Article first published as Ridley Scott's Prometheus: Origin of the Species on Blogcritics.
Let's get the obvious out of the way first: yes, Prometheus is definitely part of the Alien franchise. Coming from the man who gave us the original film in 1979, we would expect no less. Some viewers are going to be miffed that the film takes so long to get to the connection, but that is part of the journey. This film is definitely as much about the getting there as being in the moment of awareness. You're going to either love or hate that depending on your appreciation of the film maker's craft.
This highly anticipated film is extremely well-crafted. You can see the artisan's attention to detail in every frame. This is something I learned from Ingmar Bergman's philosophy of film; each frame should be an individual image that is like the painting of a great artist. You can see Scott achieving that here, from the opening on bubbling and erupting new earth, to the twisted rocks of the alien planet, to the interiors of the ship Prometheus and the alien lair.
The story centers on Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (a luminous Noomi Rapace), a cross wearing scientist who along with her colleague (and beau) Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), convinces zillionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) to fund their project into outer space based on cave drawings found around the world. The logic is that all these similar drawings point to one planetary system, and from here the "engineers" came to earth and helped create human life. The fact the Weyland is old and dying motivates him to seek the origin of the species, with a hidden agenda (as in all Alien films) that we discover later on.
Other important characters are David (played impeccably by Michael Fassbender), an android who is Weyland's right hand "man" on board, Meredith Vickers (an icy Charlize Theron) who is the company representative who comes along to make sure things go according to plan (again, being an Alien film, the plan itself is dubious from the start), and Janek (Idris Elba) the ship captain who references Stephen Stills and decorates a Christmas tree. This little moment seems insignificant as Shaw's cross, but it comes to represent much more later in the film.
It is difficult not to give away spoilers here, so let it suffice to say that Shaw and company should have remembered the old "Be careful what you wish for" saying. They are looking for origins (one character even mentions Darwin) and when they find something to prove their thesis (the engineers in question have human DNA) it is not enough. When Charlie tries to tell Shaw that she should stop wearing the cross because of finding the engineers, Shaw explains that she chooses to believe because someone had to make them too.
The film itself is a bold statement of faith against the cold reality of science. All the explanations of the origin of human beings on earth mean little or nothing if those engineers were only using us. The cave paintings depict seemingly loving "gods" pointing to the stars, but when their children come seek them out to ask why they were left orphans, the answers are not going to be what was hoped for.
Shaw's wearing of the cross is more than just a device; it defines her character. In the shadow of Sigourney Weaver's Ripley from the Alien films, Rapace has created yet another powerful woman, one who longs for motherhood (though she cannot bear children) and is forced to perform surgery on herself that is a grizzly moment to add to the bloody charnel file of film history. She survives this and moves toward a final confrontation that is reminiscent of Weaver's battles in the previous films but goes beyond that.
The captain's Christmas tree and Shaw's cross are glimmers of hope and warmth in a sterile world of despair and faithlessness. Scott uses these things as reminders of where we came from, even on a distant world, and that beyond the planetary systems and galaxies is an undiscovered country. There is indeed more to heaven and earth than is dreamt of in our philosophy; Shakespeare knew it and apparently Scott does too.
Prometheus may not be the film you wanted to see, but Ridley Scott has created something that can stand on its own but does pay homage to the previous films, especially the first one. If you ever wondered about the story of the huge human skeleton with the blown out stomach from Alien, you're in luck, and you will also understand that this film that is ostensibly an Alien prequel leaves the door open (in true Alien tradition) for a sequel.
Go see Prometheus and hold onto your popcorn; this film proves beyond a doubt that in space someone can definitely hear you scream.
Photo Credit: screencrave.com