Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: Divine Punishment

Theology has long been considered a dangerous pursuit by religious insiders and observers.  Ridley Scott's Prometheus proves it.  Definitely a prequel to the sci-fi/horror Alien series (despite the director’s and studio’s occasionally vehement denials over the last two years), it starts out intriguingly as an exploration of faith and humankind’s origins.  To my disappointment, though, it largely abandons this once the familiar face-huggers and chest-bursters start to appear.

Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth Salander in the superior Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels) leads a cast that includes newly-christened “ice queen” Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce buried in old age makeup, and most valuable player Michael Fassbender as one of those traditional Alien androids with mysterious, potentially sinister motives.  Their characters are united in the wake of a monumental discovery by the deeply religious Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace), who uncovers matching pictographs from diverse ancient cultures indicating Earth was once visited by giant beings from another world that may have formed us after themselves, albeit on a less monumental scale.  Shaw and her boyfriend secure the trillion-dollar spaceship of the film’s title from Pearce and Theron’s corporation and they all embark together on a galactic voyage to meet their maker... in every meaning of the phrase.

Following a beautifully-filmed if ultimately confusing prologue and this fine expository set-up, things degenerate in terms of both storyline and quality once the explorers reach their destination.  Scott and the screenplay by Lost’s Damon Lindelof kick things into overdrive and move events along a little too quickly.  Within minutes of landing, Shaw & Co. rush into a massive structure they discover, the first of many unwise decisions.  The more dim-witted crew members begin to split up, touch things they shouldn’t and, before you can say “acid blood,” encounter early but still nasty variations of the evolving alien species.  Shaw, who is initially infertile for reasons never explained, soon discovers herself pregnant and initiates the movie’s most squirm-inducing sequence.  Being a Ridley Scott production, it's all beautifully designed and shot but with few, brief exceptions, the plot developments are thoroughly predictable.
I left the theater feeling Prometheus has definitely been over-hyped by the fanboy press, early reviews, and the director himself.  Sorry, Ridley and his admirers: as much of a genre classic as Scott’s then-startling, 1979 Alien is, James Cameron made the standout entry in the series, 1986’s Aliens.  I even consider the oft-maligned Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection to be better, more adventurous films than Prometheus.  Scott has said the main impetus for re-visiting the franchise after 30+ years was his persistent wondering about the backstory of the dead, oversized pilot (dubbed the “Space Jockey”) discovered in the original movie.  Was that really enough to sustain a feature-length prequel?  Clearly no, especially since the Space Jockey’s final resting place as seen in Alien is altered during Prometheus’ finale.

There is, however, something admirable about the seriousness with which the film depicts Shaw’s faith journey.  The well-intentioned scientist is asking time-honored questions about the origins of life, the existence of God or other creative force in the universe, and the exact nature of humanity’s relationship with the Creator, theological questions that could — and did get one burned at the stake just a few centuries ago.  Shaw is tempted to abandon her longtime faith as it is increasingly challenged by a hostile alien world, but she re-claims her faith in the end despite the terrible suffering she and her crew mates endure.  She also embarks on the next stage of her exploration, virtually assuring a sequel.
Like several other eminent directors of his generation (including Terrence Malick, Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood), Scott is clearly using his late-career work to address issues related to faith, spirituality and the afterlife.  Whereas Robert Zemeckis was able to blend science fiction and religion effectively in 1997’s Contact, Scott’s similar effort in Prometheus falls short.  Still, Scott gets a gold star not only for asking the questions but surviving the quest.
Reverend’s Rating: C
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.


Anonymous said...

This is not the same moon as in Alien so the two "Space Jockeys" do not directly correlate to each other. Prometheus' moon: LV-223. Alien's moon: LV-426 (or maybe Alien is on a planet, forget). However, the fact that this isn't clear is a valid criticism.

Anonymous said...

The SPACE JOCKEY at the end of PROMETHEUS is not the same as the one in ALIEN. They meet similar fates, but on different moons/planets. PROMETHEUS sets up their back story, that they are our Creators, and that they were creating a bio-weapon to destroy us...and their experiment backfired on them. The dots haven't yet been totally connected to ALIEN...but there is enough story there to give hints. Vague, unsatisfying hints, but hints nonetheless.