There are many nerd clans and subclans out there, and in the last decade a number of them have gotten assimilated into mainstream pop culture: Lord of the Rings nerds, comic book nerds, Star Trek nerds, gamer nerds, anime nerds, zombiecore nerds ... all it took was some box office or ratings gelt. Now, the nerds run Hollywood, and new and rehashed nerd franchises are launched and await only opening-weekend returns to determine how presentable their fan bases are for polite dinner conversation.
I am Greg of the Alien nerds, devotees of the Ridley Scott 1979 sci-fi horror film and its sequels, spin-offs, and collateral multimedia incarnations. As a little kid, I owned the original Alien board game. As a too-old kid, I collected the Aliens card game. I once made a list of my favorite movies. Alien landed at #26, and Aliens was my second-favorite of all time (still is).
Scott returns to the world of my seminal nerd flame with his new film, Prometheus. Advertised and promoted as a prequel to some degree to Alien, Prometheus takes place in 2093, 29 years before the events of Alien. Archaeologists Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) have discovered a series of cave paintings and art artifacts from a wide range of civilizations and historical eras that share one message: a star map of a system too distant for ancient humans to know about. Is it an invitation from an alien race?
Funded by elderly billionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), an expedition is sent to the star system in question to accept the summons. Among those adventur ing with Shaw and Holloway are team leader Vickers (Charlize Theron), spaceship captain Janek (Idris Elba), and synthetic human David (Michael Fassbender).
Part of what makes the horror notion of Alien so lasting is that it connects with so many phobias: fear of the dark, the other, death, rape, spiders and snakes, suffocation, being buried alive, technology, pregnancy, blood, disease, sleep — something for everybody.
Prometheus taps into one fear to date not mined in the series: existential dread. What happens after we die? Is there an afterlife? Where did we come from? Were we intelligently created and, if so, by whom and why?
The film does an absorbing job of asking these eternal questions and couching them in a familiar (to Alien nerds) context. Where humans came from may be answered by the "Space Jockey" subplot in Alien and the attendant questions his existence raised.
Prometheus was co-written by Damon Lindelof, deity of the Lost nerds, fans of the mega-hit TV show known for asking intriguing questions during its six-season run. Lindelof is an expert fictional-question asker; few are better. But he and Lost are notorious as well for the unsatisfying (to many) and incomplete answers it finally got around to providing.
Prometheus is adept at asking questions. But whether it's a success or not can't be gauged until we know the answers, and those won't come until a sequel: not Alien, but Prometheus 2. Prometheus is like Lost, seasons 1-3: It's a hell of an enjoyable ride, but, ultimately, it doesn't matter how thoughtful or clever the question. If the revelations are withheld, one is left with longing and fearful hope that the question-asker knows the answer. That's to be expected with existential questions, but what about those more decidedly terrestrial?
I can't answer how satisfying Prometheus will be for non-Alien nerds. The filmmakers drop clues for the nerds that all may not be what it seems. Non-nerds won't notice and may enjoy it better for their ignorance. It's a different movie depending upon your nerdom. Who is this movie for?
Note: This is part one of a Prometheus review. The spoiler-laden and speculative part two, for those who have seen the film and are familiar with the franchise, is posted here.
Opens Friday, June 8th