Comparison’s with Scott’s earlier “Alien” are inevitable, but all the endless whining of the self-styled purists notwithstanding, “Prometheus” is the better film. Yeah-yeah, “Aliens” was a groundbreaking visual masterpiece, a hybrid of SF and horror, with a strong cast of mostly well known and respected actors, with a creature unlike any seen before in film, and that look—that claustrophobic look. But all that aside, it was, in fact, yet another remake of Agatha Christy’s “Ten Little Indians,” whose plot fit nicely into the twenty line nursery rhyme of the same name—albeit a very stylish reinterpretation. Instead of a mansion on an island cozy mystery like the original, it took place in the future, in space; instead of wondering who is killing off the cast, one wondered what. And in our unabashedly venal culture, it spawned a rash of sequels, at least one of which was better than the original—the highest form of praise.
Both films are an exercise in lets-kill-off-the-cast, which has become a genre unto itself since Christy’s “Indians,” but “Prometheus,” unlike “Alien,” has a plot—several, in fact, all interwoven. And by the end, all but one of the plot lines have been resolved (making room for yet another of those above mentioned venal sequels.) Like its predecessor, it has a cast with many recognizable respected actors, which lends some semblance of credence to much of the silliness; but unlike its predecessor, there is a feeling of expansion. The ending is a bit much, save to guarantee another installment.
The film begins on primeval earth, where a humanoid alien has been abandoned by a saucer craft to commit a sort of hari-kari, reminiscent of Socrates and his cup of hemlock but without the fawning admirers. This act, we are led to believe, seeded all organic life on earth. And before we can contemplate why, we are fast forwarded to the end of this century where Noomi Rapace, the very believable heroine, along with her lover have discovered the same image of a giant pointing to a star cluster in the work of many ancient civilizations separated by time and geography. “A map,” another cast member offers—“No, an invitation,” Rapace quips back. Charlize Theron is the cold pragmatic foil to Rapace’s hungry dreamer. The daughter of a dying gazillionare who finances the starship and the journey to the lonely moon depicted in the images. Michael Fassbender is David, the android counterpart to “Alien’s” Ian Holm. And like his predecessor, he has been programmed by those with money to a self-serving agenda not shared with the entire crew.
The skill of these three actors carry the day, because all the devices that drive the story involve the rest of the cast behaving like so many idiots at crucial moments—you know, the typical “too dumb to live” stuff, which, in fact, gets pretty much everybody killed. Most of the rest of the cast are cardboard cutouts, with Idris Elba giving a reasonable account of himself as the captain of the ill fated Prometheus.
The sets are stunning; the critters are few, but scary; the aliens are believable (sort of) looking ever so slightly like that famous bust of Emperor Constantine I; and the story lines involving one man’s quest for immortality at odds with one woman’s quest to find the gods, or “engineers,” as she calls them, both naively at odds with the aliens’ questionable purposes. It is not quite as gross as “Alien,” thankfully, although Rapace giving herself a C-section is only slightly less disgusting than the unnecessarily brutal dismemberment and death of Holm’s android in “Alien.”
The film is not for the squeamish, and not for those who worship at the altar of the original “Alien.” It is infinitely better than “Predators,” “Aliens 3” or “Alien Resurrection;” has none of the space operatic tom foolery of all the endless “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” installments; and is, once again, not a bad way to escape the humdrum for a pair of hours, with a bag of popcorn. The magic will definitely be lost on the small screen, for sure, so see it on the large one.