Saturday, 9 June 2012

Prometheus (2012):

Big things have small beginnings.
– Michael Fassbender, as David, in Prometheus (2012).


The enduring appeal of Prometheus may depend on how (and if) this movie is followed up by a sequel that answers all the open questions left at the end of this one.

The original 1979 movie, Alien, is an undisputed classic; good enough to have created a new species of sci-fi bursting from the tired chest of the genre, a thinking man’s sci-fi with a sweaty, gritty, working environment feel, albeit with a formulaic horror/thriller plot of potential victims stalked and slain down endless dark corridors, while others share an even worse fate: becoming hosts to a terrifying parasitic organism.
I was 11-years-old in 1979 and Alien was rated X certificate (the equivalent to today’s 18 rating). I had no chance of getting into the cinema – any cinema! – to see it back in 1979. Luckily for me, I matured early and when I was 14, I was shaving regularly and able to pass for an 18 – 20-year-old. Alien was eventually double-billed at a local cinema with The Entity, in 1983. With an unshaven stubble on my face, I paid my money at the box office and was allowed entry with no problem. Seeing both those movies on the big screen was a treat to a young movie buff. Back in 1979, I bought two movie magazines promoting the release of Alien. They were A4 sized and folded out into giant posters. The first was of the “Space Jockey” with one of the astronauts standing in front of it. The other poster was of the alien itself.
The Space Jockey intrigued me more than the alien: the colors and design of the fossilized skeleton, looking as if it had either been fused to its giant chair – or even grown out of it, the ribbed walls behind it, the sheer size and scale of the set that dwarfed the actors. Swiss surrealist artist H.R. Giger’s bio-mechanical designs knocked me out. In the movie, the Space Jockey is only in one scene, an enigma to the characters as well as the audience, but I always hoped we would learn more about it in subsequent sequels.
Thirty-three years after his original movie, director Ridley Scott, returns with a kind of indirect prequel that gives us into an insight into what came before the chest-bursting Xenomorphs and background into the origin of the Space Jockey. All the staples of the original movie are evident in Prometheus: the team of explorers landing on a barren world to investigate something they don’t have all the facts on; severe weather conditions assailing them as a precursor to the greater threat they’ll eventually face; searching down long dark corridors; creatures spewing corrosive blood when wounded.
Prometheus begins with a prologue sequence of a powerfully built alien humanoid standing atop a waterfall as an alien ship moves through the clouds above. He drinks a dark liquid that immediately affects a painful physical transformation. As his body shatters and bursts, he tumbles into the water and his DNA strands flow through the water, reconfiguring into a new life form. Like the proverbial Phoenix, his sacrifice results in birth of a new species: humans. The timescale then jumps to 2089. Archaeologists and lovers, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover ancient cave drawings leading to a star map and other evidence that mankind was created by alien “Engineers”. An expedition is then funded by the elderly and frail Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and the couple find themselves aboard the vessel Prometheus with a team to investigate what may have invited them to the planet of LV-223. Another regular plot element comes in the form of android David (Michael Fassbender). The main difference being that the androids in the previous Alien movies were indistinguishable from the other characters until their true identities were purposely revealed during the course of the story. In Prometheus, David is conspicuously stiff and mechanical in his movements, cold and aloof in his exchanges, although he seems to have developed his own emotional responses through studying old movies; Lawrence of Arabia in particular, mimicking Peter O’Toole’s mannerisms, speech and hair style. David even displays pain at being reminded about his lack of humanity and soul. Another plot similarity occurs when the assumed invitation turns into something malevolent after they uncover the Engineers intention to wipe out the human race.
Questions are posed to the characters and viewers: Did the dark liquid the Engineers intended to unleash on the human race cause their own extinction? Why, after creating mankind, did they then choose to wipe us out? What will Shaw and David find as they venture to the engineers homeworld for their answers? As already stated, Prometheus is set on the planet LV-223. The original Alien movie (and the 1986 sequel, Aliens) was set on LV-426, so where did the crashed ship with the relic of the Space Jockey come from? Will this turn out to be the ship commandeered by Shaw and David? Was the original warning message that Ripley deciphered in Alien another message left by Shaw?
As a life-time fan of the Alien movies (with the exception of Alien Resurrection, released in 1997, which I hated and don’t own in my DVD collection), I’ve been asked if I like Prometheus and I do. I like it a lot … but with reservations about the seemingly intentional open-ended questions. That aside, cinematically Prometheus is a joy to watch, the special effects are seamless, performances are excellent and there are impressive set pieces, but the ending leaves too many loose ends hanging which would render the movie uneven without another sequel to fill in the blanks this one leaves.
The tagline on the Prometheus poster read: “The search for our beginning could lead to our end.” What will the characters (and us the viewers) discover in the next instalment?
For many of the characters like Kane in Alien, and Newt’s father in Aliens, curiosity may have killed the cat … but satisfaction brought it back. Time will tell how the next movie in the series satisfies.

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