PROMETHEUS brought director Ridley Scott back to the series he spawned in 1979 with Alien, hitting a home run with this spectacular 2012 prequel.
A stunner intro segment has a humanoid being in an act of sacrificial suicide, leaving strands of his DNA on some planet a long time ago (guess where). The scene jumps to a future archaeological discovery that spurs the 2093 arrival of a human expedition onto the moon of a planet in another system. Sponsored by a dying zillionaire (Guy Pearce), the team find themselves at variance in attitudes and at odds as to motive and mission. Love-linked archaeologists ‘Shaw’ (Noomi Rapace) and ‘Holloway’ (Logan Marshall-Green) are determined to find a cosmic creation link between humans and aliens. Others are mercenary, along for mining and money. Sensible ‘Capt. Janek’ (Idris Elba) is there to keep things safe, while cold, controlling expedition monitor ‘Vickers’ (Charlize Theron) thinks it’s a farce. Super-intelligent android ‘David’ (Michael Fassbender) does what he’s told, mostly. Best-laid plans go out the window (faces, abdomens).
Rather than simply regurgitating the first four thrillers, showing frantic humans battling the familiar acid-dripping, dentally nightmarish Xenomorphs in the cramped confines of spacecraft, Scott delivers a quest epic that bests the earlier entries in scale and breadth. He opens up the action visually with dazzler set design and vast landscape backgrounds. Instead of just Run!-Hide!-Shoot! horror reflexes, screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof expand the series narratively and thematically, giving this mission’s quest not merely a jacked-up goopy brawl of do-or-die decisions but a brain-tease wrestle with eternal existential questions. Quote Lindelof: “Good stories, you don’t know where they’re going to end.” The previous sagas made you blink, this one tasks you to think.
Never fear, the ponder jabber doesn’t get so deep or self-consciously heavy you’ll wish “no one can hear you scream”: there is more than enough tension, critter-fighting and matter-splatter to shrink from and gape at. Instead of one or two ferocious forms, the non-human contestants in the survival & supremacy struggle have several creepy configurations. Technical and artistic imagination abounds in the sets, props and costuming (that new design of spacesuit helmets are a sleek, practical, common sense item).
Granted, the plotting does suffer here and there in regards to some shallow character motivations, illogical behavior tropes and selective action-reaction plausibility—but hey, don’t we all? Movies are designed to flow through you for effect, with why?/why not? pondering left for the post-rush briefing. Critics and self-appointed ‘experts’ can flay everything to shreds to get at ‘truth’, particularly if it can justify their own reactions and reasoning. Lighten up. Enjoy the acting skill, production craft and those marvelously horrific creatures. It’s okay to kill them. Consider Life later.
“I didn’t know you had it in you.”
The cast excel. As heroine, Rapace had mighty tall shoes to fill following Sigourney Weaver’s iconic ‘Ripley’, but she owns up to the job without falling prey to emulation. Her relationship with Marshall-Green could have been better sketched, and the old-man makeup on Guy Pearce was only moderately convincing—it naggingly kept reminding me of Little Big Man‘s ‘Jack Crabbe’. Elba is suave and casual, relaxed yet rock solid (the guy is always strong) and Theron’s icy disdain shows how hot she can make cold-bloodedness. Best of all (even those who dissed the film agree) is Fassbender, magnetically unsettling as the ultra-logical, too-capable David. Quietly inscrutable, faintly ominous, his machine-smooth movements, subtle expressions and insinuating vocal tones precisely ‘engineered’ to keep you alert and guessing.
It received its sole Oscar nomination for Visual Effects, employing 1,300 of them. Locations included Scotland (on the Isle of Skye), Iceland (Vatnajökull National Park) and Jordan (Wadi Rum). The budget for this exceeded the ’79 original by eleven times, coming to $126,477,000. A worldwide box-office take of $438,355,000 topped out the series of six (thus far, plus two Alien-Predator spinoffs). More are yet to come, those aliens just don’t give up.
Running 124 minutes, with music by Mark Streitenfeld, camera thanks to Dariusz Wolski, production design from Arthur Max and acting contributions from Sean Harris, Rafe Spall, Benedict Wong and Patrick Wilson.