Movie review: Scott returns to sci-fi terror in 'Prometheus'
Ignore, if you can in the age of spoiler alerts, director Ridley Scott's teasing avoidance of confirming or denying whether his new science-fiction thriller "Prometheus" is a prequel to his 1979 classic "Alien." The movie is a rich, intelligent space drama, and the "is it or isn't it?" question will resolve itself in due course.
Besides, by the time it's over, you won't be questioning the movie's links to "Alien" so much as Scott's nods to "2001: A Space Odyssey" because much of "Prometheus" bears a striking resemblance to the midsection of Stanley Kubrick's 1969 film.
It's 2089, and the archaeological team of Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, the original "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo") and Charlie Halloway (Logan Marshall-Green) make a startling discovery in a cave on the Isle of Skye. They find cave paintings that show an astronomical star chart with the same star formation found in ancient artifacts from other cultures.
Shaw and Halloway figure out the stars that correspond to that chart lie far beyond what those ancient civilizations could see from Earth. And there's a moon around a planet of one of those stars capable of sustaining life.
"It's an invitation," Shaw says, to the possible origins of life on Earth.
Two years later, and a corporate-owned survey ship Prometheus arrives at that moon. Shaw and Halloway are to lead a survey team on the planet, though the corporation's representative, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), leaves it clear to the scientists and to Prometheus' captain, Janek (Idris Elba), who's in charge.
The wild card is David (Michael Fassbender), the cheerily servile android who keeps Prometheus humming. With his steady voice and well-groomed manner, David is like the HAL 9000 in the body of Dave Bowman. As the story, written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, continues, we discover that the allusions to "2001" don't end there.
And whether or not "Prometheus" is part of the "Alien" storyline, certainly the themes Scott established there live on here. There's the tough female protagonist (think of Rapace as Sigourney Weaver in a handy travel size), the seething distrust of corporate motives and the brooding atmosphere of a dank alien environment.
With a few perfectly pitched sequences of sheer terror capped by an astonishing surgery scene featuring Rapace Scott coils the tension to unbearable tightness. As he did in "Alien," he devilishly turns the prospect of discovering extraterrestrial life from something optimistic to something terrifying.
Director Ridley Scott returns to his roots for this atmospheric and tense science-fiction thriller that will, yes, remind you of "Alien."
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday, June 8.
Rating • R for sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language.
Running time • 124 minutes.