‘Prometheus’ a visually stunning, if flawed, ‘Alien’ prequel
Cutting straight to the chase, “Prometheus” is a loosely connected prequel to the fear-inducing 1979 “Alien.” It pulls and tugs at questions the space-travel horror movie left unanswered: What exactly happened to the spaceship in distress? Where did the Alien come from? Who created the warning signal the crew of the Nostromo received and, unfortunately, investigated?
But in the midst of the horror, anxiety and terror that “Prometheus” induces, the movie also ponders much more metaphysical and grandiose questions: Where did we come from? What’s our purpose? Why are we here?
“Prometheus’” search for answers to those eternal questions, in both secular and religious aspects, is awe-inspiring, if only because of the significance of the questions poised. The lesson “Prometheus” offers, however, is much more earthly: Be careful what you wish for, because seeking the answers of the universe never seems to end well.
“Prometheus,” taking a page from Erick von Daniken’s “Chariots of the Gods?” and imbuing a strong dash of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and H. R. Giger’s surrealist designs, is less immediately satisfying than “Alien” was, both of which were directed by Ridley Scott. But it is much more complex and complicated. Some fans will be disappointed by this, but it’s a clever decision by a director much wiser than he was three decades ago.
The film opens with a stunningly gorgeous sweep as cinematographer Dariusz Wolski provides aerial images of a planet brimming with natural, if not animal, life. The heaving waterfalls and roiling thunderclouds immerse you in this world (thanks in large part to 3-D done well), but it’s the cloaked biped, suspiciously humanoid in nature, that catches your eye. And it’s the ritual it performs, one that starts life as we know it, that draws you in to the story.
Untold time later, we’re shown a team of scientists, seeking to find that same being, dubbed “Engineer” by researchers Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green). Having found clues leading to its existence across the planet, they venture into the great unknown on a massive vessel named “Prometheus.” (Catch up on the Greek allusion there, if you will.) The atmosphere is similar to “Alien’s”: nasty creatures abound, agendas are played out with little respect to the other parties involved and more questions keep popping up. (Marc Streitenfeld’s score invokes palpable tension throughout all of it.)
And while Scott’s scenery is graceful and captivating, the performances, especially Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of David, a sentient android with a caustic wit, are surprisingly subtle.
The highlight of the cast, Fassbender brings a foreboding aura to his robot character. He’s seamlessly merges aspects of the boy android from “A.I.” and HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” David, however, seeks to model Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia.” He’s sensitive and dangerous, cunning and manipulative. You never really know what’s he up to, but you never quite want to trust him, regardless. It’s quite a expert performance.
And Charlize Theron is back playing the ice queen (reference “Snow White & the Huntsman”) with a biting sarcasm and utter lack of sympathy. It doesn’t help that she plays the corporate interest in this endeavor, which she does with aplomb.
Rapace’s character, Shaw, sought out to find her maker, in the most literal of senses. She’s spiritual to a fault, and views this mission as a means to strengthen her beliefs. She may come across as a Ripley-lite at first, but her stunning endurance will you have you cheering for her. (Just wait until the self-inflicted surgery comes around.)
Still, the same grandiose vision the first hour represents falls flat once Prometheus reaches its destination and more of the story arc is clarified. It’s standard fare for the course, for the most part, and anyone who’s seen “Alien” will have a general understanding of how the movie will end.
But what happens next, because the movie’s ending practically screams “sequel,” may be a bit more interesting. Because no matter how the situation ends, humans will continue to seek the answers to life’s greatest questions, murderous aliens be damned.
Four alien stars out of five.