Chest-Bursting Fun

Ridley Scott returns to the 'Alien' universe with a masterpiece

OK, fellow geeks, you can exhale: Prometheus is a very good movie.

For years, director Ridley Scott has been teasing fans about returning to the land of the xenomorph and the fierce franchise he started in 1979 with his masterpiece Alien. There was talk about a sequel with Sigourney Weaver in which earthlings would go to the place where the acid-for-blood bastards originated, and other plot ideas were bandied about.

Despite the teasing, Scott worked on other projects and generally avoided his wheelhouse—science fiction. (His 1982 sci-fi mind-blower, Blade Runner, ranks as his second-best film after Alien, in my book.)

Finally, a few years ago, it was announced that Scott would be working on two Alien films, to be shot in 3-D. Then the news came that he would only be doing one for the time being—and it might not really be an Alien film after all.

So, for the last year or so, fanboys and fangirls alike have been dying to know: Is Prometheus an Alien film, and is it a prequel to the original Alien?

Well, Prometheus has landed, and it couldn't be more of a prequel to Alien. I actually see it as a prequel to a prequel. Scott has taken a new, more-cerebral approach to the universe he helped create, and has thrown in a heaping tablespoon of speculative theology. His Prometheus dares to ask big questions of the Alien movie universe, bigger questions than, "What will the xenomorph kill next, and will it be a man in suit or CGI?"

The film opens with what appears to be a "dawn of man" sequence. While Scott has claimed in recent interviews that Prometheus shares DNA with Alien, it also shares some with Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, in that it asks big, broad questions about human beings and their place in the universe. (I just alienated the people who hated The Tree of Life. Don't worry; there's a lot more dialogue in this movie.)

From man's beginning, we jump to the future, where scientist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) has discovered a cave drawing that appears to be an invite from the "engineers of the universe," calling us to come visit them. We then jump ahead again to see Shaw in cryo-sleep on the ship Prometheus, on her way to a distant planet for a possible rendezvous with the gods, courtesy of Weyland Corp. (the same corporation that built the Nostromo, Ripley's ship in Alien).

Other characters aboard include Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), Shaw's cocky fellow scientist and lover; Vickers (Charlize Theron), commander of the Prometheus; and, most notably, David (Michael Fassbender), a spooky android who occupies himself with basketball and Lawrence of Arabia while the crew members sleep.

When everybody wakes up, they land near something that looks like a manmade temple, and things start happening. Some of these things involve the body-horror violence that we have come to expect from the Alien series. I can report that the film, on top of being visually stunning and intellectually challenging, has its share of squirm-inducing, stomach-churning moments.

So, what can I let you know about Prometheus that ties it to Scott's original Alien, without spoiling the film? Well, it has a horseshoe-shaped ship, not unlike the one from Alien. It has creatures that might be related to the "space jockey," the apparently fossilized pilot of the derelict ship that Ripley discovered in Alien. It also has a lot of slime and dark, scaly corridors.

Most important, it's got the guy who directed the original film pulling the strings. In short, this is definitely an Alien movie. In essence, this film is the grandfather of the first four Alien films. (Screw that Alien vs. Predator garbage.)

There will be a faction of people who are disappointed with this film, because it isn't straight-up horror, with the familiar double-jawed aliens wreaking the lion's share of havoc. Some people will want to see the same ol', same ol'. Scott is shooting for something new and wonderful, and he succeeds ... for the most part.

The film is saddled with a few uninteresting supporting characters that do nothing to enhance the movie and are simply cannon fodder. And the movie features its share of possible logistical goofs that fanboys will gnaw at like morsels of meat left on the communal bone.

However, that's nitpicking. Prometheus isn't perfect, but it is easily the most ambitious and visually stunning film in the Alien franchise. I won't say it is the best film in the franchise, but it stands proudly with Scott's Alien and James Cameron's Aliens. Scott's use of 3-D is epic, as much of a visual success as Cameron's Avatar.

Fassbender's performance resonates the most. The Alien franchise has featured both good and bad androids, and David is a crazy, creepy mix of both. He's a lot of fun to watch ... and a little bit scary. Rapace brings a sweet power to the role of Shaw, successfully delivering work that requires a lot of emotional and physical torment. She would fare well in a cage match with Ripley.

I've already seen a lot of critics bitching that Prometheus asks a lot of questions, but doesn't give the answers. I think it gives plenty of answers, and there's room for another movie that could provide more.

I have my own theory as to how the end of this movie could get us closer to explaining the events that take place in Alien. I could be totally wrong, but the whole thing is playing out a certain way in my head ... and I love it.

Whether or not you consider this an Alien prequel, Scott has made a tantalizing, engaging movie. It's a fine return to sci-fi for one of the masters.

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