n 1979, Ridley Scott burst onto the scene with “Alien” by shocking audiences, exploding chests, and giving the science fiction genre a grisly kick in the pants. Scott’s sinister take on sci-fi (which he also used to great effect on his next film, “Blade Runner”) simultaneously combined wonder and terror in a way people had never seen before.
Scott quickly left science fiction behind and went on to a long and illustrious career marked by sweeping epics like “Gladiator” and “Black Hawk Down.” Now, at long last, Scott has returned to sci-fi with his dazzling new film, “Prometheus,” thus bringing his well-earned, wide-angled grandeur to the claustrophobic tension he perfected in “Alien.”
This movie, which is not quite a prequel and not quite a reboot of “Alien,” has been fascinating to watch being handled from a marketing perspective. Why the weird title, why not just call this sucker “Alien: Genesis” and be done with it?
The title, along with the cagey refusal by the filmmakers to admit any connection to “Alien” is a good move for two reasons.
First, the franchise has moved solidly into B-movie territory with its last respectable entry, “Aliens,” coming more than 25 years ago; therefore “Prometheus” doesn’t have to deal with the baggage of “Alien vs. Predator.”
Secondly, it frees up Scott from having to compete with himself, allowing him to toy with the conventions of the movie that made him famous without being beholden to audience expectations.
To put it more simply, “Prometheus” couldn’t possibly exist without “Alien,” but it also exists entirely as its own animal.
The story picks up in the late 21st Century as archeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a series of cave paintings that suggest life on earth was generated by alien beings who left us a map to their planet in a galaxy far, far away.
An expedition to said planet is funded by bazillion-aire Peter Weyland (Guy Pierce under a mound of old-man makeup), who provides Shaw and Holloway with an exploratory team headed by his icy proxy Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and his greatest invention, David the android (brilliantly played by Michael Fassbender).
To avoid spoilers, I’ll just say this journey to the outer reaches of the universe does not go well.
The script by “Lost” showrunner Damon Lindelof and his writing partner Jon Spaihts take great pains to hold a mirror up to the original “Alien” while simultaneously blazing into entirely new territory.
Where the goal of “Alien” was to scare the bejesus out of you; “Prometheus” boasts loftier, “2001”-Esq ambitions along with trying to creep you right out of your seat.
“Prometheus” is a great piece of genre filmmaking that uses science fiction to poke at some deep and thorny questions about the nature of humanity, all while being tense, gruesome, and visually stunning.
Scott makes impressive use of 3D, especially during the wide, environmental shots that give depth and scope to the alien world our adventurers find themselves running and screaming around.
But even though Scott has made his film seem wide and epic, he also shows he still has it in him to pull off some close, uncomfortable, white-knuckle filmmaking as a scene featuring an impromptu C-section will likely live long in cinematic lore.
The cast is solid, but not outstanding, with Rapace (the original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) and Fassbender standing out while everyone else should probably just be wearing a sign that says, “I am going to die horribly.”
While “Prometheus” can’t measure up to the original “Alien,” it has wisely decided not to even try and, in turn, has become a very good film in its own right. It is clear Scott has stayed away from science fiction for too long, if for no other reason than nobody can make a chest explode quite like him. Welcome back, Ridley!
“Prometheus” is rated R for sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language.