The special effects in Prometheus (* * * out of four, R, opens Friday) may be the most dazzling of any film this year, and not since Avatar has 3-D technology been put to such vividly mesmerizing use.
In Ridley Scott’s gorgeous new thriller, moments of palpable paranoia mount and repulsion is triggered by slithery creatures comparable to Scott’s 1979 classic Alien. The production design is as memorable as it was in Scott’s 1982 dark drama Blade Runner.
In its first half hour, as it strives to be both a spiritually tinged and provocative space thriller, Prometheus feels headed toward exhilarating cinematic territory. But what could have been a heady sci-fi epic falls short, mostly because of a scattershot story that loses steam and leaves loose ends hanging in a plot that tries to cover too much ground. It’s almost as if Scott and the other screenwriters were unsure about the ultimate meaning of the story.
The title refers to the name of the ship, as well as to the Greek Titan who helped create humans and stole fire to help mankind. Prometheus is filled with murky mythology in its tale of space explorers bound for a distant planet to gather clues about the origins of human life on Earth.
Archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her partner Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a recurring cross-cultural pictogram that shows human figures pointing toward a distinct planet formation.
On the basis of this discovery, they receive corporate sponsorship for an exploratory mission to a galaxy that fits the formation depicted. The pair is convinced that the creatures on the planet engineered the human race. Kept in suspended animation, Shaw and Holloway awake aboard the ship in 2093, excited to meet their makers.
The expedition was commissioned by ghostly corporate CEO Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and is directed by steely Miss Vickers (Charlize Theron). Most of the scientific calculations are conducted by the ultra-precise and natty automaton David (Michael Fassbender). But his motives become murky. Does he act out of vengeance or sly humor? And if so, is he man or machine?
When it comes to technical wizardry and sheer visual spectacle, Prometheus unequivocally delivers. It’s easy to get lost in the film’s other-worldly beauty, especially in its depiction of space landscapes and dreamlike visions.
But, while it begins as a mysterious tale of human creation, the story devolves into a more generic battle to save the human race and pave the way for a sequel. All that buildup for such an anticlimactic payoff.
Scott seduces audiences with thought-provoking possibilities, then pulls a bait-and-switch, subbing in a familiar monster thriller and fiery explosion-fest.
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