June 12, 2012

Prometheus review (major spoilers!)

I'm almost as big an Alien-verse fan as I am an Iron Man fan, so the apparent Alien prequel was definitely on my list of must-see flicks this summer. Was it worth it? How were the connections to Alien? These -- and many more -- questions are answered below the fold!


I'm usually left confused by several aspects of any film (and usually have a friend or two there to clue me in), but there was really only one with Prometheus: The beginning. I admit I knew going in a lot of what to expect, thanks to my favorite movie site, Screen Rant. At any rate, we see an "Engineer" -- the supposed creators of humanity (who look quite like human beings, by the way) -- standing by a waterfall (with a huge starship in the background). He has a cup of some writhing liquid in his hand, which he then promptly drinks. The liquid has the effect of essentially (slowly) disintegrating him, and he then falls into the waterfall and eventually dissolves into the river below. Was this Earth thousands of years ago? Or was this the planet LV-223 which is where the Prometheus vessel travels to in this film? I could not tell.

After the prologue, the film begins in Scotland in the year 2089 where archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway discover a star map -- a map that was also discovered among other famous cultures' ancient drawings and hieroglyphs. The duo (who are lovers, by the way) believe these maps to be a message ... to come find the "Engineers."

Fast forward four years. The Weyland Corporation has funded a trip to LV-223, the planet (a moon, actually) to which the star maps pointed. The Prometheus (name of the ship, just in case) lands near several clearly constructed edifices, and most of the crew journey inside. Once there, they discover that the Engineers were indeed remarkably human-like in appearance, and a sort-of holographic video seems to show that something went awry in the installation, causing the Engineers to flee and resulting in the deaths of some of them.

It's here that we first glimpse the eerie similarities to Alien. In the chamber where the huge Engineer bust is, there are hundreds of "vases" each containing a mysterious black liquid. ("The X-Files" fans will be thrilled at this, by the way.) The vases clearly are reminiscent of the Alien "eggs" the way they're arranged on the chamber floor. In the vases' black liquid there appear to be small worm-like things swimming around; the liquid and squirmy things appear to be what the Engineer drank in the film's prologue. The android David (played phenomenally by Michael "Magneto" Fassbender) ignores orders to "not touch anything," and not only touches the liquid, but secures an entire vase for retrieval (unbeknownst to the away team crew).

It's also here that we see the eerie similarities between David and Alien's android Ashe (played by Ian Holm). It's pretty clear by this point that David is operating at the behest of the Company (meaning Weyland), and that retrieval of anything deemed of value by Weyland is top priority. Back aboard Prometheus, David clandestinely adds a minute amount of the black liquid to Holloway's drink, thus beginning a slow transformation of the latter into ... something. Viewers, too, will cringe as Holloway and Shaw have sex shortly after David has infected Holloway.

Elsewhere, two crew members who wanted to leave the initial away trip early (because they're pussies) haven't reported back to Prometheus -- they're lost inside the edifice. This provides the convenient set-up for the already-known-by-now dastardly nature of the whole temple or whatever the building is. This duo eventually enters the same chamber that the main away crew went into, but somehow -- despite being scared shitless before -- these dudes become brave enough to touch the black liquid ... and even approach a mysterious snake-like creature which has popped up from a small stream of the black stuff surrounding the vases. And voilá -- the snake thing wraps itself around one of the dude's arms, eventually making its way inside his suit -- and stuffs itself down his throat! The other guy, in the struggle, was knocked down and his spacesuit's faceplate landed in the the "stream" of black liquid. Somehow this stuff is quite acidic (obviously another connection to Alien -- acid blood), melting the suit's faceplate and infecting the guy within with ... whatever the hell it is.

Aboard Prometheus, the predicament of these two has become known, and the away crew sets back out to (hopefully) rescue them. Holloway, however, is becoming more and more ill. After discovering that the dude who had the snake-thing go down his throat is dead, and that the melted faceplate dude also appears so, the away crew head back to the ship. But Holloway's "illness" has become acute, and leader of the expedition Vickers (played by Charlize Theron), acting in a very un-Ashe-like way, refuses to allow Holloway back on board -- and eventually blasts him with a flame thrower when he tries to force his way in!

