Don’t believe the anti-hype, Prometheus is a terrific thriller.
Despite what Ridley Scott has repeatedly claimed, Prometheus is deeply indebted to Alien, not in the sense that it’s a straight-up prequel (Prometheus takes place on an entirely different planet than Alien), but in its general plot structure: Prometheus is nearly a beat-for-beat remake of its 1979 predecessor. But while Alien was grimy and claustrophobic, Prometheus strives for visual dazzle, ratcheting up its premise to nauseating heights.
The plot is pretty much in-line with what we’ve come to expect from the Alien movies: crew goes out to explore planet with a strong woman protagonist, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace of the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series) and shifty android, named David. Michael Fassbender, the man who plays David, is the real standout actor in this movie, bringing David to life as a fascinating mixture of David Bowie and HAL 9000. This time, they’re exploring the planet because Rapace and her boyfriend have found maps in dozens of ancient cultures all pointing to one star system, and they hope to find the culture that engineered humans and ask them the big questions about life, the universe, and everything. Of course, they don’t find quite what they expected and bad shit starts to go down. While the concept of bad shit going down in space may not be new, the film features terrific action and horror setpieces, and its imaginative special effects help a few scenes reach intensity to rival even that of Alien (one scene featuring an a computerized surgery machine immediately comes to mind). Prometheus features many terrifying riffs on the original xenomorph, and anyone looking for the same atmosphere of horror found in the Alien will not be disappointed.
Aside from the horror-thriller aspects of the movie, it also attempts to be thematically high-minded, pondering such Big Questions as the origin of life and the responsibilities between creators and their creations. This aspect of the film does not work quite as well simply because it does not answer any of the questions it raises. This may be because Scott wanted to keep things loose enough for a sequel, or it could just be because he preferred to leave the film open to interpretation. Either way, it doesn’t detract from the power of the film’s more visceral scenes. Prometheus may not present a Ridley Scott as masterful as he was when he made Alien or Blade Runner, but it does present a Ridley Scott more ambitious and focused than he has been in years.
Prometheus is directed by Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator), starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, and Charlize Theron. 124 minutes long. Rated R.