To anyone familiar with the franchise, one of my favorite scenes in Alien occurs right after entering the boomerang-shaped spaceship, the Derelict. Inside, the ribbed, bowel-like walls of its corridors lead to the ceiling of a massive dome. The explorers, then only responding to a distress signal, rappel down to an eggs nest surrounding the fossilized space jockey—the ship’s pilot. The group returns to their ship and the rest is history, more or less, untold as far as subsequent titles allowed. As set designs go, Geiger’s was befitting of the enormity of the occasion and its immense possibilities. A sequence barely subtle as the flutter of hummingbird wings, it remained imperceptible and unexplained throughout what proved the dregs of a sprawling megauniverse, following a debut entry never designed to sustain a multimedia franchise.
Prometheus delivers on the promise of that forgotten sequence but consider for a moment the lead-up to the franchise’s other profound discovery; James Cameron’s tacked on underpinnings of motherhood and gun-toting jingoism may have been a novel spin on the genre confinements for most sequels had Resurrection not eschewed Fincher’s somber stylings in favor for another serving of the (para)military industrial complex and genetic engineering. The crossover experiment is best not talked about which leaves us with the prequel, a beast barely of its maker.
It is worth pausing in recognition of the intention that Prometheus, at one fell swoop, doubles as the return of Ridley Scott along with a reordering of the cards. The raison d’etre is legitimate, however, staging its events in the time preceding the original would, in theory, have meant only one of an infinite set of directions to settle on, the most surefire of which being total noninvolvement considering a stroke of divine inspiration too lofty to happen upon once in the first place. Indeed, in the first film, there is something unruly and harrowing about the mortal struggle between two extra terrestrial species and realizing in turn our inconsequential contribution beyond bearing witness to its aftermath. That this occurs in the outer reaches of the galaxy while on an SOS call is all the more romantic and sobering, so, why mess with perfection? Yes, Prometheus is warranted to an extent as it sees Scott revisit familiar grounds with that lost episode in mind except intentions can take you so far before the outcome cruelly betrays your effort. And here at Cinemaholism we don’t hand out A’s for just having hearts in the right place.
Nostalgia, then, justifies the strong draw we all turned up here as an audience—the blind hankerings for times gone are a powerful motivation, and I’ll forever associate this film with when I’d seen it as opposed to what I saw in conjunction with established cannon. Little would make for a more visceral experience than the sight of a frantic Dr. Shaw (Rapace) performing a do-it-yourself, impromptu abortion of a foreign fetus while fresh out of an excisonal hemorrhoidectomy myself. And save for a hypothetical sex change beforehand, the synchronized post-operative pain was as best as cinema could yield in total sensory immersion except Scott had to fuck that one up and send his androgynous heroine du jour on an action-packed final act with her guts barely stitched together. I’ll have you know that upon having hard tissue severed there is a loss of muscular control to quarrel with as I shit my pants failing to contain the first caffeine-induced fart immediately after hospital discharge. Sadly, then, bias and circumstance were the prime adjudicators. One can imagine the flawed judgment rendered therefrom, but as I’m a few hundred words in, why stop here?
Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron and Idris Elba headline a star-studded cadre of broad specialities, a far cry from the clock-punching, like-minded simpleton crew of the Nostromo. Instead of the accidental brush with primal fears, we have a fully motivated troupe hellbent on discovery and unleashing our putrid DNA on the universe. The film, not without signature moments, manages to surpass some of Geiger’s sexual imagery if not in vivid machinations then certainly in their visceral connotations. There’s double the phallic variations and versatile orifices, but beginning with its dazzling panorama of a prehistoric Earth—the site of a ritual sacrifice of a humanoid emissary—and following through with a consequent scene at an archeological dig, Scott delivers a swift one-two punch that he of all people never surpasses next: the humanoid figure, a grotesque behemoth, hairless and pale—and at nine feet tall, decidedly alpha and liable to trigger inferioty in all male adults while all the same rousing interspecies fantasies among the kinkier subset of the fairer sex—gulps down a lethal concoction before disintegrating violently into the water stream below. So virile is he that an entire planet’s worth of homosapiens is sired from his molecular detritus.
This is one legend: the other being of another envoy leaving cave drawings to alert the progeny of their ancestors’ whereabouts. Whichever one is true I didn’t care enough to pay attention for in the many times I saw the film. At under dozen minutes the story is already more convoluted than the straightforward distress beacon picked up by Mother in Alien. Here, Shaw and her partner Holloway command a mission of diverse scientists following that lead discovered at the Isle of Skye, the last of several similar drawings found in civilizations separated by time and space too vast for the same myth to disseminate through direct contact proving it was placed by an extraterrestrial civilization predating them all. But as to the interpretation of cave paintings (the imagery of earthlings deferring to alien prophets) it hardly matters the moment writer’s block offers little explanation beyond a military outpost as the destination outlined in the star map. “We want you destroyed but just in case you’re able to one-up your creators, here’s a secret facility for you launch to a preemptive strike on. You’ve earned the free shot.”
Despite a weak narrative core the film can fall back on its accidental boon in the power struggle within the ship’s staff with Theron’s Vickers in particular carrying a good chunk of baggage and concealed agendas. Such was the joy in seeing her jostle for control even when everything seemed to be going well you can almost lose sight of whose storyline constitutes the main arch. There’s also the detailed character of David, the android, and the dynamic his intellectually petty spat with Holloway packs in entertainment value. Servile ultimately to a surprise entity, he’s cordial and well-intentioned before showing true diabolical colors in the thick of things, his rivalries with humans eclipsing Vickers’ power trip. Some of that edge is eased away when Janek (Elba) manages to get in her pants since a) it’s his ship and b) he’s jaded with human ass and wrongly takes her for an imitation thereof. I’m telling you the sexual angle is so prevalent yet low key that on numerous occasions I’d missed the bit when a tiny dirt worm mutated into a sleek-skinned serpent—basically a slithering phallus—after swimming in mysterious black goo. But his (Janek) is the most on-point observation when he sees the planet for what it is, a military installation, instead of the Engineers’ home.
Quite why humans were alerted to it repeatedly is irrelevant according to Scott, since he’s kept things on a need-to-know basis; the sad thing is, while shooting, he never had the privilege of having those answers himself to begin with. Ultimately it all must fall on the story for most films, though not here. I enjoyed quite a bit of asides to let the occasional flaw slide. Though in failing to nail her accent, Rapace’s efforts with her dialect coach aren’t as convincing as Theron’s pedigree clearly demonstrates, and with her in the lead role Shaw assumes a neutral stance as she braves the shifting tensions between her expedition’s arrival and their discovery of the facility’s treasure trove of secrets before emerging with hubris intact, and in a final girl scenario, just like we’d come to know before. But as clever and fool-proof the choice behind her sterility was, giving leeway only to an unholy fetus, was it not the same preoccupation with reproduction now repackaged under a the guise of Greek mythology? Not when that’ll also produce a monstrosity of an offspring that facefucks its ancestor to create a prototype of the first Xenomorph. And assuming the commentary on the innate narcissism of motherhood was a missed opportunity, I’ll gladly take unhinged egos vying for supremacy of the trifling, this time with my dose of the base and obscene.
Sometimes rowdy, sometimes pouty.