"Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?"*
Every time I see a poor copy of a good idea become the latest pop darling out there, I get the inevitable useless reply from someone who takes it personally: "There aren't any original ideas anymore! Just because it's been done before doesn't make it bad!" (And it certainly doesn't make it "good!") It's missing my point. I don't care that it's been done before (and I'll identify where if anybody wants to look it up), what I care about is that it isn't done as well. Jean-Luc Godard said "It doesn't matter where you take things from, it matters where you take things to."
Succinct and right on.
So, now, Prometheus—Ridley Scott's return to SCI-FI, and the world he created in Alien. If one goes in seeking another "Alien" movie, one might come out a little disappointed. Oh, there are chases with disoriented POV's, conflicted crews and amoral androids, "hair-in-the-drain" icky effects, H.R. Giger designs, shocks and revelations, but this isn't Alien.
It's better, richer, and more thought-provoking...while still being a rather nifty action-horror-science-fiction hybrid. It must be a hybrid, as Scott (and screenwriters Jon Spaihts of The Darkest Hour and "Lost"'s Damon Lindelhof) have stolen just about every science-fiction idea in the Universe.
But, again, where they take it is original in its implications. SCI-FI always asks "What if...?" This one goes one question further in the interrogation and asks "But why?" Yes, it's a monster movie, but like so many of those, God plays a role.
There's a significant amount of religion in this film, and speculation about God and our origins, but it still manages to find room for Faith in settings that remind one of Hell.
Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, the first "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") is an archaeologist who stumbles on the latest of a series of cave paintings that have the same image even though originating from different parts of the globe. This new one is in the Isle of Skye in Scotland. The paintings show a group of primitives praying to a huge humanoid figure who is gesturing towards a configuration of six planets.
It's enough to fund Shaw and her lover-colleague Dr. Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green, in a performance that's trying too hard to find significance) on a trillion dollar excursion to find the only place in the Universe where the planets have that configuration at that point in the sky (??) aboard the good ship USCSS Prometheus, captained by Janek (Idris Elba, even more impressive than he was in Thor, in fact, I'd enjoy a movie centered around this character), overseen by Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron, in brittle ice-queen mode) of The Weyland Corporation, caretakered by David (Michael Fassbender, in a terrific heavily-influenced performance), an android who serves as ships' H.A.L. in all manners, including a slightly unctuous air, but in movie choices fancies David Lean over Kubrick.** Once they get planet-side, a holographic image of the CEO of the Weyland Group (Guy Pearce, in extreme old-age make-up) introduces Shaw and Holloway to the dubious crew—the mission: to find that planet in the cave paintings and see if we can find the humanoids pointing us there. In simple terms, we want to find that ancient "god." They find a landing strip of sorts and settle there because "God does not build in straight lines."
Upon landing they find a semi-hostile environment with two ancient dome-like structures. They enter and begin digital cartographing with laser mapping drones. As they go deeper into the structures, things seem somewhat familiar to the sequel-oriented movie-goer, but not really. It's a clean environment, protected against savage wind-storms, snaking corridors and the occasional dead body of an alien species. What happened here?
If you think you know where it's going, you're wrong. This one's going somewhere else than running down a neon-lit corridor being chased by a monster (well, there's some of that, in fact quite a bit of it). But, it's a much bigger Universe than the Xenomorph of the first one (I've started calling them "glitches" after this movie), and if there is a sequel to Prometheus, it's going to be along a different track than Alien, and has bigger fish to light up with a flame-thrower.
It's technically stunning, and fun to see how they took all the unused stuff left on the drawing room floor in Alien and incorporated it here. And lest you think that this is a high-philosophy movie, no, it's scary, designed to make you jump and gross you out. It is a horror film, after all, but for all the shock stuff, it might also make you think, as it toys with big sci-fi ideas—"A Shaggy God Story" as acerbic critic John Simon called 2001: A Space Odyssey. But, it's Scott's best film in years, retracing old steps, sure, but finding a new path to go somewhere else, some place a lot more interesting.
Prometheus is a Full-Price Ticket.
|"The answer, Dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but ourselves"|
** In fact, he watches a scene that we featured in a "Don't Make a Scene" article.