I saw Prometheus on opening night about two weeks ago and was blown away. Like all the movies that have had a lasting impact on me I appreciated it even more upon reflection. There were plenty of moments where I gritted my teeth under the awkward dialogue but that was mostly during the mythical exposition at the beginning of the film. Given my enthusiasm I was curious why the film received such generally restrained praise if not outright criticism (mostly directed at the film's scientific implausibility). The most common statement was that it was a decent film that if not better than Alien and Aliens was nonetheless a worthy addition to the series. My reaction was perhaps an overly bold feeling that this was by far the greatest film of the series. But since I hadn't seen the earlier films in years I decided to go back and re-watch them before making any absolute judgments on the series. Since then I have revisited the second film (one I had seen many times in my youth) and the fourth, which I had never seen. Since the reviews of the fourth film were so harsh I was pleasantly surprised. The second film I still appreciated although I was a bit disappointed in the aliens themselves whose only real threat, it now occurs to me, was that they blew up in a spray of acid. Given my childhood love of the series I don't know why I waited so long to see Alien Resurrection, the series' only comedy. I liked the first Jean-Pierre Juenet films and was curious to see what he'd do with such radically different material. Perhaps it was because I was always drawn to the gritty realism of the series that I put off Alien 4. If it is embarrassing that a fan of the series hadn't seen the fourth film my next reveal is perhaps more so--my favorite film of the series is the much maligned Alien 3. I'll go even further and say it is my favorite work by David Fincher period. Anyways, this is taking me far afield from the task at hand, which is to say something about why I so liked Prometheus.
Since reading Shelley's epic on the fallen titan I have been entranced by the Prometheus myth. I'm currently preparing, with some trepidation, to dive into Hans Blumenberg's massive Work on Myth where he takes the myth to task. But in its romantic and gnostic inflections I find the vision of a god who comes to liberate humanity through knowledge perpetually fascinating. In Ripley's version the gods bring life itself to Earth but then become bent on destroying their own creation. Like Shelley's Prometheus Unbound the film is centers what happens after the god's sacrificial act. The film has been charged with a confusion of the myth--why is Prometheus? Well, the ship is named Prometheus which is fitting enough since it is the vehicle that will carry the crew on their quest for a knowledge of origins. Knowledge in gnosticism is better translated as acquaintance or recognition. It is a humanizing knowledge and it is best represented by Noomi Rapace's character Shaw.
Shaw is driven near the close of the film to learn why the alien civilization that in a religious act gave birth to life on Earth has now determined to destroy it. My assumption is that the aliens are as capable of corruption as we are. There are Shaw-like figures who wish to perpetuate life and there are many others who want to exploit life for personal gain. The series has always been carried by strong female leads who possess male aggression but an aggression that is humanized and always driven by compassion. In Aliens and Prometheus this is illustrated with the friendship the leads develop with the androids. Shaw's alliance with David (played by the wonderful Michael Fassbender) rivals the moving friendship Ripley had with Bishop. Resurrection's friendship falls a bit flat.
The films have always had a strong sexual theme--mostly male fears of being penetrated and revulsion at giving birth. Scott played around with sexual taboos in Legend too. The counterpart to the aliens are the androids who are in superior to humans but wired to be slaves. The way Shaw's friend Charlie heartlessly harasses David suggests the lack of sympathy of Prometheus' male crew. Noomi Rapace, a very worthy successor to Sigourney Weaver, embodies what it means to be one who carries on Prometheus' fire.