Ridley Scott’s latest film is a prequel to Alien. After the Star Wars fiasco, one would think that directors would be leery of prequels. Scott is apparently a gutsy man.

Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are archaeologists who have discovered evidence that early humans had contact with extraterrestrials, whom they call “Engineers”. They have also discovered a star map that they believe shows where these beings came from. They then persuade Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), the elderly CEO of Weyland Corporation, to fund an expedition to find the Engineers. Weyland is impressed by their evidence (although I wasn’t). He spends a trillion dollars to send Shaw and Holloway and fifteen others to a moon orbiting a far distant planet. The trip takes over two years, and they spend most of the time in stasis. An android, David (Michael Fassbender) runs the ship in the meantime. When they reach their destination, Shaw and Holloway explain to the others what the trip is about. (These people agreed to a two-year trip billions of miles into space without knowing what it’s about? I find that hard to believe.) They come across a large mound that appears to be artificially constructed. The mission director, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) tells Shaw and Holloway not to try to make contact with the Engineers without her permission. This is our first intimation that they are being used for ulterior motives.

The H.R. Giger sets and slimy monster are fun to look at. Prometheus, however, ultimately leaves one feeling vaguely dissatisfied. The similarities between this film and Alien (a malevolent android, people meeting unpleasant ends at the mercy of alien creatures) make it feel a bit familiar at times. Also, there too many things in this film that either are not adequately explained or simply don’t make sense. For example, no one seems to notice when David goes off exploring by himself. And the character of Vickers makes no sense. Her only motive seems to be jealousy of David, who is Weyland’s confidant. Late in the film it is revealed that she is Weyland’s daughter, though it’s not clear why this has been kept a secret. And why would she go on a dangerous expedition with uncertain prospects when she could be managing her ailing father’s corporate empire back on Earth? As for David, he displays an extreme vindictiveness that is never really accounted for. Is it really just because he feels unappreciated by the other characters, or is there something more going on with him? Or maybe they just haven’t gotten all the bugs out of the android design yet? (Fassbender delivers his lines in a quiet voice that is clearly meant to remind us of HAL the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey.)

As with many science fiction films nowadays, the events in this film are driven by a corrupt capitalist. Yet it turns out that Weyland’s real motives are not profit, but his belief that the Engineers can prolong his life. (And why should he assume this?) And the ending is implausible. After everyone else is killed off, Shaw decides that, instead of returning to Earth, she will find out why the Engineers want to kill humans. Could this be the set-up for a sequel?

At one point in Prometheus, Shaw is impregnated with an alien creature. At a time when Republicans are ramming through anti-abortion legislation in many states, it’s nice to see a Hollywood film that makes a good argument for abortion rights.

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