The Truth Lies In Our Stars
Upon its release three decades ago, Alien, a modest production by second-time British director Ridley Scott, frightened and excited audiences worldwide. With its grounded vision of space travel (more blue-collar than Flash Gordon), disturbing use of confined spaces and silence, and iconic central creature design, the film earned its place alongside E.T. and Star Wars as one of the era's finest science fiction films.
The first sequel, James Cameron's Aliens, also proved a significant hit, an energetic action/adventure companion piece to the quieter, more deliberate first film, but the next four entries ranged from fascinating, but flawed (David Fincher's compromised Alien³) to toxic through and through (Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem), leaving the series tired and adrift.
Prometheus represents a significant, masterful return to franchise form and also the return of Scott to science fiction, now a veteran with such popular titles as Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, and Gladiator to his name. There has been a great deal of speculation among fans and journalists regarding the bond shared by this film and the original, with the director just confirming Prometheus unfolds in the same universe as Alien, a few decades earlier than Ripley's fateful journey on the Nostromo.
Without venturing into land too revealing: the new film shares several element with the enduring seventies favorite, including specific visual details, but the plot and characters are daring and original. Refreshing philosophic and technical concepts are explored. This is a rare big-budget enterprise with the courage and sense of wonder to contend with larger-than-life questions of existence and identity even as it also hits the expected, potent notes of majesty and suspense, suspense often blended with the type of squirm-inducing, inside-out violence which set Alien apart upon its release.
The film focuses on a team of astronauts, scientists, and soldiers who travel to a distant planet where archaeological evidence indicates a conclusive answer to the divisive question of life on Earth may at last be found. The evidence is not false, but the path to the answer is far more dangerous than expected. I hesitate to describe the plot in greater detail, but know it is surprising in its twist and turns and thoughtful in its grand design.
If Prometheus' noble-minded storytelling ambitions divide audiences, few will argue the film's status as a technical marvel, from the foreboding production design to the atmospheric and elegant shot compositions which invite audiences to become lost in the awe-inspiring, detailed images. (I saw a 2-D presentation of the film, but plan to see it on the big screen again at least once, next time in 3-D.) Nor can the contributions of the top-notch ensemble cast come into question. Michael Fassbender shines brightest as David, an android who, from his blond hair to his just-so pronunciation, models himself on Peter O'Toole's performance in Lawrence of Arabia. Similar to Alien and Aliens, the film uses the presence of an android to generate significant tension: so close to a human, yet believed incapable of authentic feeling or thought, mechanical beings such as David are part of, but also apart from social situations. It is never clear at the start if they can be trusted.
This is a challenging review to write without revealing too much. If ever there was a film which deserves to be experienced without too much prior knowledge, it is Prometheus. And I am conscious of the fact what Scott has wrought, so anticipated and mysterious, will leave a certain segment of moviegoers frustrated or confused. I, however, found it to be a powerhouse of a film. Between its colorful performances, astounding technical elements, and inspired and riveting ideas, I see this picture as an instant genre classic, the best Alien film since the original thirty-three long years ago, and one of the best films of the year.