Things begin to flow at break-neck speed now. Shaw, upon Holloway's death, realizes she'd better get a medical exam pronto (remember, the two had conjugal relations the night before!). David stoically informs Shaw that she is pregnant, and that the ... "child" is about three months along. He refuses to perform an abortion citing "danger," but by now we know his interest is Weyland's interest -- the same as it was in Alien: Bring back lifeform; all other orders rescinded. Shaw then quickly heads to an auto surgery recepticle where she promptly performs surgery on herself, extricating the creature from her body. The little monster looks like a small octopus, rather than the xenomorph we all know and loathe. Shaw manages to contain the creature within the recepticle's confines for the nonce.

Being the Alien-verse geek that I am, the auto-surgery machine and the small, wormlike creatures in the black liquid (see left) made me wonder if producer/director Ridley Scott had read Dark Horse Comics' Aliens: Labyrinth series, one of the f***ing scariest and gruesomest stories I've ever read in comics. If you don't believe me, then check out what Jeff says about the story at Sky-Ffy:

#3 was the first issue I had and probably my favourite, inside we get treated to a young Dr Church's ordeal inside a slightly different Alien Hive, described in vivid, visceral detail; quite possibly the most brilliant and disgusting Aliens story I've ever read.

If Scott is familiar with that series, he certainly picked the right one. As I (and Jeff) noted, you'd prepare yourself before reading, especially issue #3 -- possibly the freakiest of any comics series I've ever read. No joke.

Dr. Paul Church extracts a [dead] Alien from himself. From Aliens: Labyrinth #4.

Now that Shaw is Alien-free, she meanders around the ship and eventually comes upon a recently-awakened Peter Weyland (played by Guy Pearce). Weyland, near death, is surrounded by assistants, including the android David and Vickers. He's been on the Prometheus the entire time. Shaw asks "Why??" "To meet our creators," Weyland tells her. Indeed, David had discovered that inside the Engineer edifice is a starship -- exactly like the one discovered in Alien. He found the "pilot room" (as seen by Dallas, Kane and Lambert in the original film) and managed to activate its star mapping programs. During such, he saw Earth among the many planets and stars on the map. And ... he discovered that there was a surviving Engineer in the room -- in hypersleep.

Weyland, David, Shaw and a few crew journey back to the "pilot room" to awaken the Engineer. David, after all, has learned the alien's (not Alien's) language, so they can communicate with it (him?) Unfortunately for all concerned, once awakened, the Engineer promptly proceeds to rip David's head off, and bash the shit out of everyone else, killing them -- except Shaw who's managed to bolt down the "hall." Shaw frantically radios Capt. Janek back at Prometheus, informing him that he needs to destroy the powering-up Engineer starship, for it is heading to Earth to release the black liquid. (This is what David had revealed to Shaw a little while prior.) Janek complies, and rams Prometheus into the horeshoe-shaped vessel, causing both to tumble back to the surface. But the Engineer survives the crash, finds the lifeboat which just happens to house the auto-surgery recepticle, and proceeds to give chase to Shaw. Shaw leads it/him back to the surgery room where her "aborted" creature is. As the Engineer enters the surgery area, Shaw unlocks the door, and a now-massive octopus-like monster attacks the Engineer, who actually manages to put up a decent fight! But, eventually the Engineer succumbs, and the creature acts like a behemoth face-hugger, jamming a proboscis down the Engineer's throat.

Shaw is contacted by the decapitated David, who is then recovered by the archeologist. David informs her that there are other Engineer ships on the moon, meaning they can use one to get back to Earth. Shaw tells David "no" -- they'll use one to journey to the Engineer home planet ... to get answers to all her (their) questions. In the last few scenes we see in the distance an Engineer ship rising up and jaunting off into space, presumably Shaw and David en route to the Engineer homeworld. But the very last scene we witness is that of the Engineer attacked by Shaw's "offspring": its/his body convulses and jerks and then a creature burst forth from its/his torso. It clearly is a proto-xenomorph, the precursor to the Alien we all know and are scared shitless of!

