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The ponderous Prometheus tells the story of an ambitious mission gone wrong

Arriving in theaters on the back of a portentous ad campaign, Ridley Scott's Prometheus assumes the air of something more than a summer movie, a blockbuster-with-brains that links the genesis and the ultimate fate of mankind beyond the stars. It is, incidentally, the story of an ambitious mission gone wrong.

The discovery of a cave painting on the Isle of Skye is the "X marks the spot" moment. Comparing ancient pictograms from the world over, an archaeologist couple, Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green), find a recurring image that depicts humanity's titan forebears pointing skyward to a formation of planets that are always arranged the same across all cultural boundaries. This is enough to secure shady corporate backing for a trip to a distant galaxy where precisely that formation has been discovered, a quest for answers as to the origins of humanity from the beings that Shaw and Holloway hope to find there: "We call them 'Engineers,'" Shaw says. "They engineered us."

Prone to shallow ponderousness, Prometheus works best when it steps back from contemplating the cosmos to enter the domain of flesh-and-blood and hereditary terror. There are a few set pieces here that will find a place of honor among aficionados of body horror and all things clammy and viscous, gyno-phallic cave creatures and a scene of self-administered surgery that will stain the memory long after such significant-sounding bits of dialogue like "That being said, doesn't everyone want their parents dead?" have gone.

Logan Marshall-Green, Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender star in Prometheus.
Logan Marshall-Green, Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender star in Prometheus.

The events of Prometheus take place at the end of 2093, as the exploratory mission's crew awakens from suspended-animation stasis: Shaw and Holloway are joined by the ship's squeezebox-toting Captain Janek (Idris Elba) and, working according to her own mysterious m.o., mission director Vickers (Charlize Theron). The deep-space deep-freeze commute will be familiar to most viewers from Alien, directed some 33 years ago by Scott, as will be the steel-ribbed, organic-industrial, H.R. Giger-deco interiors of the seemingly abandoned compound that the landing party finds—housing Engineer carcasses, mysterious bongo-shaped canisters, and prehistoric monoliths—upon setting down at the distant moon that is their star-mapped destination.

The script, by Jon Spaihts and Lost's Damon Lindelof, originated as a prequel to Alien, Scott's first hit, before developing into its present spin-off form. Rather than setting out, as scriptwriter Dan O'Bannon did with the original, to build the ultimate creature feature, these gimcrack philosophers have loosely sown Prometheus with Big Themes in hopes that one might perchance take root.

Shaw, a nominal Christian, simultaneously grapples with the mystery of creation and her own sterility. The title, citing the mythical benefactor who stole fire from the Gods for mankind, is also the name of our good spaceship, carrying a freight of associations of forbidden knowledge. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley's story of man tampering in god's domain by creating life, was subtitled A Modern Prometheus. Scott's film features the product of a future Prometheus, David (Michael Fassbender), the ship's android factotum and caretaker. David stars in the film's single most original sequence, using the Prometheus as his private playground while the mere mortals that he serves slumber, fixing his hair like Peter O'Toole's after watching Lawrence of Arabia and effortlessly sinking impossible hook shots in the gymnasium. Fassbender gives a wry performance of crisp, precise gestures, but the character's programmed motivations and motives don't quite scan.

But the sense of buildup in Prometheus never arrives, and it feels less like a deliberate open ending than an inability to control tone and effect. Although supposedly our point of entry into the narrative, Rapace and Marshall-Green inspire no interest in their fate as a couple, and a scene that calls upon them to perform a wrenching act of sacrifice only reminds one how Brian de Palma, even with a problematic property like 2000's Mission to Mars, could invest similar material with eloquence and pathos.

Inviting comparison to The Tree of Life's formation-of-the-universe digression or 2001: A Space Odyssey's monolith overture, Prometheus begins with a freestanding prologue imagining our planet's infancy. Scott is swinging for the fences here—he is 74 and perhaps looking for a career-capping legacy film to tackle life, the universe, and everything—but his gifts have coarsened considerably over the past decade. With this overreaching Prometheus, Scott seems a bit like David carefully arranging his hair in imitation of O'Toole's Lawrence. He can still mimic the appearance of an epic, noble, important movie—but the appearance is all.

 
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elvin
elvin

I agree with most of your observations, and you are still too kind on the rating. (I give it 1 out of 5 stars for cinematography and some effects). The first 10 minutes of the movie was beautiful and interesting. But after that I found myself so insulted by the idiots on that ship that I was rooting for both the android and the alien! Most treated the android with disdain, superiority, and contempt. (Notice the android outlived them all.) Humans that stupid should be banded from both breeding and space travel. The guy mapping the dome/alien structure with high-tech gadgets (cool effect) gets lost (???), all rush out of the ship and into the creepiest part of the structure, no security, prep, or intelligent thought on any level; The three minute major (self) surgery and then right back to work was comical...PLEASE! The surgery machine reminded me of one of those boardwalk/amusement park plush-toy boxes with the 3-pronged crane inside. Almost all of the plot lines and props were identical to the original (which was fabulous), and I had absolutely no concern or emotional connection to any of the characters. The whole things was weak and rushed. I think Scott just wants to insult his audience and set up his next project for some retirement cash. This was a teen summer-slasher movie that was so shallow and poorly constructed, I was like rooting for the next idiot to wander into the basement because you know they deserved to get beheaded in some graphic way. At least movies like that can be fun and camp. Perhaps his message was that humans are sooooo stupid, the "engineers" turned on Earth so they could eradicate their mistake of (perhaps) massive self absorbed inbreeding. GO ALIENS!!!!!! Don't waist your money even for the matinee price. (grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr) e.

Ivan
Ivan

A beautiful film to look at, but lacking in some very specific hooks into the original 1979 epic. Many missing pieces could have easily been tied in. Supposedly the movie takes place on LV-423 instead of the moon-planet LV-426 of the original film ... huh? WHY?!!!! Why not just create a "historically" accurate prequel rather than a mystery movie. Besides the multiple plot holes ... the characters don't meet the profile of a scientific research crew. Nobody in their right mind would EVER send a band of misfits like this on a $1 Trillion mission to another planet. The "motley crew" feel of the original movie doesn't translate here. The Nostromo was a tug boat, and it's crew were a bunch of partying space truckers, I accept that, but the crew of the Prometheus has no business behaving irresponsibly. I was expecting much more from the plot, however the shining star is Fassbender's "David" character- a real-life Pinocchio searching for an identity which he is denied - even by his own creator. I give it a 3 1/2 out of 5 stars only because of its visual impact, but either Scott gotten lazy and lost the magic due to years of producing made-for-cable assembly line series, or Fox Studios stepped in to make adjustments based on some committee's conclusion, that the story as originally conceived, wouldn't fill theater seats, or rent DVDs.

 

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