Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, and Charlize Theron
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
Runtime: 124 mins. Reviewed in Jun 2012
This science fiction film is set in the late 21st. century, and tells the story of a spaceship named “Prometheus” sent to discover the remnants of ancient civilization. The crew on board seek the origins of life on Earth. The expedition is financed by a scientific organization, Weyland Industries, and its head (Guy Pierce) starts the expedition, which is guided by a map with archaeological imagery of seemingly disparate cultures. Prometheus lands on a mysterious planet, which has dark passages, archaeological signs, evidence of habitation, and slimy creatures.
The film is very much a horror movie in the tradition of “Alien” (1979), which Ridley Scott also directed, but it has much more of a philosophical bent. “Alien” was about an extraterrestrial creature that stalks and kills the crew of a spaceship. This movie explores philosophically the existence of life on other planets, but does so in horror-mode that tries to rival the violence of the original film. The pace at first is slow and measured, almost Kubrick-like as in his “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), but then the movie builds up tension to display its horrors with dazzling technological effect.
Prometheus is captained by Janek (Idris Elba), and Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) monitors the expedition, coldly from the side. Also on board is an archaeologist, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), who plays a key role as a believer in God and a child of faith. Elizabeth ultimately spurns Earth, and we are uncertain at the end of the movie, when a ship flies off, whether she is flying to another planet, or a surviving creature finds the means to fly to Earth, so reinforcing the interpretation that the movie is probably a prequel to “Alien”. Responsible for the maintenance of the ship is David (Michael Fassbender), who is an android made in the image of humans. His character is especially interesting, because it is intended clearly to provide a creation perspective that is distinctly non-human. All the characters of the film are subservient to the essential goal of the movie, which is to raise provocative notions about the origin of the universe.
Ridley Scott takes pains in interview to point out that the Catholic Church and NASA and “some scientists” believe in the existence of extra-terrestrial life. The film aims to construct scientific evidence for this thesis, and to suspend possible disbelief. Like “Alien”, it chills with some truly horrible scenes.
Alien was a murderous creature that was desperate to reproduce. This movie plays with life in other forms, but there is no integrative philosophical theme to underscore its pseudo-science. Its questions are too piecemeal to provide it: David does not have a soul, so what advantage does he have over humans? Who created man? How can one avoid death to embrace immortality? Can one ever return to one’s maker? And who (or what) is our maker?
Despite the film’s heavy ideas, the violence and impending doom increases as extra-terrestrial creatures inhabit the ship to create havoc, by impregnating, killing, and devouring. As in the Alien series, and mimicking its famous “chestburster” scene, an alien foetus emerges from Elizabeth, and David’s decapitated head still functions. Both effects are derivative of past movies. The violence is made to shock, and the film’s censorship classification was revised on appeal.
The digital effects in the film are excellent, and are seen to maximum advantage in 3-D format. Despite valiant efforts to the contrary, this is not Ridley Scott’s best movie, and “Alien”, made 33 years ago, still stands tall. But parents be warned. The film’s current rating (M) is far more lenient than what the film actually delivers.
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