“Prometheus” stands somewhere at the border between the kind of science fiction that uses a fantastical construct to ask big, important questions about humanity and the kind of sci-fi that wants to pick off space ship crew members one by one in inventively gruesome ways.
We know going into this movie, even those of us who have not seen the original, that this exploratory mission to a foreign planet is not going to end well for some of the crew members. The movie takes a surprisingly long time to get to those deaths, though, preferring to let its crew have some time to glory in discovering aliens that may or may not have had a hand in our existence on Earth. That crew has been filled with the usual scifi crew archetypes (try anything from “Armageddon” to “Avatar”). There are the starry-eyed scientists, the disaffected captain with a noble heart and the chilly corporate stand-in, all astoundingly good-looking. Oh, and the robot.
Michael Fassbender plays the robotic David with just the right amount of chilly remove and an eerie smile. His own motivations (or programming? It’s difficult to tell the difference) are cloudy throughout, but Fassbender’s ability to leave legitimate questions as to whether David has feelings makes him the most unpredictable member of the group.
The movie’s least interesting twists involve the gory deaths. At times, the movie seems almost hamstrung by its need to hit all the beats a space horror film has to hit. Never split off from a group, never trust new critters and don’t be arrogant; that never ends well for anyone in a horror movie. It’s the movie’s willingness to attempt to tackle those larger questions that elevates this into the realm of really good sci-fi. Why do we need to know who those early visitors to Earth were? Is it right to assume that just because they left behind signs of their presence, they wanted us to follow them? Or that their intentions are noble?
“Prometheus” isn’t that interested in answering those questions, which is both good storytelling and an annoying sign of potential sequeldom. However, there is a scene in this movie of such female badassitude that I’m inclined to forgive its larger sins. Without giving too much away, trust that this is a Ridley Scott movie, he of the original “Alien” and “Thelma and Louise.” Do not count anyone out, and most especially, do not be fooled by Noomi Rapace’s sweet idealism.
Scott’s direction makes this a beautiful movie, and one that occasionally brought to mind the “Plant Earth” series for its sweeping landscape shots. An early sequence of David wandering bored around the ship while his too-human crewmates sleep their way to their destination is a delight. Scenes like that make the predictable moments stand out in contrast, because they seem like they’re coming from a more traditional film. If this movie does lead to a sequel, I hope the writers and director feel less bound to the conventions of their genre and give us more questions to ponder. Not since 2009’s “Moon” have I seen a sci-fi movie as invested in bigger questions about humanity and what technology can bring us.
For ambition, full points. For making this avowed avoider of horror movies consider watching the original, extra credit will be awarded, then revoked after the resulting high electric bills from sleeping with the lights on.