“Big things have small beginnings” –Peter O’Toole as TE Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia.

 

In 1979 Ridley Scott made the first Alien film. In it, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her fellow crewmembers of the towing-ship Nostromo find a derelict spacecraft and search aboard for more information. In the command and controls section of the ship is an alien life form ostensibly bonded to the controls –dead. The dead “space jockey” as Scott and writers called the character, was hauling a dangerous and terrifying predator that move from the derelict ship to the Nostromo. After several series of gory and terribly grisly deaths, the only member of the Nostromo still alive is Ripley. She manages to kill the ‘alien’ an put herself into stasis on a lifeboat. This ends Scott’s opus of terror and several sequals followed, all with Ripley facing off against a foe who seems to be at her ever corner.

But one question was never followed up on in the 33 years since the first Alien film: who was the ‘space jockey’, why did he have that alien on board, and where was he going?

Scott’s return to the realm of science fiction seeks to answer these questions, and ask a lot more in place of it.

In this installment, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her fellow scientist/husband Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) have been collecting ancient starmaps from across the globe that they believe to be the directions (and an invitation) to visit the ‘engineers’ of humankind.

Funded by Weyland Corp founder Peter Weyland (a super creepy and scary Guy Pearce), the 1 Trillion dollar expedition to the far away galaxy includes an android named David (Michael Fassbender), who has an obsession with the film Lawrence of Arabia.

What follows is a less gory yet creepier prelude to the events of Alien. While not a direct prequel in the literal sense, meaning it consists of the same characters but the film predates the events of the Nostromo, it offers a sense of context to the first Alien film and constructs a world that despite being more technologically advance than ours is not much more politically or socially different.

A lot of what happened in the film can’t be talked about without a spoiler warning, so fair readers, if you want to be surprised, turn back now.

Okay, so now that that’s set up, we can more fully talk about what the film did well, and then what troubled me.

First, the cinematography was superb. The effects and visual elements were some of the best I have seen in 5 years, easily. This being a Ridley Scott film, there was a lot of movement that was at times disorienting, but part of the fun of film is to knock you off your center of balance and explore imaginative ideas.

Despite the haters, I thought that the back-story to a lot of the ‘engineers’ makes sense. What happened on Earth was essentially a one-person act/accident. An engineer arrives on our lifeless planet, and, taking a small potion disintegrates in a waterfall, spreading his complex DNA structure through the environment. This obviously leads to a dialectical expansion that forms the building blocks for human life. Not necessarily a new idea in the realm of science fiction/fantasy, but one that makes for a solid premise.

Finally, I thought that meditation of each character on the centrality of mortality is important and was actually a fun conversation worth discussing. The android David does not understand the fear and love of his human counterparts, because he cannot conceptualize what it means to die. The billionaire Peter Weyland (Pearce) admits he funded the expedition out of a desire to meet the maker of humanity and possibly evade death all together with their help.

What the film offers in the way of ecumenicalism is the concept that the reason people believe/fail to believe what they do is essentially a personal decision devoid of ‘reason’ or actuality.

I don’t think that one necessarily has to choose a faith at all, personally, and that the majority of our belief structures are primarily the result of socio-economic backgrounds and heritage. Despite this, I appreciated that Shaw’s faith was really one of personal reliance and not adherence to social policy (I’m looking at you, Vatican).

All that said, the film either failed in a lot of ways, or was just flat out disturbing in others.

The impregnation/emergency caesarian that Shaw goes through when she finds out David infected her sexual partner Holloway with the genes of one of the aliens who then accidentally impregnated a supposedly barren Shaw was deeply creepy and I don’t think necessary to the plot structure of the film. In addition, it was really morally troubling that when  Shaw needed an emergency surgery, even 75 years in the future and featuring a machine that lets you do your own surgery, she couldn’t get it and instead had to ask for an abdominal surgery which was honestly gave me more than a little bit of a squirm.

There are more moments that were troublesome, but that sums up the majority of them.

Prometheus is a film worth seeing for science fiction fans and those interested in  the Alien franchise, but it is not for the faint hearted.

Prometheus is in theatres now.

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