When Alien came to the screen in 1979, moviegoers were confronted with the anti-Star Wars. The mood was dark, the spaceship Nostromo was an unappealing wreck of a workhorse, the shocks were sudden and messy, and the crew was expendable. Ridley Scott not only launched a franchise of creepy films but he also put his stamp on science fiction cinema. As with Blade Runner, his vision was unique and disturbing.
In Prometheus, Scott returns to the word of Alien but at an earlier time, one closer to our own. The film is beautifully done with remarkable sets, special effects, and cinematography. The actors are capable but one never really engages with them, certainly not like viewers did with Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Alien. There are many similarities between Alien and Prometheus—a mysterious planet, an android with questionable motives, an evil corporation, a heroine who endures more pain than anyone should have to bear, working class crew members, and stomach churning creature effects. Perhaps the similarities are the reason that Prometheus is far from fresh and ground-breaking. We have seen all this before.
[Warning: Spoilers ahead.] What’s good about the film? Noomi Rapace is attractive and earnest as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw. She is a capable actor who is given little range for her talents in this performance. We squirm at the suffering she endures but finally come to the point that we no longer believe that a person can endure all of this and still survive. Michael Fassbender is sufficiently creepy as David, the android who patterns his impersonation of being human on the Peter O’Toole’s performance in Lawrence of Arabia, but his role in the plot is so ambiguous that it becomes a parody. Idris Elba is sufficiently quirky and finally heroic as Captain Janek but his final act of sacrifice seems almost trivial and anti-climatic. Yes, those are the good parts.
If there is any theological question raised here, it is theodicy—the problem of human suffering. Why would the Creator want to destroy those created? If God gave us life, why does God allow pestilence, disaster, and humanity’s abuse of itself? Is this all an attack by the Creator on the created? Of course, Dr. Shaw is left with that question at the end of the film. Will it be resolved in the sequel (of course, there will be a sequel)? Probably, but I am not sure that I really care. I will do my theology elsewhere.