Dir. Ridley Scott
4 out of 5
A robed figure stands on a rocky outcropping above a waterfall, watching a massive spaceship drift into the fog. He (she?) opens a small box containing a filmy substance and ingests it. A shocking transformation occurs, suggesting the creation of a new life form. These are the mysterious images that appear before the opening credits of Prometheus, a film that puts director Ridley Scott back at the helm of a voyage into the cold, moody depths of space horror he explored over 30 years ago in Alien. In the year 2089, archaeologist couple Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) uncover a pattern repeated in the prehistoric artwork of far-flung cultures with no possible way of coordinating their efforts. It’s the image of a star chart pointing to way to a distant planet-sized moon. It's there they believe the origins of human civilization will be found. With a ship and crew paid for by the hologram of deceased corporate benefactor Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), the scientists follow the ancient map to find answers to the who, how, and why of life on Earth.
Even though Scott has refused to confirm that Prometheus is a prequel to his 1979 genre classic, everything from its thematic overtones to its visual design to the characterizations of its beleaguered crew suggest a close kinship between the films. But unlike the original film—essentially a slasher flick in space—Prometheus fits neatly into the clash of cultures motif that runs throughout Scott’s filmography, in events that occur both on and outside the titular spaceship. Shaw and Holloway are caught off guard by Weyland corporate officer Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), who firmly reminds everyone that this trip is ultimately about the bottom line, not academic curiosity. (She obviously can’t hear the noble tones of Marc Streitenfeld’s score.) The humans’ quest for self-understanding is also paralleled by David (Michael Fassbender), the first in a long line of melancholic Weyland androids. Surrounded by beings obsessed with discovering where they came from, David is left largely to his own devices, watching movies and proving his human-like fallibility.
While its first half is gorgeously meditative, Prometheus gradually becomes enamored with the type of hoo-ah martial thrills seen in James Cameron’s superlative sequel Aliens. The movie’s coquettish dance with derivation extends to the action beats, as many of them resemble the greatest hits of the Alien franchise. But the obvious craft of those sequences, as well as excellent performances by Rapace, Fassbender, and Idris Elba as the ship’s working class-philosopher captain, keep the film from feeling like a simple remix of the director’s favorite themes. Scott and screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof take great care not to undermine the originality of their conceit, at least until the film’s surprising final shot. I was shocked not by the contents of the shot, but that it was included at all. I can understand the decision, though. Prometheus displays a thorough awareness of how difficult it is for modern prefab blockbusters to mediate inventive storytelling with fannish expectation. That it also manages to be entertaining as hell is icing on the cake.