Cave paintings lead to brave new world in 'Prometheus'

June 17, 2012
Michael Fassbender in 20th Century Fox's "Prometheus."

Prometheus is one of the summer's most anticipated releases, as it represents a director's  return to a genre he helped define.

But for those who are ready to scour the picture for connections to Ridley Scott's iconic "Alien," you may want to hop online and leave that to the obsessive members of the sci-fi discussion boards who will analyze it frame by frame.

"Prometheus" will reap richer rewards for those who instead accept the film on its own terms. For where "Aliens" was a deep-space variation of "10 Little Indians," Scott has much more on his mind with "Prometheus."

This is not to say "Prometheus" is a better film. It's not, to be clear. But its scope and aspirations are ambitious, lofty and fascinating ... even if it comes very close to crushing itself under its own weight of such ideals.

It's the end of this century and two scientists, Elizabeth (played by Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (played by Logan Marshall-Green) are attempting to link two cave paintings from alternate points of the universe that could lead to mankind's origins. A private corporation, Weyland Industries, funds a mission to further explore the connections. The voyage is commanded by the icy Meredith Vickers (played by Charlize Theron, toning down her "Snow White" histrionics, but still simmering with anger), Captain Janek (played by Idris Elba, still as cool and magnetic as in his "Wire" days).

Order throughout the ship is maintained by David (played by Michael Fassbender), a lifelike android that is the precursor to John Hurt's Kane in Scott's seminal sci-fi masterwork "Alien." When the crew arrive at their likely destination -- and the possible key to their civilization -- the mission is sidetracked by a creature (or species) that is none too pleased by their arrival.

This is a rather pat summation for a film with far more audacious ambitions. These are aspirations that are perhaps far too broad for a single film to successfully conquer, but the mere attempt for Scott and writer Damon Lindelof to pose such cerebral musings is cause for celebration.

The fact that they had a budget to burn certainly helps broaden their scope. More sumptuous than "Avatar's" Pandora, "Prometheus'" planet, dubbed LV-233, teems with the splendor of a new world, but it breathes with the dark eye that Scott stamped onto "Alien" and his other sci-fi touchstone, "Blade Runner." In short, Scott's artistry matched the story's ardor.

But "Prometheus" must be respected (and criticized) as a singular entity, instead of trying to connect the dots to "Alien" and its successors. Even at two-plus hours, the film feels incomplete (when you start a film with a question of "why are we here?", it's more than likely that it may need longer than 120 minutes. This is no cash-grabbing, coattail-riding cinematic remora (*cough* George Lucas *cough*). "Prometheus" feels like an knight's move on a much larger chess board.

While this may make things sound as some metaphysical, outer-space take on last year's Terrence Malick head-scratcher "Tree of Life," rest assured it's far more accessible. Scott fills the film with scenes that are both majestic in sweep and intimately horrifying.

By the film's conclusion, it raises far more questions than it answers, but like it did throughout its runtime, "Prometheus" feels as though it's building toward something even bigger. Scott and screenwriter Lindelof have hinted at more to come from this world in the future.

While it may not rest in the exulted canon of Scott's other forays into the genre, it still feels solid enough to hover above the masses of mediocrity that pass for science fiction these days, and the ship's next journey is one in which I would happily board when it takes flight.

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