reanimated” or “there’s a lost island with dinosaurs on it”.  If you’re going to strain at an unspoken allusion to Von Daniken, you’re not going to enjoy this film.

[4]  One big logic problem in this film involves its internal timeline.  Rapace and Marshall-Green find a cave painting that is “90,000 years old” implying the Engineers visited Earth at that time.  Yet it’s pretty clear the Engineers had to have come to Earth much, much earlier to start monkeying (get it, “monkeying” ?) around with terrestrial genetics.  The ruins the Prometheus crew explore have 2,000 year old remains in them, yet despite the fierce urgency of the Engineers to get back to Earth and wipe everything out following their disaster, there appears to have been no effort to search for or investigation as to what happened to them by their own people.  Sloppy screenwriting?  Or laying track for a bigger reveal in a sequel yet to come?  Stay tuned…

[5]  Could it be…S*A*T*A*N?!?!?

[6]  I’ve got to go off on a side tangent here and comment on how much of Prometheus is influenced by echoes from other sci-fi films, many of which were directly ripped off from inspired by the original Alien movie.  Spaihts and Lindelof’s script, like the opening sequence of the film, shows traces of other DNA.  I caught echoes of Creature, Inseminoid, Galaxy Of Terror, Forbidden World, and even Jason X (the Forbidden World and Inseminoid influences are extremely apparent in Rapace’s alien impregnation and subsequent self-induced Caesarian).  Here we see the literary / dramatic equivalent of genetic mutation:  The original inspired numerous knock-offs, and while the original remains the benchmark for this film, the mutant strains of the knock-offs work their way back into the story.  It gives one cause to look at our own view of Holy Writ and ask how much of what we “know” is based on the actual text and how much of it is folk religion troweled on later?

[7]  Though almost as an afterthought we get one new variant of the original Alien.

The Story Of Isaac =or= derp-derp-derp-derp

Ray Bradbury (1920 - 2012)