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"Prometheus" review: "Alien" prequel marks Scott's return to SF genre

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Prometheus (2012)

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As written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, “Prometheus” is not a direct prequel to 1979’s “Alien,” even though it is set in the same universe and has, in Scott’s viewpoint, “strands of Alien’s DNA, so to speak.” It is, essentially, an all-new story which shares the “Alien” series’ mix of horror and space-set action, with an added soupcon of Big Ideas philosophy tossed in for good measure.

“Prometheus” starts on what appears to be either a very primordial Earth or an Earth-like planet several million years before the main storyline. We see a tall humanoid alien standing by the edge of a waterfall, apparently performing a strange, wordless ritual. He disrobes, opens a small receptacle, then consumes its contents. In less than a minute, the humanoid literally dissolves and falls into the water, and his DNA mixes with the young Earth’s (or Earth-like world) biosphere.

After the main title sequence – which is a visual homage to the one from “Alien” – ends, the story moves forward to the 2080s, far enough in our future for faster-than-light travel and cryogenic technology to have been developed but close enough to our present that the costumes and hardware look realistic and not too different from what we wear and use today.

While on an archaeological expedition in Scotland, Drs. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover cave paintings which depict god-like beings pointing up at a group of stars. Shaw and Holloway, who are lovers as well as colleagues, theorize that the paintings are actually primitive star charts. They also interpret them as an invitation for humanity to seek out the aliens.

The film then flashes forward four years to December 2093 and aboard the scientific research spaceship Prometheus, which has been chartered by wealthy industrialist Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) to take Shaw, Holloway, and a small team of scientists to a planet called LV-223, which is where the aliens seem to originate from.

As in “2001” and “Alien” (the two films which seem to have inspired the filmmakers), the human crew and passengers spend most of their voyage in cryogenic suspension. Here the sleepers are watched over by an artificial intelligence – personified in “Prometheus” by the human-like android known as David (Michael Fassbinder).

Though the ship itself is commanded by an ex-military spacer named Janek (Idris Elba), the mission is overseen by the mysteriously aloof Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). Miss Vickers is chilly, distant and all business, and has a tendency to issue orders with a steely determination that is matched by her apparent lack of discernible humanity. (At one point, Janek asks Miss Vickers, “Are you a robot?”)

Charlie Holloway: These are images of archaeological digs from all over the Earth.

[pointing to different images]

Charlie Holloway: That's Egyptian, Mayan, Sumerian, Babylonian. That's Hawaiian at the end there and Mesopotamian. Now this one here is our most recent discovery, it's a 35,000 year old cave painting from the Isle of Sky in Scotland. These are ancient civilizations, they were separated by centuries, they shared no contact with one another, and yet...

[he gathers the hologram images to line up and he goes through each one]

Charlie Holloway: The same pictogram, showing men worshiping giant beings pointing to the stars was discovered at every last one of them. The only galactic system that matched, was so far from earth, that there's no way that these primitive ancient civilizations could have possibly known about. But it just so happens, that system has a sun, a lot like ours. And based on our long range scans, there seemed to be a planet. Just one planet with the moon, capable of sustaining life, and we arrived there this morning.

Fifield: So you're saying we're here because of a map you two kids found in a cave, is that right?

Elizabeth Shaw: No.

Charlie Holloway: Yeah. Um...

Elizabeth Shaw: No. Not a map. An invitation.

Fifield: From whom?

Elizabeth Shaw: We call them Engineers.

Fifield: Engineers? Do you mind, um, telling us what they engineered?

Elizabeth Shaw: They engineered us.

The scientists – which were hired four years earlier by Weyland before the old man’s apparent death—are tasked with a single directive: land on LV-223, explore a certain area and find out if the Engineers are, indeed, humanity’s creators.

But, as the “Prometheus” tagline states, the quest for the ultimate answer about our cosmic origins may have negative – and deadly – consequences….

My Take: Although “Prometheus” is less of an “Alien” prequel than a lot of the franchise fans would have liked and more of a stand-alone first installment in what may be a multi-film series, I found it to be an entertaining mix of action, scares, and even some thought-provoking ruminations centering on the debate between religious faith and secular science.

The two sides of the philosophical divide are personified by Shaw, who is deeply religious and wears a gold crucifix to express her Christian beliefts, and Holloway, who may be her lover but doesn’t shy away from arguing that the Engineers’ existence proves that God doesn’t exist.

This theme is also touched upon in conversations between Charlie and the android David; Dr. Holloway never fails to remind David about the latter’s status as a machine created by humans. David, for his part, is not impressed by the people around him – except maybe his “father” Mr. Weyland – and doesn’t seek to be more like them.

David: Why do you think your people made me?

Charlie Holloway: We made you because we could.

David: Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?

Of course, any film that is linked – even tenuously – to 1979’s “Alien” has to contain situations in which trusts are betrayed, a billionaire’s selfish and greedy motives are revealed, and humans have close encounters of the worst kind with alien life forms.

In “Prometheus” we do not see the famous “Alien” xenomorph in any of its manifestations (there are no face-huggers, chest-bursters or alien queens this time around); however, we do see a U-shaped Juggernaut which resembles the mysterious derelict found on LV-426 in “Alien”, and we finally learn that the “space jockey” seen in Scott’s original 1979 film is one of the Engineers.)

The film also takes some cues from “Alien” by featuring a strong female lead who has to overcome her fears and deal with life and death situations head-on. Rapace’s Shaw is a bit more intellectual (and perhaps more fearful at first) than Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, but she makes a “hero’s journey” as the original “Alien” Quadrilogy’s central character did.

Blu-ray Specifications

  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, AC-3, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby TrueHD)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
  • Dubbed: French, Spanish
  • Region: Region A/1
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • DVD Release Date: October 9, 2012
  • Run Time: 124 minutes
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