A diligent young man takes care of a spaceship, light-years away from Earth; he is the sole conscious passenger of the ship Prometheus, and he attends to the needs of the other crew members while he, himself, passes time. He awakens his crew from hypersleep, and they are informed of their purpose on the ship by two scientists, who relay to them that they are searching for the “Engineers” that created human life on Earth. Apparently, many varied ancient cultures all depicted certain imagery in their culture that correlates to a specific far-off galaxy, which happens to contain a moon capable of sustaining life. The scientists theorize that evidence as to where we came from as a species could very well be discovered on the planet, so they, and their team, trek out to find clues as to why the planet seems to have housed living beings at one point. What they find is not what they, nor the audience, expect, and the crew has to navigate their existential notions of purpose, faith, and truth, while the more practical dangers of the planet’s ecosystem (and possible lingering life forms) deter any comfortable, clear-minded meditation on their journey.
This was presented, early in its marketing, as a sort of prequel to Alien, an attempt by director Ridley Scott to explain the lingering questions from his classic film, such as “What kind of creature was flying that ship?” and, “Why do the titular aliens seem so unnaturally, biochemically perfect?” However, this film is decidedly less about answering those questions as it is presenting a more cerebral, meditative form of science fiction altogether, one that concerns itself with more human, universal questions than “How the blue fuck do you kill an alien that bleeds acid?”. Not to say this is a more effective film than Alien; it is an entirely different beast together (no pun intended), and comparing the tight, claustrophobic Alien to the more philosophical, Blade Runner-esque Prometheus is a clear-cut case of apples and oranges. The script, co-written by Lost writer Damon Lindelof, is unafraid to let the more meditative aspects of the script supersede the action and the gore (of which there is plenty), leading to a lot of half-explained story beats and really heavy-handed conversations about the notion of “meeting your maker.” This explains why the film has incited so much fervent debate over whether the film is actually a contemplative, epic masterpiece or a half-assed, phony baloney sci-fi movie (like, say, Mission to Mars); my feelings are more towards the former, if only because I adore the notion that the interactions between the crewmembers are far more important than overexplaining the plot and the nature of the threat to death (one of the reasons I’m batshit in love with Alien, I might add). Ridley Scott handles the material with an appropriate amount of seriousness (think Kingdom of Heaven rather than Gladiator), and the characters come off as individuals rather than as an eclectic band of screenwriter inventions. One scene between two horny crewmembers is an excellent character moment amidst bigger tensions, and would have been cut by a lesser director who did not see the importance of highlighting the humanity of the proceedings. The action, itself, is massive and 100% convincing, and the practical and digital effects are a delight across the board (even though nothing compares to H.R. Giger’s original Alien design), and one can imagine that the production department started working overtime and taking their job more seriously the day Ridley Scott’s name was attached to the production; the ship is gorgeous, the alien planet is fascinating, and every gadget and device the crew uses feels bulky and realistic.
Another aspect that Sir Ridley’s clout afforded the production was an excellent ensemble cast that, admittedly, trumps Alien’s. It is led by Noomi Rapace, who, with this film, will probably make a bigger splash in the U.S. than Rooney Mara did playing her role in the American Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. She’s softer than Lisbeth Salander, more wide-eyed zeal and human wonder than dispassionate, borderline-autistic pragmatism, and she is worthy of holding up the Ripley mantle of kick-ass female leads without seeming like a ripoff. She’s backed up by Charlize Theron as the take-no-shit mission leader, and in a lesser movie she would’ve been the villain, but here she is ostensibly a cynical flip-side of the human coin from Rapace. Michael Fassbender is the seemingly-perfect David, whom we meet tending to the ship in solitude, and he notches in another chameleon-like performance to add to his increasing gallery of them; without spoiling the details of his character, his interactions with the rest of the crew are provocative and arouse many questions that would be lost in a lesser performance. Idris Elba is badass as the pilot of Prometheus, Rafe Spall is geeky and funny as a geologist, and Logan Marshall-Green is aggressive and conflicted as Rapace’s partner. Guy Pearce is the weak link of the cast, not because of his performance itself, but because his role is that of a octogenarian+, necessitating extensive old-age makeup; why they couldn’t get an older actor with equal or greater talent to play the part is lost on me (didn’t Christopher Plummer just win an Oscar? Wouldn’t he have killed it in that role?). Overall, a step-up from the admittedly badass roundup of Tom Skeritt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton and, of course, Sigourney.
Highly Recommended to fans of a more philosophical brand of sci-fi (more Bradbury or Asimov than Men In Black, with a twist of The Mist), the cast, or of Ridley Scott, who returns to the genre after 30 years with a new sense of enthusiasm and ambition that is a joy to behold. Time will tell whether it will stand alongside Alien and Blade Runner as sci-fi classics; for now, just see the damn thing while it’s still in theaters.
P.S. DON’T SEE THIS MOVIE THINKING IT’S PART OF THE ALIEN FRANCHISE!!! While it is technically in the same universe, any relations to the Alien series we know and love are indirect and vague, so most people looking for xenomorphs and the alien queen will be disappointed. However, I will admit that there are a handful of allusions that made my hair stand on end…see if you can catch em all!