What is the meaning of life? Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going next? Are these valid questions for a movie? How about a horror movie prequel? Where the final moment involves casting the Alien half of Alien v. Predator? And also exactly what feats of Olympian athleticism are people capable of immediately after having major abdominal surgery?
Or, put another way, we saw Prometheus last night.
So spoiler alert. As in, this review will be chock-full of 'em. I figure, the movie's been out for a couple of weeks--you've either seen it, or aren't planning to. (If the latter, I congratulate you). Because, I mean, wow. Just. . . wow.
So the movie starts with a massive human-looking dude, buff and mostly naked, standing at the top of Niagara Falls, drinking down some noxious concoction that sort of looked like ball bearings in a 10W 40 sauce. His body starts coming apart, and into the water he goes, where we see various DNA strands floating around. Yes, it's Niagara Falls/primordial soup time. As best I can make out, this is where life on this planet came from. Or something.
Or maybe it's just hominids. I should jump ahead and say that Prometheus is an inter-planetary space ship, and aboard are 17 scientists, pilots, security personnel, looking for the origins of life on the moon of a Saturny-looking planet. One of the scientists is a biologist, and at one point, he bleats something ineffectual about 'evolution.' He's immediately ignored. That should tell you something. The intellectual foundation this film is built on isn't, you know, science. It's crackpot creationism, combined with what's left of Erich von Daniken-ism.
I digress. Anyway, two scientists, Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace--she was Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish Dragon Tattoo movies), who apparently have doctorates in the exciting field of astro-archeology, have found identical star maps in cave paintings all over the world, and have persuaded an eccentric trillionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) to fund a trip to check out this distant star system to find the origins of life thus suggested. Weyland (who is very elderly) also has an ulterior motive--he wants the human-aliens to grant him eternal life.
Also aboard: a robot, David (Michael Fassbender), easily the most interesting character in the film. So, they go, they land. They find this sort of ancient crypt thingy, which has these 2 thousand year old sort-of-human corpses, and are astonished to find they have the exact same DNA humans have. They're also twelve feet tall, hairless, and super-strong, but that doesn't matter, the DNA's an exact match. Also on this moon--bio-engineered deadly lizard-y creatures.
So, piecing it all together, here's the narrative. These human-like creatures (The Engineers), gave Earth human DNA at some point in our distant past. Then, starting 50,000 years ago, they came back to earth to visit Stone-age men, and taught them how to cave paint. (The film does not address whether they taught pyramid-building; it's not pure von Daniken-ism). They included clues to how humans could find this moon. On the moon were Engineer space ships, a colony and temple for the Engineers, and also all these deadly bio-aliens. 2000 years ago, the uber-lizards got loose and killed all of the Engineers but one. Hundreds of them remain stored in embryonic form. So Our Heroes arrive, and for no apparent reason, robot David lets the lizards loose, including slipping Dr. Holloway a lizard-mickey in his drink. When Holloway has sex with Shaw, she gets one implanted in her too. Presumably, the idea is they'll bring nasty evil alien lizard guys home with them to earth, thus destroying all human life. Which they originally put there. And robot David, for some reason, is sort of their instrument in all this--though he also ends up saving Shaw.
So there are two types of aliens: Engineer aliens, who put life on Earth, nurtured us as a species, and then concocted weapon-aliens to wipe us out, and the weapon-aliens, who got loose and destroyed most of the Engineer aliens, and are hoping to do the same with humanity. And at the very end of the movie, the two alien species cross-breed, leading to the creature from all the Alien movies.
There's really no end to the stupidity. Honestly, there isn't. For example, everyone rides to this moon in cryo-sleep stasis. They've been traveling for over two years, with only robot David to stay awake and learn alien languages. (Don't ask how). Everyone wakes up; they have a meeting. And the whole crew has to have the mission explained to them. Apparently, they all agreed to give up four plus years of their lives to do . . . . something. And in this meeting (honestly, one of the funniest scenes ever), it's explained that Charlize Theron's character is In Charge. Also, Holloway and Shaw, the two scientists whose idea this all was, they're also In Charge. Plus there's a ship's captain. You got it: he's In Charge. (Charlize Theron is in full ice-princess mode in the film: they find these amazing alien ruins and she's all 'meh,').
They have no medical person aboard. What they do have is this piece of equipment, a fully loaded diagnostic and surgical pod. Climb in, and it automatically figures out what's wrong with you and fixes it, up to and including major surgery. Except (I swear I'm not kidding), it's only calibrated to treat male patients. It's located, not in the main area where everyone works, but in the Program Director's personal quarters. The crew is mixed-gender. And the Director is played by . . . Charlize Theron. Who is, I'm pretty sure, (check IMDB, Google to be sure, yep) a woman. The geniuses at Cracked.com have a lot of fun with this.
Okay, so Dr. Shaw gets this alien thingy implanted in her, and wants it out, and it's doing all those stomach bulging alien movie things inside her, and she climbs into the surgical pod thing, and she manually overrides the fact that it doesn't treat women, and she gets it to cut her open, rip out the alien, kill it, staple her back up, and let her go. We're talking a huge incision, a major operation. And she spends the rest of the movie running away from aliens, long-jumping crevasses, rappelling down cliff faces. I cannot too much admire this miracle.
If you want a movie that intelligently and thoughtfully and beautifully and non-didactically examines the really important questions of human existence, watch Terence Malick's The Tree of Life. Prometheus asks important questions too. The main one is this: at the age of 75, has Ridley Scott (one of the great film directors, honestly), reached a point where all that matters to him are really cool looking visuals? Does he just not care if his films make a lick of sense?