By Dennis Keithly
After catching up on some television shows in my effort to be a better-informed geek, I decided to turn my attention to some movies. But, where to start? While pondering that question, the trailer for Alien: Covenant was released. Instantly I knew what I needed to watch next. As a fan of the original Alien movie and its sequel, Aliens, I had long wanted to watch Prometheus. Finally, I was going to have the chance.
What I Knew Already
I remember hearing years ago, when Prometheus was in the development stage, that Ridley Scott was helming this project. Reporting in the early days of the project seemed somewhat muddled. Some reports stated Prometheus was a prequel to the Alien franchise. Other reports claimed this was an something entirely different.
Somewhere along the line, the mystery vanished, and it was commonly known that Prometheus somehow concerned the “Space Jockey” seen in the original Alien movie. If you don’t recall the Space Jockey, this was the alien pilot found on board the alien spacecraft that the crew of the Nostromo discovered. The pilot died at his station among a field of pods on the bridge of his ship. Of course, those pods were eggs for the Xenomorphs, the famous aliens of this series.
So, I knew going into this viewing that the story had something to do with the Space Jockey and the Xenomorphs.
Before I get into my initial reactions, I will comment a bit on the story. The movie begins on a planet with an abundant source of water. A humanoid alien, that viewers will come to know as Engineers, stands on a cliff near a waterfall. He ingests a dark liquid, and the audience sees his DNA begin to break down. The Engineer then convulses and begins to fall apart, literally. Next, the Engineer’s body falls into the water, and again audiences see his body disintegrate. But wait, the DNA reactivates in the water of this world.
I’ll admit, I was thoroughly confused by the prologue of this movie when I saw it. It was only after I finished the movie and reflected on the beginning that I began to understand. At least, I think I understand. The Engineer sacrificed himself to seed this world with life. That was intriguing.
The Search for “God”
After the prologue, the focus shifts to a cave in Scotland. Archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) explore the cave and find a cave painting depicting a giant figure set against some spheres believed to be distant stars. Humans discovered the art of many of earth’s earliest civilizations all over the world.
Of course, Shaw and Holloway conclude that the figure depicted is an alien being of some sort. Furthermore, they deduce this alien engineered life on Earth. Using their discovery, they convince Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) to fund an expedition to what they believe is the alien’s home world. In other words, they are on their own quest to find God and settle any and all creation myths on Earth, but fortunately, this isn’t Star Trek: The Final Frontier.
Things Fall Apart
Eventually, the starship Prometheus arrives at this planet. David (Michael Fassbender), an android left to watch over the hibernating crew, awakens mission director Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theoron), Captain Janek (Idris Elba), and the rest of the crew. The atmosphere on this planet is toxic, so the crew wear suits to protect them from the environment and set out to explore an alien structure. Once inside the structure, things start falling apart.
As this blog is not meant to be a comprehensive review, I’ll highlight a few plot points. The Engineers are indeed found, but they are believed to be dead. However, David finds a lone surviving Engineer in stasis. Peter Weyland accompanied the crew on this mission in the hopes the Engineers could save him from death. The Engineers had other ideas.
Apparently, the Engineers were in fact bio-engineers. They conducted experiments, and eventually at least one of their creations escaped containment killing nearly all of them. Contrary to the hopes of the crew of the Prometheus, the Engineers had a nefarious purpose. Their creations in this compound were intended to destroy life on Earth for an unknown reason. As the crew of the Prometheus explores the mystery, all but one fall prey to the bio-creations of the Engineers, thus this becomes a classic Alien story. The film concludes with the birth of what Alien fans would recognize as an early Xenomorph.
The greatest strength of Prometheus is the lore and world building. The prologue makes little sense until the rest of the movie is viewed. Out there in the galaxy is the answer to the question, “Where does humanity come from?” The Engineers have a story that is intriguing and perplexing.
The visuals were fantastic. Prometheus captured the aesthetic of Alien and Aliens. The interior of the Engineers’ stronghold is a clear predecessor to the architecture of the Xenomorphs in the Alien films. The Prometheus starship is a clear predecessor to the Nostromo from Alien. The Engineers and their creations clearly belong in the same galaxy as the Xenomorphs.
David, the synthetic or android, was interesting as well. Weyland manipulated him from behind the curtain. However, Weyland was conflicted. Although, he didn’t have a soul, and he was loyal to Weyland, he cared for Shaw at the very least. Or, perhaps his loyalties changed when Weyland perished. Regardless, he seems to be a favorite subject of debate and discussion for fans.
However, even after I finished the film, Prometheus leaves plenty of questions unanswered. For instance, why did they want to destroy life on Earth? What had humanity done to warrant a death sentence? In addition, if they didn’t come from the planet the crew of the Prometheus discovered, where did they come from? Were these Engineers rogue scientists or were they acting in accordance with the will of their people? What was their mission?
Fortunately, Prometheus has a sequel coming in Alien: Covenant. One can hope that many of these questions will receive answers there. I have my doubts. Covenant looks much more like Alien and Aliens. The focus of those movies was action and survival. Where the Xenomorphs came from was not as important as surviving. In fact, their origin was irrelevant to the story and resolution of the crisis at hand.
I think I went into Prometheus expecting a film much more like Alien. In that, I expected a survival tale. The premises of those first two films in the franchise was survival, containment, and escape. Granted, those are indeed elements to Prometheus, but they are secondary. Shaw and Holloway set out to find answers to a mystery. That was paramount. They found some of those answers, but they also discovered more questions. Also, I found it frustrating that a ship containing a scientifically literate crew continually made unscientific decisions, such as removing their helmets just because the atmosphere appears breathable without conducting more tests.
It is not that I didn’t enjoy Prometheus, but it didn’t live up to my expectations. However, having had time to reflect on this movie and discuss it with friends, Prometheus would likely benefit from a second viewing to further examine the mysteries of this film. Unfortunately, I’m not sure when I would or could make time for that.
Also, given that I am not itching to do so solidifies my opinion somewhat. To be certain, Prometheus was a superior movie to the sequels to Aliens, Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection. I’m hoping Covenant will be even better.
Geek topics from AoG hosts and contributors.