|Charlize Theron and Idris Elba in Prometheus|
In Greek mythology, Prometheus was a Titan who stole fire from the gods to give to mankind and was punished by being bound to a rock, where his liver was eaten every day by an eagle, only to have it regrow every night. In Ridley Scott's film Prometheus, it's the name of a scientific vessel whose crew is in search of the origin of the human race (or so we think). Prometheus may not be a direct prequel to Scott's 1979 Sci-Fi Spook-house classic Alien (as Scott has insisted since production began), though it certainly takes place in the same universe and Scott fills the movie with all sorts of visual and character references to it (including, though hardly limited to, the film's final moments).
It is 2089 and Dr. Elizabeth "Ellie" Shaw (Noomi Rapace) is an archeologist in search of the origins of man. When she and her lover, Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Greene) discover several nearly identical cave paintings from unrelated cultures all around the world, they soon find themselves headed for the distant planet the cave paintings depict. They travel there on the Prometheus, a ship built and paid for by the Weyland Corporation (the same company that sends the crew of the Nostromo to discover the acid-blooded xenomorphs in Alien). Also aboard are the ship's Captain (Idris Elba); Weyland executive Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron in her second major release in two weeks); a crew of a dozen or so scientists and David (Michael Fassbender), a robot of Peter Weyland's creation. From at least one previous encounter, we know Weyland's robots don't exactly follow Asimov's Laws of Robotics, and David is certainly no exception.
The crew awakens from a two-year cryo-sleep early on, in much the same way as the crew of the Nostromo did at the beginning of Alien. Weyland (an almost unrecognizable Guy Pearce under a ton prosthetic age makeup) appears in a holographic message, claiming to be long-dead and introducing Shaw and Holloway to the rest of the crew. The ship lands and the crew discovers a pyramid-like building which houses... well, I won't get too much into it to avoid spoilers. Suffice it to say, what they discover isn't quite what they thought they were looking for.
Scott and writers John Spaihts (last year's The Darkest Hour) and Damon Lindelof ("Lost") explore lots of ideas in the film's nearly 2 and 1/2 hours and while most of it works, a few of their loftier ideas end up not being fully explored and some members of the audience with whom Dale, Q and I saw it were left unsatisfied. Like "Lost," Prometheus asks far more questions than it answers, but my companions and I didn't mind that at all. Some questions (as the film suggests) aren't meant to be answered.
The visuals and effects in Prometheus are simply outstanding. The alabaster-skinned aliens Shaw calls "The Engineers" are actually quite beautiful (we learn that it is one of these "Engineers" that is found dead in a navigation chair early on in Alien) while the monstrous beasties, once unleashed, are slimy and creepy and a little more than disturbing. Poor Q spent several moments peeping between her fingers and thankfully missed one particularly distressing sequence involving a tiny worm in an eyeball. Alien fans will take much delight in Arthur Max's H.R. Geiger-inspired production design. Marc Streitenfled's score is often amazing, though occasionally over-the-top and Janty Yates' sleek costume designs feel right for 80-some years from now.
The performances in Prometheus are uniformly good, with Theron (as yet another ice-hearted bitch) and Fassbender (always amazing) as the stand outs. Rapace (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) gives a workman-like performance as the eventual Ripley-esque Shaw (they even share similar first names - Ellie and Ellen) and Marshall-Greene (who some casting director must use as Tom Hardy's younger brother in something) is fine. Patrick Wilson (Watchmen) has what amounts to a cameo in a dream sequence/flashback as Shaw's father. The rest of the cast is okay, though I found myself trying to figure who was going to die next, rather caring about the actual characters. My biggest quibble with Prometheus is its completely unnecessary use of 3D, which added little-to-nothing to the film experience, unlike Martin Scorsese's brilliant Hugo, from last year.
While not quite as intensely scary as Alien or dishearteningly dystopian as Blade Runner, Scott's latest film is certainly worth seeing and just as much fun as you would hope a summer Sci-Fi/Horror tent-pole movie should be. And of course, it is exactly the kind of movie a 75 year-old genre director should make when facing his own mortality. Is it a classic, like Alien or Blade Runner (or even Thelma and Louise)? Hardly. But it's a great ride with gorgeous visuals (Theron and Fassbender among them) and a scare or three along the way. Only those looking for a true Alien prequel will be disappointed. I'm glad I was not one of them. ***1/2 (Three and a Half out of Four Stars).
And just to add to the fun, here's a great fake TED Talk video made to promote the film: