THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
A proper review of Prometheus must begin with a statement of fact: This is a prequel to Alien. There's been some attempt by the studio to play coy and suggest that it merely takes place “in the same universe” as Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi/horror masterpiece. But listen, the thing is a prequel to Alien, okay? I get that they're being vague because they want to make sure the film plays to as broad an audience as possible. It does indeed stand alone, so that you needn't have seen any of the previous Alien pictures to enjoy it. If you have, though, you'll certainly pick up on a lot of familiar references. I say all this because I love Alien. Out of the thousands and thousands of films I've seen in my lifetime, there are only six that have truly, legitimately scared me. Alien is one of them. I also appreciated Jim Cameron's sequel Aliens. Alien 3 was a botch job, and Alien: Resurrection was fun but inconsequential. The less said about those two Alien vs. Predator pictures the better. My hope going into Prometheus was that it would at least be a worthy return to form for the series, and it is.
Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green play scientists who discover what they believe is evidence suggesting that the origin of human life rests on a distant planet. They get the infamous Weyland Corporation to fund an exploration mission. Charlize Theron plays an abrasive Weyland representative assigned to accompany them, and Michael Fassbender portrays David, a synthetic being carrying out a mission of his own on the company's behalf. After arriving on the planet, the group begins to explore, making a number of shocking – and potentially fatal – discoveries along the way.
Like all good science-fiction, Prometheus is a story of ideas. Specifically, it deals with faith. The characters are, for varying reasons, seeking to understand how human beings came to exist. Rapace's character always carries a cross, indicating her faith in God and, presumably, the traditional Christian view that all life somehow springs from Him. Another character laments the idea that what they find might potentially wipe out the theory of evolution. Much of the horror in the movie comes from the notion that life could originate from something else, something we can't even begin to conceive. It is from this provocative concept that Prometheus operates. Credit goes to screenwriters Jon Spaihts (The Darkest Hour) and Damon Lindelof (“Lost”) for marrying a unique thematic twist to a well-established cinematic property. They refuse to provide any concrete answers, but that's beside the point, as the movie is intentionally about mystery and the fact that what we are always searching for the whys of things.
The remainder of the horror is based around bodily invasion. A key part of the franchise has always been the idea that gross, disgusting things get inside of human bodies. There's a scene here that was as repulsive to me as the chest-burster scene in the original Alien. (You'll know it when you see it.) Gore is used to further the central theme, by having the aliens sometimes share the exact same physical space with the humans, in addition to sharing a connection of origin. Doing so links them inextricably, in ways that are horrific for everyone involved. Director Ridley Scott is back on board for the first time since he kicked the series off in 1979. He has never been afraid to push the envelope. Scott again creates an overall feeling of dread that is occasionally punctuated by a disturbingly cathartic bit of shock violence. The director also stages some masterful action sequences, including one set in a dust storm. His film achieves a nice balance between big ideas and intense action.
To sell a story like this, compelling characters are a must. Noomi Rapace is terrific as the idealistic scientist, displaying some of the same toughness that Sigourney Weaver had as Ellen Ripley. She gets put through the wringer in the most frightening sequence, and her authentic terror is what gives it such a potent kick. Charlize Theron does fine work too, playing a ruthless corporate drone who cares more about the bottom line than she does about science or discovery. The absolute standout is Michael Fassbender. By turns charming and devious, his David is a deeply unsettling character, as he defies easy categorization. He could be benevolent or hostile. The others don't know. Neither do we.
As I said, Prometheus stands alone as a work. It is an intense and thought-provoking piece of sci-fi, with enough moments of sheer horror to give audiences a jolt and enough intelligence to keep them thinking afterward. The special effects are dazzling, as is the production design. As a hardcore Alien obsessive, I additionally enjoyed its value as a prequel. No, it doesn't perfectly line up with the beginning of Alien, but that's probably in case they want to make a sequel to the prequel. While nothing will ever measure up to the original, Prometheus entertained and excited me from start to finish. It felt so good to see a chapter in this series done right again.
( 1/2 out of four)
Note: For completely uninteresting reasons, I had to see Prometheus in 2D. While I didn't feel that I was missing anything essential, it's undeniable that some of the shots would look deeply cool in 3D. This may be one worth paying the upcharge for. I'm considering a second viewing in the extra-dimensional format.
Prometheus is rated R for sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language. The running time is 2 hours and 4 minutes.
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