Master visualist and supreme storymaker Ridley Scott Gothicises the Alien legacy to its outermost intensity, showing the gloom of exploring an unchartered universe, confronting grotesque creatures and being endangered by supernatural forces in the supreme Prometheus.
It's humanity being seduced by the lure of unfathomable phenomena and menaced by fear. Humankind's relationship with the gods, what happens when we challenge the gods, and our search for meaning to find answers to our existence culminate in a powerful cinematic tour de force.
With Prometheus, Scott has created a new mythology, in which a team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a thrilling journey aboard the spaceship Prometheus, to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race.
Prometheus is the crowning glory to the Alien legacy. It began life as an Alien prequel and evolved into another universe. Scott admits that there are "strands of Alien's DNA", but the mind-blowing ideas tackled with verve and vivacity in Prometheus are unique in every frame, far reaching beyond comprehension and daringly provocative.
Scripted by novelist Jon Spaihts (who also wrote the frightening films Passengers and The Darkest Hour), and Damon Lindelof (the co-creator of Lost who also produced Star Trek and is co-writing and producing the sequel to Star Trek, and who also wrote Cowboys and Aliens), Proetheus is built on solid ground.
The fantasy element of its sci-fi sphere sets a spectacular background for this epical and visual extravaganza.
The Alien legacy
The Alien Legacy began with John Carpenter's student film Dark Star, which was supposed to be a comedy, but audiences reacted with fear, causing screenwriter Dan O'Bannon to embrace fear. "Comedy is individualistic, everyone laughs at something," he said. "But they are all afraid at the same time."
O'Bannon's new-found interest in scary movies was reaffirmed when he teamed up with producer-writer Ronald Shusett, who was on the same wavelength, and his inspiring encounter with the magnificent work of artist HR Giger resulted in the classic "chest buster" creature in Ridley Scott's 1979 classic sci-fi masterpiece Alien.
The rest is history. The success of Alien spawned a media franchise of novels, comic books, video games and toys, as well as three sequel and two prequel films. It also launched Weaver's acting career by providing her with her first lead role and the story of her character Ripley's encounters with the alien creatures became the thematic thread that ran through the sequels Aliens, directed by James Cameron (1986), David Fincher's Alien 3 (1992), and French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Alien Resurrection (1997). The subsequent prequels Alien vs. Predator, directed by Paul WS Anderson (2004) and the Brothers Strause's Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007) abandoned this theme in favour of a crossover with the Predator franchise.
The mighty Titan Prometheus
Prometheus was a mighty Titan from Greek mythology who stole from Olympus to give to mankind and was punished and chained to a rock where an eagle tore at his liver until Hercules freed him.
In the context of the film, the myth becomes a frightening reality; Prometheus is a pirate spacecraft and its members, pirates who steal treasures from uncovered planets to bring back to Earth. And, as with the myth, the veracity of their greed is severely punished. Wait until you see the envisionment of the "eagle that tore out the liver"!
Fortunately, the visual impact does not overpower the narrative and never becomes an orgy of visual effects (like most contemporary CGI creations), but cleverly infuses it with colourful characters, a great story, and awesome suspense that sustains the momentum and sparks the unspeakable horror that unfolds.
Prometheus is, ultimately, about humanity in the future, challenging some of our most cherished scientific and philosophical ideas. The crew of the Prometheus encounters unimaginable terrors as they head for paradise to discover a dark and twisted world. They meet a survivor of a civilisation in control of some very dangerous elements, including various forms of biology and biomechanics, which, in a heartbeat, can eviscerate its victims - or worse. Scott cunningly questions what the consequences are of meeting a superior being, whose capabilities are "quantum leaps beyond our own and are, in effect, godlike".
Formidable female heroes
The formidable female protagonists in Prometheus proudly follow in the footsteps of other Rambolinas: Sigourney Weaver in Alien, Susan Sarandon in Thelma and Louise and Demi Moor in GI Jane.
