From the opening scenes of Prometheus it is clear that you’re about to experience sci-fi at its most epic and grandiose. Thirty-three years after the first Alien film brought terror and horror into space, director Ridley Scott returns to a story which has produced a modern monster as iconic as that of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.
Written as a kind of prequel, Prometheus inhabits the same universe as the original film. Scott has admitted to being interested in the roots of the alien – especially as there is only a glimpse of that world in the shape of the ‘space jockey‘ which the crew of the Nostromo find in 1979’s Alien.
Only this time, in place of ground-breaking shocks, there is a far more cerebral exploration about mankind’s broader place in the universe. Whilst there are enough thrills on hand to sustain fans of the original, Prometheus is all existential angst.
Much like Dr Frankenstein, the scientist at the centre of Prometheus is obsessed by the origins and creation of human life. Noomi Rapace, who was so compelling in the The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, takes centre stage as a scientist who discovers cave paintings on Earth which point to mankind’s origins in the stars. Before you can even make a cup of tea, she’s on board a space ship destined for the home of these prehistoric alien visitors.
Like Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in the first four films, Rapace is a survivor – driven and determined. Only her edges are softened somewhat by the wonder and curiosity that her faith brings. While the biologists, geologists and engineers on board are motivated by the scientific rationalism of Darwinism, Rapace’s Dr Elizabeth Shaw carries her father’s cross with her as a reminder of God the creator. For her, science neither confirms nor denies the existence of God. As they make discoveries on the planet, one of her colleagues turns to her, saying smugly, “Well, now you know who created us.” Her reply: “Yes, but who made them?”
The title is taken from the Greek myth about an overly intelligent titan who stole fire from the gods. His punishment was to be tied to a rock and have an eagle eat his liver. Every day his liver would grow back. Zeus was not a fan of grace. You can’t help but feel that the Alien story is one big cautionary tale for anyone tinkering with nature.
Rapace may be the main protaganist but it’s Michael Fassbender’s android David who steals the film. Combining Peter O’ Toole’s charm in Lawrence of Arabia with HAL’s mechanical determination in 2001: A Space Odyssey he’s pitch perfect as a robot grappling with his own sense of purpose. While inorganic, he raises questions about the urge all life has to begat more life, and why intelligent beings are driven to search for the origins of their own creation.
However, like the explorers in the film, anyone watching Prometheus may be left with more questions than answers. It’s such an ambitious story, (and how satisfying it is to have Ridley Scott doing sci-fi again – it’s been a long time since Blade Runner) that the lack of clarity on the more profound questions can’t help but produce frustration. The fact that they’re even willing to ask them is worth applauding though.
Looking for concrete answers is deeply rooted in the human soul, yet it’s those with the mind of a pilgrim who seem more content when the answers aren’t clear.