The opening scenes of Sir Ridley Scott’s Prometheus — the much-anticipated, decade-in-development prequel to Scott’s Alien — are a stunning indication that the new film isn’t going to settle for being an homage to Lt. Ripley, creature designer H.R. Giger and “in space, no one can hear you scream.” The camera sweeps over an iridescent landscape of mountains, bodies of water and active volcanoes, finally arriving at a well-muscled, hairless, alabaster-colored being that ingests a dark liquid before throwing himself off a waterfall, disintegrating as he falls. We’re in for something very different than titanium-toothed alien fetuses bursting from the chests of galactic merchant marines.
The location shots originate from Iceland, and are meant to represent Earth before the existence of man (and biological life in general, apparently), although it looks like another world — where the sleeping crew of the spaceship Prometheus is heading in the late 21st century. David (Michael Fassbender), an android with a fixation on Lawrence of Arabia, wakes them as the crew heads toward its destination: a planet that Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), the elderly founder of the Weyland Corporation, has determined as the origin of ancient astronauts that once visited Earth and created humankind.
Among those onboard are scientists/lovers Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, who has a passing resemblance to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley from the 1983 original) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), crew leader Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and steadfast pilot Janek (Idris Elba). Cocky Holloway insists on entering a monolithic structure immediately with a landing party that includes geologist Fifeld (Sean Harris) and botanist Millburn (Rafe Spall). That’s when the connection to Alien manifests, as the two hapless scientists wander off by themselves after the party discovers a huge alien head resembling the Silver Surfer-looking “Engineer” from the film’s beginning. Like its ancestor, this is very much a horror film.
Prometheus stands on its own as a film thanks to the inspired ingenuity of screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindel, and spectacular set and production design. Giger lends a hand, but overt clever winks to his contributions from three decades ago are scarce. The sexual assault overtones suggested by facehugger creatures back in the day are a lot more emphatic and graphic, and David does have several strong ties to Ian Holm’s Ash. Fassbender is sure to show up on Best Supporting actor lists for his apparently vain and envious David, which has undertones of 2001’s HAL9000, Peter O’Toole and David Bowie from The Man Who Fell to Earth.
Aside from surpassing Martin Scorsese’s Hugo for 3-D excellence, Prometheus offers hypotheses about the origin of life on our planet that are so well constructed, they make real-life theories about extraterrestrials seem highly feasible. It makes sense now why so much precaution was taken during the build-up to the film’s U.S. release to distance the DNA strand from genetic parent — it’s much more effective and rewarding to consider Prometheus as a separate mythology within the Alien universe.
Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, directed by Ridley Scott, rated R, 124 mins