As usual, no one refers to aliens as aliens in alien movies. In Ridley Scott's Prometheus, aliens are "engineers", "makers", "it", "God" (the Christian one), "foreign bodies" and aptly, "weapon of mass destruction".
Dizzied by the vastness of the outer space and the more grandiose visual effects than he had in 1979, Scott tries not to remake Alien and attempts instead a mini-Kubrick, a muddled Tarkovsky, perhaps an Asimov, or even the recently-departed Bradbury. But old habits, and slimy beings, die hard.
In Prometheus, the grand question of mankind's origin is pitched alongside sci-fi horror _ besides the operatic vista of the deep-space planet, the film is worth seeing for that coolly chaotic self-surgery scene alone.
But this much is certain: we care less about that grand question and its prospective answer (a hogwash anyway) than about the visceral unleashing of the monsters. Finding out who made us, theologically or scientifically, is never a strong point of a big-budget Hollywood movie starring Michael Fassbender as a blonde robot and Charlize Theron as a curvy spaceship commander. She even gets laid on that ship, off-scene, unfortunately.
The year is 2093, and the scientists in Prometheus enter hyper-sleep capsules and journey for two years to a lonely planet they believe to be the home of our "makers". Just like when ill-advised readers are struck with total disappointment when they seek out the writers they admire but have never seen in flesh, the scientists are in for a big, bloody, unpleasant surprise in tracking down their gods.
A lot of people are on that spaceship: pioneering the quest are Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, doing the slighter, sweeter version of Sigourney Weaver) and her partner Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green). Theron plays Meredith Vickers, the cold, crisp executive of the corporate that funds the trip, while Fassbender, quite engaging to watch, plays David the robot. Guy Pearce also appears in a very heavy make-up, playing the man in search of what people who equally believe in the might of science and of myth often search _ immortality. Or at least, the deferment of death.
The cerebral first hour is followed by what looks like a remake, reboot and reimagining of Alien, part one and a little bit of four. Scott is a director who's good with guts, and here his formula is to alternate between moments of cool cosmic ponderings and body-splitting gore. The planet believed to be the home of the gods turns out to house something stickier and deadlier. And soon it's clear to us that the film's spiritual curiosity is a flimsy facade: sci-fi creationism blithely gives way to thrilling schlock administered mainly to Dr Shaw, while the issues of who made them if they made us _ that ultimate question of Why are we here? _ is sidelined by our expectations of the next alien attacks. And here we have both a giant Marble Man worthy of an Olympian creature, as well as the drooling, wriggling, tentacled thingies with a maw that looks like vagina dentata. Call in the gender symbolist here.
Still, among nearly a dozen characters, perhaps Fassbender's David leaves us something to think about. The best robot movie Scott already made was Blade Runner, in which the young Harrison Ford plays an assassin of cyborgs. The unexpectedly soulful depth of that film is heads and shoulders above what we see in Prometheus, but we sense a similar undercurrent in David's half-menacing, half-naive attitude towards his artificial life and programmed intelligence. As the human beings look for their gods, David plays at being human. As the humans ask why god made them, David asks the human why he was made. The debate doesn't really go anywhere _ you'd have to go back to Asimov's I, Robot for that _ yet Fassbender makes us believe that David really cares to know the answer, even only philosophically. His scenes with Rapace, can almost be developed into some kind of drama: man creates robots, but it's women who give birth to men (and something else).
Scott doesn't care about human drama, because the slimy beings wait in the dark corners of the darkest planet, ready to pounce. And when they do, even Prometheus, the titan who steals fire from the gods, will have to give way.
About the author
- Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Deputy Life Editor