Posted on Tuesday, June 5th, 2012 at 12:23 pm
Author: Mark Farnsworth
The familiar unfamiliar. Stem cells of a universe encoded in our DNA over 30-year period are about to grow in a new direction. A biomechanical mutation in 3 dimensions groans and cracks under the pressure of human anticipation. Slime and mucus coarse through our veins as ancient myth is appropriated to give weight to a modern one.
Prometheus stole fire from the gods but will this digital Titan steal the flames of our memory? That close up of the dead pilot’s eye in “Alien” was so haunting, so unexplained that it left a Stygian darkness clawing at our subconscious. Does “Prometheus” have the right to prise open some of these dark doors and cast light on the unknown or is Ridley Scott a spiteful father ruining our childhood fantasies and terrors?
Now 74, Scott is seeking immortality through a cinematic afterlife. Prometheus, like The Tree of Life directed by his contemporary Terrence Malick, is Scott’s 2001–the philosophical quest for the meaning of life. Rather than just a prequel or reboot of the Alien franchise, Prometheus is then far more arresting when read as a voyage of discovery into the frail mortality of a rich and powerful filmmaker like Scott.
Prehistoric landscapes are our first foray into Scott’s brave new world. Hovering on the periphery of the screen is a shadow, foreboding and gargantuan. As the camera settles a hooded figure dwarfed by the frame stands by a waterfall. When the hood is removed we are shocked. The figure raises an oozing cup to its lips and drinks deeply before violently shredding its DNA and spilling its soul into the water. Is this the first life on Earth?
2089. Over enthusiastic scientists Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway discover cave paintings in Scotland over 35,000 years old that show men pointing to the stars. We can see where this is going, Chariots of the Gods and ancient astronauts. It doesn’t matter if we don’t believe it because multibillionaire Peter Weyland does and he has the money to bank roll a manned space mission based on the slightest of hunches.
Aboard the spacecraft Prometheus our hunt for snippets of those old movies begin in earnest. Any trace of Alien is scanned and compartmentalised for later discussion. The silent interiors are the domain of David (an Oscar worthy Fassbender), an android who watches over the stasis of the human crew. David spends his time deconstructing ancient languages and watching Lawrence of Arabia trying to perfect Peter O’Toole’s performance, “The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.”
David’s own trick is to pretend he doesn’t mind not being human or more intriguingly pretending that he doesn’t mind humans being physically and intellectually inferior to himself. His debates with playground bully Holloway are intriguing. “Why did your people make me?” questions David. “We made you because we could,” dismisses Holloway. “Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?” replies David.
The rest of the crew are the usual archetypes we come to expect from these films: the grizzled captain Janek, squabbling scientists Fifield and Milburn, nameless security ready to be chewed, dissolved and spat out by unspeakable horrors and Vickers, the ice-cold company woman with the obligatory hidden agenda. Vickers is so paranoid about her safety that she even lives on Prometheus’ lifeboat blinged out with Swarovski chandeliers and a white grand piano.
Vickers seems as ruthless as her machine gun namesake as she cuts down anyone and everyone down to size, “My name is Meredith Vickers and it’s my job to make sure you do yours.” It’s her party; her charter and hushed conversations in dark corridors with David only intensify our suspicions about the two Aryans. “I was wondering,” asks Janek “are you a robot?” Vickers response is functional, pragmatic, “My room, 10 minutes.”
By turns Vickers and Shaw slug it out for the right to be the successor to Ellen Ripley’s crown, a paradox as the flight lieutenant’s own trials and tribulations with the alien are still 30 years in the future. Both display her ruthless determination and will to survive even at the expense of others. Burning crewmates alive or performing emergency caesarean sections hold no fear for this pair and as Vickers says, “A king has his reign, and then he dies. It’s inevitable.”
On the surface of the alien planet true wonder overwhelms us. David, like Roy Batty in Blade Runne,r is the only member of the crew as awestruck as the audience. HR Giger’s night terror designs are etched on every crevice of our minds. To see them again is like being reminded of the sound of nails screeching down a blackboard. Endless corridors of the blackest bone twist like broken spines, the promise of genuine terror ever present around every turn. As embedded in popular culture as Giger’s visions are, they are still supremely unsettling.
Prometheus continues to raise more questions than it answers about this darkest of universes. Black urns instead of leathery eggs suggest logical experiments in an arms race to create the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. For what purpose we ask? Were we only created to be a testing ground for the nefarious plans of others? And if this is an arms race who or what is on the other side?
Scott’s movie is a glorious near-miss that feels an hour too short. You can almost sense the director’s cut breathing down your neck, teeth and claws poised to attack when we least expect it. The veteran director may have overreached himself at the expense of the human characterisation that made Alien so believable but Prometheus has so many gloriously insane ideas that it will reignite the horrors that slither and crawl in the back of our collective consciousness, devouring our livers time and time again only for us to come back for more.
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