In space, no one can hear you scream, but once you touchdown on a marooned planet then that’s a different story.
About 33 years and a few unwarranted mash-ups later, Prometheus, the new prequel to “Alien”, welcomes director Ridley Scott back to a familiar territory. The film, which looks subtlety stereoscopic, is this year’s best example of needlessly paying extra to watch an added-dimension, especially when two would do fine.
While Prometheus’ extra depth would seem like a let-down — apart from the sweeping shot in its initial scene, that also echoes one of the lost elements of today’s science fiction film: a profound title score —the tactic tunnels Mr. Scott’s now mandatorily hectic vision into his once owned art: the agronomy of this genre’s inherent qualities – atmosphere and buildup.
For most of its preface, and then infrequently again, the screenplay by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof reveals its cards, in gradual unwavering consistence; sometimes the reveals come with a few fitful scenes of dramatic amplification. A few particular ones, understandably, are designed to draw out fanboy reactions. But anyone expecting less is, frankly, at the wrong screening.
In one of cinema’s best openings, we find the camera brushing over a, grimly color corrected, fresh new world presumed to be Earth. With its score rising into epic piece out ofa John Williams composition (the music is by Marc Streitenfeld), we lock into our first Prometheus — or as they are later called “the Engineers” — an eight feet long alabaster-skinned muscular humanoid with big sclera-less eyes. Any primeval man would consider him a god banished fromOlympus.
The man, or the inferred image of one, suggests the unresolved and oft disputed stuff out of Erich von Däniken’s “Chariots of the Gods” or the lesser popular Maurice Chatelain’s “Our Ancestors Came from Outer Space”.
Deserted on this planet, with a cheerless expression (we can see a massive ship leaving him), in a subsequent cut, he forfeits his body’s genetic code for the creation of life by gulping down what looks like a bubbling, burned residue. The next instant is painfully frightful, as his body is torn-down from the inside. Skin crunching, bones corroding, his DNA strands crack and he washes down the rapids right into our future.
Years later, in 2093 (presumably much later than the films viral publicity starring Guy Pearce as the megalomaniacal Peter Wayland at TED), a science exploring couple researching our origins — Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her husband Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) —unearth a star map leading the way to a far-off moon orbiting an alien world.
And so, in the blink of one of those hyper-slept two years that future astronauts will sleep, a group of 17 including Wayland’s militaristic corp. head (Charlize Theron, again one-dimensionally cold) and the pilot (Idris Alba), are woken up before planetary touch down.
Their mission, although primarily scientific in nature, is ill-defined. Would they find fossils? Live extraterrestrials? Or as many of us expect (but are misled to believe) chest-busting Xenomorphs?
If they do find evil, does our company have weapons? Well no. They’re on a naively conceived fact-finding mission.
As in the original Alien, the group has a resident cyborg. He is David (Michael Fassbender), a custom-made namesake of Haley Joel Osment’s prototype from Steven Spielberg’s A.I., who shares the acting method of Jude Law’s robotic gigolo.
Shown in a quasi-preparatory scene, alone on the ship named Prometheus, David brushes up on ancient texts and world languages. His skill is proficient as we see him reciting while riding a bike and slam dunking a basketball — almost as if he’s cramming for a school assignment.
In another scene showing David’s off-work hours, we see him in awe of Peter O’ Toole, as Lawrence of Arabia plays on one of the ships big-screen TV’s. David’s (and Fassbender’s) blond hair and oblong features betray an aesthetic similarity to O’ Toole. Betraying a simple emotion, akin to an avid fanboy, he’s both emotionally stirred and bewitchingly hooked.
Although programmed in the screenplay to be HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, in a lateral sense David is one of the film’s many Prometheuses; Intelligent, simple and inquisitive – with an air of pacified pompousness.
And so, when the film turns slightly into its own worst nightmare post the midpoint (and I stress slightly here, with all possible emphasis), one cannot help but feel marginally depressed.
Regardless, Prometheus, like its somewhat simulated predecessor Alien, is aesthetically significant; though it’s just not as prone to be a part of our pop-culture memories. Its horror is more terrestrial.
In one of the film’s legitimately horrific scenes, we see Rapace’s Shaw, suddenly demonized into Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. Half-doped on painkillers and barely able to stand, she performs self-surgery, wide-awake.
Her resolute act of self-preservation managed a feat that few movies today could – it stunned-silly even the most murmuring of the audiences in rapt attendance. It is one achievement, I doubt even Scott could pull off in Prometheus’ sequel.