Ridley Scott said his new film Prometheus was not a prequel to Alien but it did contain “strands of Alien DNA.” He was being cute (for reasons that would be a spoiler) but the new film is very much a prequel. In fact, the story seems to be framed around answers to questions raised in the original film.

Then, the spacecraft Nostromo, bound for Earth, intercepts an intelligent signal. The hibernating crew is awakened and directed to investigate the signal per orders from the company that operates the ship (Weyland Industries, we learn in the second movie. But why are they so interested?) They find a derelict spacecraft on a barren planet and while a team from the ship examines the wreck the warrant officer discovers the signal is not a beacon but a warning not to land on the planet. (But why stay away and who sent the warning?) When a member of the away team becomes infected by an alien organism, the science officer (who turns out to be a synthetic lifeform) tells them the highest priority is to recover the organism and that the lives of the crew are “expendable.” (But who set this directive and why do “they” want the organism?) He tells them they have no hope of defeating the alien. (And he knows this how?)

The new film opens with a robed figure standing atop a cliff, somewhere (presumably) on Earth, far in the past. He removes the robe and we see he is a humanoid alien; he drinks something that kills him… and changes his DNA… We shift to the year 2089 as a pair of scientists discover cave paintings in Scotland similar to six other paintings, from different places and cultures around the world, depicting the same scene: a larger-than-human (but humanoid) figure pointing to the same set of stars. The scientists believe the drawings are an invitation to visit “the Engineers“(their nickname for the nonhumans). Next thing we know, the Prometheus, a Weyland Industries spaceship, is landing on a planet orbiting one of the stars on the drawings/maps. On the ground the crew discovers an artificial structure containing a body and strange containers… Because this is an Alien movie, we know things can only go south from here.

Prometheus looks great, the CGI does not overwhelm the story. The script both pays homage not only to all the Alien and Alien-related films but to other SF films as well (particularly 2001: A Space Odyssey). The sets strike a nice balance between now and the tech of the first film, but…

A problem with the first film that is particularly glaring in this one is how underwhelmed the characters by the events. I mean, this is humankind’s first contact with an advanced nonterrestrial species—you should be just a little awed by that fact alone. Yet these explorers act like a typical Starfleet crew, where visiting a strange new world is just another day at the office. And they make mistakes even the greenest red shirt would avoid (like not wondering if the air is safe to breathe until near the end of the movie or petting an unknown life form just because it’s cute).

The difference between a good movie and a great movie is the former makes you go Ah… and the latter make you go WOW! For Prometheus, the Ahs have it.

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