If a Facehugger from the Alien franchise ever face-raped 2001: A Space Odyssey, the resulting Xenomorph bastard would not be unlike Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s long awaited return to the genre many claim he revolutionized. Prometheus is an ambitious science-fiction film with the lofty goal of presenting questions about the origins of life. Like all great science-fiction literature, it is a blend of thoughtful speculation, great story, awe-inspiring effects, and wonder. And because the Alien franchise is its predecessor the package also includes chilling rape allegories, a nauseating birth scene, and a good amount fetal imagery. All in the name of brilliant filmmaking.
To be honest, Prometheus could have stood by itself without the need for the Alien tie-ins. It is a much more complex film than the slasher in space film that later became a convoluted franchise with an awkward crossover to a Scharzenegger B-movie. So for now lets forget Prometheus’ parentage.
The film opens on the dawn of Earth. A spectacular clouded sky covers the desolate planet devoid of life, a solitary humanoid figure is the only breathing being on its surface. The figure eats a black substance that causes his body to decay into ashes and slime. Its remains then fall into a river where they morph into molecules and from there into cells, the building blocks of life. Presumably all life on Earth evolved from these cells.
Flash-forward to the end of the 21st century, 2093, when a team of archeologists uncover the final puzzle piece to learn where these “engineers of life” might came from. The archeologists are, Dr Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her boyfriend, Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green). Dr. Shaw wears a crucifix around her neck, and despite her scientific credentials, still believes life had divine origin. Charlie entertains this notion but believes that if Darwinism has stood for three centuries as a scientific model it is because there is some truth to it. So the couple cuts their losses and settles for believing in exogenesis, the belief that life arrived on earth from outer space. It is scientifically possible, since it does not challenge Darwin’s model of natural selection as long as there is still evolution post-seeding, and at the same time satisfies the superstitions believe of a creator. All in all it is the perfect compromise to turn everyone into a Scientologist.
Ashes to ashes and slime to slime, Amen.
But enough about theology. After Dr Shaw’s discovery, a trillion-dollar mission is mounted aboard the space-ship Prometheus to the distant planet those cave paintings seem to point at. The ship’s crew consists of a few essential characters and a few extras to kill off as the movie progresses and the dangers heighten. Aside from Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie, the ones worth mentioning are Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), the corporate representative and head of the venture, Janek (Idiris Elba), the ship’s captain, and David (Michael Fassbender) an android who can’t quite grasp why the humans want to meet their makers - after all from his perspective his human creators aren’t all that exceptional. Each character more-or-less represents a different perspective about the issue at hand, mainly humanity meeting its creator.
When Prometheus arrives on the planet of said makers, it turns out to be a desolate wasteland. Nothing grows on it and the atmosphere is poisonous. But there is an odd looking dome-like pyramid inside one of its valleys. The crew decides to dock and check it out. I seriously hope that when we do happen to discover life on other planets we send a more professional team who sends the curious android first. But this is a horror sci-fi film, so it is expected that what the characters end up finding in the pyramid is not what they expected. And it is not a Xenomorph either. Don’t even go there.
As I said. This film could have stood by itself. It has a rich mythology, a great cast of characters; Noomi Rapace channels Sigourney Weaver’s performance in Alien and then adds some heart to it; Charlize Theron is perhaps the scariest corporate boss in space; and Michael Fassbender once again demonstrates that he is here to be one of the greatest. Having said that, the tie-ins to Alien are welcomed - despite being wholly unnecessary - as a way to remind us that this film is not a theological survey but a form of mass entertainment; that we come to the theater to sit back and enjoy the ride and perhaps expect a sequel.
To summarize, never before have I seen a film that balanced the elements of mass appeal, high-brow speculation, and visual art - for the visuals in this film are truly masterful - so well and so seamlessly as Prometheus has done. Well done Mr. Scott.
One question though; why is it that whenever exogenesis is proposed, it is aliens who seed life on Earth? Have we ever considered that maybe we are the first, and that it is our destiny to become the engineers of life abroad? I guess we are afraid we would make really shitty gods.