Starring: Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender
Directed by: Ridley Scott
For its time, “Alien” was a game changer for the science-fiction genre. The chest-bursting alien birth scene in the 1979 movie will go down as one of the most memorable in cinema history. And with director Ridley Scott’s cryptic clue that “Prometheus” has “strands of ‘Alien’ DNA,” this has the potential to re-invent the genre again.
I can tell you the quasi-prequel does evoke the first film in many ways, hinting at the past while inventing new ways to terrify audiences.
Originally written by Jon Spaiht, with Scott and Damon Lindelof (“Lost”) tinkering with the story even more, this takes place around 40 years before the Nostromo blasted off into deep space. Lindelof’s influence can be traced to the heavy emphasis given to the mythology of the super alien race that archeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) calls the “engineers” and that she believes created human life. Her definitive proof is the catalyst for the mission, sponsored by the Weyland Corporation (morphed later into Weyland Yutani in the previous films), to the remote galaxy where a large planet’s moon might hold the key to our existence. More than anything, Elizabeth wants to meet her maker. But be careful what you ask for.
Special effects have improved exponentially since the first film, and with a much larger budget than what Fox offered in 1979, Scott has used it to full advantage. The sets are grander, richer, and more detailed, emphasizing Scott’s distinctive eye for visuals, tracing back to his first career as a graphic artist. The spaceship Prometheus mimics its successor, Nostromo, with its sleek, functional austerity, and the surface of the planet LV 223 is appropriately rocky and barren, owing to its filming location in Iceland.
In the interiors of one of the mammoth domed structures, Shaw and her team discovers Scott’s imagination really comes to life with some of R.L. Giger’s unused original renderings created for “Alien” finally fully realized in his inimitable style. Much of it will seem familiar, and yet … not. Surprisingly, the towering “engineers” are human-like with the classic features of Roman statues, only more fleshy and exaggerated. Giger’s influence is seen in skeletal-like features repeated in the architectural aspects and his now familiar alien — an indestructible weapon whose creation and purpose we learn more about.
What Shaw and the others encounter in the dome is best saved for the movie, but it all goes horribly wrong with some jaw-dropping scenes that up the ante for future sci-fi films. One involving a medi-pod emergency surgery is particularly graphic and as Rapace has cryptically described in interviews, involves “every woman’s worst nightmare.” If this scene doesn’t make you squirm out of your seat, then nothing will.
Scott seems eager, maybe too eager, to make up for lost time. Over 30 years have passed since his first venture, and he has a lot to say. Having now admitted he was not pleased when Fox offered James Cameron directing honors for the “Alien” sequel “Aliens,” he takes full advantage of this opportunity, cramming in theological debate and philosophical musings about God, creation and faith. While you sense where he is going, coupled with the horror-driven action, some of this chatter, mostly between Elizabeth and her partner (Logan Marshall-Green), who favors science over faith, seems superfluous, forcing us to into a debate that’s just too deep to merely touch on, as in the hint at the mythology embedded in the title itself.
While some of the characters bear resemblance in demeanor to some of their “Alien” predecessors, such as the mouthy scientist and the cocky captain (Idris Elba), the character of Shaw is noted for her wide-eyed naiveté in believing these “engineers” really want us to find them. She couldn’t be more wrong, and her transformation from innocent into a warrior with instinctive survival skills will remind you of another Scott heroine named Ripley.
The show stealer is Michael Fassbender as the android, David. So complete is he in the role, you’ll have to remind yourself he is, in fact, a human actor. His droll humor coupled with his studied movements are as fascinating as his veiled intentions. Pay close attention to his remark, “What child doesn’t wish for the death of his parents?” Another crewmember hiding something is the icy corporate rep Meredith Vickers, with Charlize Theron playing a futuristic version of her evil queen from “Snow White and the Huntsman.” She’s a scene-chewing shrew, but it turns out with good reason.
“Prometheus,” as you may have already deduced, offers more questions than answers. It is exquisitely frustrating to know that this ending is a certain setup for future movies that will bravely go where Scott wants us to go. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another 30 years.