Naomi Rapace, who became an overnight sensation in the original The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, is superb as a scientist filled with hope and faith, who transforms into a warrior when faced with it.
If you think you have survived the original chest-buster, wait for one of the most frightening and gruesome scenes you have ever seen and will, hopefully, pull through.
From the Evil Queen in Snow White, Charlize Theron is now the Ice Queen, delivering an imposing performance as the mysterious godlike "suit" who represents the interests of the mega-corporation funding the journey to a distant, foreboding world.
After revealing his immense talent in Shame, Michael Fassbender delivers an astounding performance as a machine, an android creation of the Corporation. What's absolutely fascinating about Fassbender's performance as the housekeeper, is that he becomes a synthetic guardian angel, fashions himself after Peter O'Toole's TE Lawrence in David Lean's classic Lawrence Of Arabia, oddly enough the story of a stranger in a strange land.
Outsiders seeking redemption
If we look closer at the word Alien, it cleverly encapsulates the essence of being an outsider, the lone ranger or Titan who is a misunderstood and misguided hero whose compassion and relentless willpower we root for and embrace universally. It's through these indestructible heroes (the characters, performers and the creative team behind Prometheus) that we find answers and, in a way, redeem our inherent violent nature. The darkness of Prometheus, its theme and setting, is a sacred tomb where we can bury our deepest fears and find resolution.
The fear that motivates the action and horror in Prometheus is like expressionistic painter Edvard Munch's The Scream and Frieze of Life - A Poem about Life, Love and Death; it is silent, a deadly assassin that strikes a vicious and visceral blow. It gives new meaning the stunning tagline of Alien: "In Space No One can Hear You Scream"! Prometheus shows that when emotion becomes physical, the reality of its fantasy becomes tangible, it is something we can relate to and never escape from.
To understand fully (and to be able to relate to) the horror that besieges the helpless victims of Prometheus is empowering; it's not mean-spirited exploitation, but soulful exploration.
Prometheus arouses a curiosity that will definitely satisfy Alien buffs; those who are new to this phenomenon are guaranteed an exceptional experience that will change the way they perceive the universe and will provide answers to questions that they were too scared to ask.
Whether you're a fan or not, hate science-fiction adventures, or find futuristic epics intimidating, Prometheus is a film you have to see, not because of what it promises and ultimately delivers, but what it celebrates: the art and craft of filmmaking and storytelling at its most profound.
Prometheus is the beast within all of us that needs to be tamed; its exotic allure is exciting and its primitiveness inspires awe.
Dare to see Prometheus and don't be afraid to share your fear.
Behind the scenes
Although he has not helmed a science fiction picture in three decades, Ridley Scott's interest in the genre never abated. Having made two of the most revered genre films of all time, his return would only be triggered by a truly grand idea. "Over the past few decades, we've been 'action filmed-out' and 'monster filmed-out' and almost 'science fiction filmed-out," said Scott. "So the baseline question is: how original are you going to be?"
"The reason I haven't made another sci-fi film in so many years, apart from the fact I've been busy making other films and exploring different genres, is because frankly I haven't come across anything worthwhile for me to do with enough truth, originality and strength. Prometheus has all three."
The notion for Prometheus began with a figure glimpsed only briefly in Alien and which seemed to be forgotten once the titular xenomorph burst, literally, onto the scene. But that mysterious being - a giant fossilized creature with a burst-open chest, which came to be known as the Space Jockey - was well remembered by the man who brought it to life. "Something that had stayed with me ever since Alien was the mystery behind it," said Scott. Who was he? Where was he from? What was his mission? What kind of technology would his kind possess? I thought those questions could provide a springboard for even larger ideas."
Daniel Dercksen has been a contributor for Lifestyle since 2012. As the driving force behind the successful independent training initiative The Writing Studio and a published film and theatre journalist of 40 years, teaching workshops in creative writing, playwriting and screenwriting throughout South Africa and internationally the past 22 years. Visit www.writingstudio.co.za