Ever since the release of the first Alien film in 1979, they have been trying to replicate its ground breaking blend of science fiction and horror. Space can be a scary place, in conception anyway. Who knows what it is really like out there in the stars. We have not even come to fully understand our own solar system. It is that lack of understanding that has motivated moviemakers over the years. Yet, before 1979, while the ideas have been frightening, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), the actual films have been campy, the 1956 thriller included. What Ridley Scott, Alien’s director, did was make a universe we could all understand, despite being in space, and then insert monsters into it. It is frightening, yet the thing about it is that after seeing it once, its impact diminishes. I think this is why its sequel, Aliens (1986), is more of an action film than horror. The other follow-ups since then have waffled indecisively between these two genres with the result being an increasingly awful mess. After a while with a franchise, you get the inevitable reboot, and that is what is Prometheus (2012).
Prometheus takes you back to the beginning. I mean, the literal beginning, when the Earth (according to the movie) was a lifeless rock that needed a little extra something to kickstart evolution. Enter an alien species the movie refers to as the Engineers. One of them lands, disrobes, goes for a swim, drinks a black liquid, and disintegrates into a stream. This apparently deposits the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) that leads to you and me. Our next stop in the timeline is 2089, and archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her boyfriend and colleague Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) excavate an ancient star map. They show their findings to their benefactors, the Weyland Corporation, headed by the aged Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), and they surmise that it matches other finds from thousands-year-old sites. They believe that it points the way to a distant planet designated LV-223, and is an invitation from humanity’s forerunners. Hence, Weyland kits out the eponymous ship, a crew is found to go there along with Charlie and Elizabeth, and four years later, they arrive. The surface they set down upon is bleak, but there is a nearby structure. Charlie and Elizabeth are among those that set out to explore the structure, and inside one of the chambers they find a series of cylinders that secret a substance similar to what you see in the beginning. They also find the headless body of an Engineer. This, and the footage they manage to uncover of some long-ago emergency, gets them worried. Less put off by these proceedings is David (Michael Fassbender), the crew’s android. He had stayed active for the four-year trek through the stars and the experience has made him a little batty. As such, he smuggles one of the cylinders out of the chamber as they all return to the Prometheus. All, that is, except for two of their crewmates, Fifield (Sean Harris) and Milburn (Rafe Spall). They get hopelessly lost, and apparently forgotten. Too bad for them, too, as Milburn gets snapped like a twig and Fifield is turned into a hideous monster. Meanwhile, back on their ship, the crew is celebrating their discoveries (relatively), which provides the perfect moment for David to slip some of the black liquid into Charlie’s champagne. This is conveniently timed, for David’s perverse sake, as shortly thereafter Charlie and Elizabeth have sex. While this might seem innocuous, shortly thereafter Charlie begins exhibiting strange symptoms. The next day, shortly after they return to the alien structure to continue their investigations, he begins to rapidly deteriorate. They try to bring him back to the ship. Instead, the Weyland executive overseeing the mission (and Peter’s daughter), Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), will not let them back aboard, citing quarantine restrictions. When the pain becomes too much for him, Meredith murders him. This is only the beginning of their problems. The hideously mutated Fifield catches up with much of the rest of the crew and kills them. Managing to get onto the Prometheus, Elizabeth, who had previously been infertile, finds that she is well along in a pregnancy. It is not, however, a bouncing human baby, but a horrifying, tentacled creature that she manages to get extracted from her body using some kind of surgery pod. While this disgusting scene takes place, David and Meredith bring a special stowaway, Peter, into what is now known to be an Engineer spaceship, in order to awaken one of the Engineers in stasis. Peter thinks, for some reason, that it holds the key to prolonging his life. Instead, the Engineer kills Peter and rips the head off David before firing up the ship. David suggests that the Engineer is going to go to Earth, release more of the black liquid, and wipe out humanity. Meredith appears okay with this, but Elizabeth manages to convince Janek (Idris Elba), the captain of the Prometheus, to ram the Engineer vessel. He sacrifices himself while Elizabeth makes into an escape pod. Meredith is not so lucky and is crushed to death by the crashing Engineer ship. Speaking of said alien, it has survived and is now coming after Elizabeth. It gets a rather rude surprise when it finds the now metastasized offspring of Elizabeth, which grabs a hold of the Engineer and rams something down its throat. Elizabeth makes her exit as that death struggle goes down. She then collects the remains of David, finds another Engineer ship, and head for their home planet because, well, they have just seemed so friendly and welcoming, have they not? Oh, and the last thing you see is one of the familiar aliens bursting from the Engineer’s chest.
Many movies borrow Christian themes, inadvertently or purposely, because they are familiar to Western culture. Even if you do not believe in God, I am guessing most of know that Mary is the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. In turn, this is reason number one why I do not like Prometheus. Of course, I could point out plot inconsistencies or other incomprehensible moments. There is also the notion that not every plot that features a previously barren woman giving birth does not have to be echoing Mary. After all, she is called the Virgin for a reason, and that is something Elizabeth is decidedly not. In that case, there are other Biblical parallels we could analyze. What about her as a sort of Eve, giving birth to a race of monsters. There is another terrible thought for this Catholic. There are those who do not take Genesis as scientific fact, and that is fine. Catholicism has never said that the events found in those pages should be taken literally, despite what some of our Christian brethren will tell you. The point I am trying to make here is that a movie like this one, in my considered view, is part and parcel of an overall attempt to dismantle belief systems. Perhaps I am going out on a limb here, but then again there is the fact that Elizabeth wears a Cross, which David later determines to be “contaminated.” A critic like me notices these kinds of things.
What Prometheus, on the surface, is trying to accomplish is to give you an origin story for the space creatures to which we were introduced in the original Alien. Along the way, it offers a distasteful version of how humanity came to be. We cannot have a simple monster film in space anymore, can we? No, we have to toss in a lame attempt at trying to figure out our existence. I will stick to my prayers, and hopefully never see Prometheus again.