While neither a sequel nor a prequel to director Ridley Scott's Alien film, "Prometheus" is set in the same fictional universe. It deals with the discovery of an alien race known as 'The Engineers' - who supposedly created mankind. Using a star map found on ancient stone carvings, a group of archaeologists decide to travel to a distant moon in the hope of making contact with them. Once there, however, they get more than they bargained for.
This film's first plus is that - like movies used to do - the story begins with a lot of setup and a lot of mystery. In 2089, archaeologists Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie embark on a mission to the distant moon LV-223, which the star map pointed to. The expedition aboard the ship (called Prometheus) is funded by elderly CEO Peter Weyland. Also on board are android David (Michael Fassbender), mission director Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), and various other crewmembers.
After spending a few years in cryogenic slumber, the crew awakens in 2093, and their ship reaches its destination. After finding an alien corpse in an artificial structure, they learn that something terrible happened to the Engineers on this moon. When crewmembers accidentally come into contact with a sinister dark liquid, things begin to go horribly wrong, and what was initially an exploratory mission becomes a desperate effort to make it back to Earth alive.
First of all, this film deserves serious credit for the writing that went into it. It explored an uncommon theme - the largely overlooked theory of ancient astronauts (the idea that aliens made contact with humans at some point in history). This influence was confirmed by the director, who was inspired by Erich von Daniken's book Chariots of the Gods.
The storytelling approach here was very cerebral, which instantly makes "Prometheus" a candidate for the best science fiction film seen in several years. Ultimately, the movie raised more questions than it answered, and if this was the intention, it was effective in that it could intrigue the audience. On the flip side, it could also agitate the viewer who wanted things to be a little less mysterious.
Of these questions, "Prometheus" posed a big one: Could another race have created mankind? Though this is sadly one of the inquiries to which we don't get an answer, it is an interesting take on things.
Another popular theme here seemed to be forbidden knowledge, and the consequences of looking into things that one is not perhaps mentally equipped to handle. Many of the main characters, for example, eventually reap the grim rewards for the careless way in which they handle some of the items or creatures they find on this alien moon.
The cinematography was absolutely stunning. One could really feel as though they were looking at an alien world. The opening scenes of the film were not unlike watching a nature show on the Discovery channel; that is, until a strange life form appears, paradoxically looking as though it blends perfectly into the canvas of forests and waterfalls behind it.
The acting was solid and never disappointing. Theron's performance was particularly impressive, especially within the confines of her admittedly small role.
The weak link in this otherwise perfect chain of craftsmanship was the plot. The first half of the film had many exciting, horrifying, and bewildering events and scenes, but things slowed down a bit later on and became a little disjointed. Though the final portion of the movie certainly contained an underlying hint of menace, it didn't have the shocking or explosive touch a film like this could have benefited from.
When Elizabeth faces off against one of the Engineers, there's no real palpable sense of immediate danger or dread. Something was amiss during this conflict, and that was slightly disappointing.
Another problem, albeit one that only occurred in certain portions of the film, was that the plot seemed unable to carry its own - apparently unwieldly - philosophical weight. "Prometheus" was like a multi-faceted diamond. The problem was, some of its faces were more prominent than others - namely, an elaborate and grand scale drenched in esotericism, but without enough action and suspense to adequately accompany it.
A little reflection on "Prometheus" as a whole though, assures the viewer that the experience was rewarding. One is left with much to think about, and a renewed sense of hope for the potential of sci-fi films to be both brainy and entertaining. And, at the end of the day, that's more than can be said for films like Battleship.
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron
2012, 124 minutes, R
Photo: Scene from film. Official Prometheus website