Now, back to Shaw's and David's (and ours, natch!) questions:

* Why do/did the Engineers want to destroy us? We're their creations after all! The proof of this is shown after an examination of the remnants of the first Engineer discovered in the edifice: Its DNA and that of humans are an exact match. So, what's the deal? A clue is offered in the scene where the android David is talking with Holloway. Holloway has a rather condescending manner toward David, mocking his lack of emotions, among other things. But David has the last "laugh," so to speak: When David asks Holloway why humans created androids, Holloway replies "Because we could." To which David responds, "Perhaps that's why the Engineers created you." And, of course, human lore is replete with stories of human creations turning against its creators (contemporary ones include The Matrix, The Terminator, Colossus: The Forbin Project, I, Robot), so why wouldn't the Engineers fear the same? Of course, the Engineers originally planned to wipe out humanity millenia prior, so one may wonder what sort of threat humans of that time period actually posed. Perhaps the Engineers feared the rapid technological progress humans were making and decided to nip it in the bud, so to speak. After all, going from horse and buggy to faster-than-light travel in 200 years might be frighteningly fast.

* Why would the Engineers use stuff like the xenomorphs (Aliens) to eradicate us? Was it to "cleanse" our planet of the human scourge? If so, then wouldn't the Engineers have to then cleanse the Aliens afterwards? This doesn't make a lot of sense -- unless we take a clue from the prologue and from the holographic imagery seen when the Prometheus crew first enter the Engineer edifice. In the prologue, the Engineer who consumes the black liquid disintegrates, with his remains in the water supply leading us to believe this would infect the entire biosphere. Was this evidence of how the Engineers had always dealt with mistakes of their [genetic] experiments? As for the holographic film of the apparent disaster that befell the Engineers in the edifice, this leads us to conclude that their [genetic] experiments went awry -- that a contagion (the black liquid?) mutated and escaped, causing mass [Engineer] death. I say "mutated" because throughout the film this is precisely what we witness: Black liquid becomes "wormy" black liquid, becomes snake-like creature, becomes embryonic octopus-like creature, becomes massive face-hugger-like creature becomes, proto-xenomorph. The fact that the Engineers created us demonstrates that this is indeed what the Engineers were -- masters of genetics. But they're clearly not infallible despite their prodigious technological superiority.

* Why did the Earthly star maps point to LV-223? This is a great question. Why point to what is essentially a world where death is created, a planetwide [bio] weapons laboratory? Perhaps the moon wasn't always what it was in the film, or, maybe the star map served its purpose: If a race reached a level of intelligence necessary to comprehend and decipher the star maps, they'd then journey to this death-world and hence doom their race -- doing the Engineer's work for them (wiping out a threatening species).

My buddy Vic Holtreman wrote up a "Five Simple Changes That Would Make ‘Prometheus’ Better (For Fans Of ‘Alien’)" article over at his awesome site Screen Rant. Note that Vic isn't advocating such changes, just that these would placate hardcore Alien fans who wanted a more "direct" sequel. However, I personally side with script writer Damon Lindelof who said

If the ending to [Prometheus] is just going to be the room that John Hurt walks into that's full of [alien] eggs [in Alien], there's nothing interesting in that, because we know where it's going to end. Good stories, you don't know where they're going to end. A true prequel should essentially proceed [sic] the events of the original film, but be about something entirely different, feature different characters, have an entirely different theme, although it takes place in that same world.

Obviously, since Shaw and David warped off to (we presume) the Engineer homeworld, a sequel is anticipated. There is one big thing we can conclude about this sequel already: The Engineers ultimately decide not to destroy humanity. How do we know? Easy -- we have Alien and its sequels, the last of which takes place over 200 years after the events in Prometheus. Either Shaw and David succeed in convincing the Engineers we're worth of survival, or perhaps the Engineers just don't care anymore. We have, after all, "unlocked" the scourge of the Alien, and perhaps our creators know that eventually it will be the death of us ... just as they always intended.

Posted by Hube at June 12, 2012 10:48 AM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

Thanks for this. Saw it last week. Loved it. Have to see it again. This was a great write-up. Here's hoping this is the jumping-off point for a new series!

Posted by: Mike Matthews at June 16, 2012 09:57 AM