Is it possible that all of the elements of life on earth, from the protozoa to the human, were the gift of god-like creatures who came to a barren planet to create us in their image? And that they stayed long enough to teach our prehistoric ancestors, leaving evidence behind in cave drawings that date back 35,000 years, seven times as far from the present as we are from the earliest days of the Old Testament? Hard to say.
On the other hand, it is not hard to see the evidence of the DNA building blocks in this film that trace directly back to its predecessors, the Aliens “In space no one can hear you scream” series. It wavers at times between enthralling variations on the themes of the originals and over-reliance on repeating and reinforcing them.
One of those building blocks is stunning visuals and it is a tribute to the earlier films (which take place after this one) that the special effects and design were were so prescient that the connection feels seamless. This is not like those early “Star Trek” episodes where the computers look like shoeboxes with blinking lights. Scott is meticulous about making sure that all of the technology in his films looks both amazing and believable and the visuals here are enthralling. The rolling 3D probes feel as immediately real and indispensable as Dekard’s then-not-yet-invented scalable computer display.
“Prometheus” is the name of the spaceship that is taking a crew in search of the very origins of life on earth. Archeologists have decoded ancient pictures (like the Chauvet cave paintings documented in Cave of Forgotten Dreams). They believe it is an “invitation” to find the beings who brought the original genetic building blocks to our planet. A monumentally wealthy man who is very old (Guy Pearce) funded the voyage, knowing he would not live to see the results. The expedition is led by the fiercely disciplined Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), who lives in Captain Nemo-like luxury quarters while the scientists on board sleep their way through space travel. As they approach the target planet, they are awakened and prepare to land.
The archeologists are thoughtful seeker Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace of the Swedish “Dragon Tattoo” movies) and excitable, impetuous Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green of “Dark Blue”), who are a couple. Along for the expedition are some other scientists you don’t have to worry about getting to know very well and an all-knowing and extremely polite and handsome android named David (a well-cast Michael Fassbender) who seems like a combination of Data, C-3PO, and the “Danger, Will Robinson” robot from “Lost in Space.” The captain of the ship, Janek (“The Wire’s” Idris Elba) has a different mission from the others. They are seeking what is out there. He is there to make sure nothing gets back to earth that could be destructive.
Interruption for an important safety tip: no matter what your instrument readings tell you and how excited you are, when you are exploring a new planet, keep your helmet on.
Things are exciting, things are promising, and then things start to go very, very wrong. As in previous Scott films, we end up with a woman in her underwear being chased by something pretty appalling. And the call is, if you know what I mean, coming from inside the house.
Scott and his screenwriters, Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, are not afraid to take on the big, big questions, and this movie gets credit for making room for Shaw’s insistence on wearing a crucifix despite Holloway’s claim that what they have found invalidates her faith. “It’s what I choose to believe,” her father tells her about heaven in a flashback. The movie leaves some questions open (wait until the very end of the credits for an enigmatic clue relating to “Alien”), but the answers it does give are disappointingly superficial and a little silly. (See point about helmets above.) Instead of Prometheus (the Greek mythological figure who was thought to have created man from clay and stolen fire from the gods to give to humans), they could have just named the spaceship “The Hubris.” But without some audacity, no big undertaking would ever be attempted and this one succeeds in so many categories that the suggestion that another chapter is to come allows us to hope it will be as good as “Aliens.”
Parents should know that this film includes extended graphic and disturbing sci-fi peril and violence, explicit surgery, many characters injured and killed, brief strong language, sexual references and non-explicit situation
Family discussion: Were the cave paintings “an invitation?” What were the crew’s biggest misjudgments? What is the meaning of the opening scene?
If you like this, try: the “Alien” movies and “Blade Runner”