The beginning of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi thriller “Prometheus” is deceptively calm. Scott takes time to set up the premise, carefully building the level of suspense as we watch a crew of scientists and their corporate sponsors set off for a faraway planet on board the spaceship Prometheus, searching for clues that could reveal how life originated on Earth. Yet anyone who has seen “Alien” knows better than to relax, and we know this quiet beginning is just lulling us into a false sense of security. Because while the crew of the Prometheus has no idea what horrors wait for them on the alien planet, we do, and what follows is a harrowing struggle to escape from the nightmare into which the mission quickly descends.
The film begins with two scientists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), who have discovered an ancient cave painting in Scotland depicting a giant being pointing to the stars. Shaw and Holloway interpret this as an invitation from alien beings to come and visit their world. Weyland Corp. agrees to sponsor a voyage to this mysterious planet and outfits a vessel called the Prometheus for a voyage across the stars.
After the crew of the Prometheus awakes from stasis, the ship touches down on the planet, and the scientists eagerly rush out to explore the new world. However, it doesn’t take them long to realize the alien beings in the cave paintings might not be as benevolent as they seemed. The mission turns into a disaster as crew members are picked off one by one by the terrors of the alien planet. By the time the crew of the Prometheus decide to abandon their plan and flee back to Earth, it’s already too late.
Before the film “Prometheus” was released, there was quite a bit of speculation about whether or not it was going to be a prequel to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic “Alien” (scenes from the trailers hinted at a connection, but film makers remained tight-lipped about the plot). So, is “Prometheus” actually a prequel? The answer is both “yes” and “no.” While there are echoes of “Alien” throughout the film, the story also stands on its own, and the plot keeps the audience guessing. “Prometheus” also has heavier philosophical overtones than “Alien.”
The special effects and cinematography are spectacular. Scott filmed parts of the project in Iceland, and the starkly beautiful but gloomy landscape provides the perfect backdrop for the film.
The cast also is excellent, although as many reviewers already have pointed out, the stand-out performance is Michael Fassbender as the android David. Fassbender is simply an amazing actor, bringing something unique to each of his performances. He plays the android David with an eerie, childlike innocence. In many ways, David is a heart-breaking character, because while he’s a robot and technically doesn’t have actual feelings, he “longs” to be a human but knows he never can. He educates himself about popular human pastimes, such as riding a bicycle, and he idolizes Peter O’Toole, copying the actor’s hairstyle and even using quotes from his movies.
Yet despite David’s apparent naiveté, he knows more about the planet and its deadly alien life-forms than anyone on board the Prometheus realizes. He sets in motion a chain of events with devastating consequences — and whether this is an accident or not is left up to the audience to decide.
Another standout is Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw. Though Shaw is unprepared for the horrors that await her on the alien world, she more than rises to the challenge. She proves to be a tough survivor, and her resourcefulness and courage would have made Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley from “Alien” proud. Fresh off her success as the evil sorceress Queen Ravenna in “Snow White and the Huntsman,” Charlize Theron turns in another dynamic performance here as the icy Weyland Corp. representative Meredith Vickers. Idris Elba also is great as the no-nonsense ship captain Janek.
Those looking for concrete details about the origin of the fictional “Alien” universe created by Ridley Scott will probably leave with more questions than answers. Yet that’s part of what makes this film so intriguing. It provides plenty of food for thought, and it will definitely give “Alien” fans something to talk about as they leave the theater.