An ambitious and overwrought failure. Whereas Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) surely ranks among the upper tier of 20th century horror cinema, it’s “prequel” is more like a latter day George Lucas Star Wars gewgaw: too acutely aware of its own lofty place in our cultural consciousness, and as a result, trips all over itself trying to catch lightning in a jar a second time. Prometheus looks sensational, but the story is pure hash, and it’s certainly not horror, despite occasional horrifying imagery. Sadly, it’s another example of corporate hubris: a big-budget, hastily rewritten spectacle that no one knew what to do with.

If I sound bitter, it’s because I am. After shelling out $17.25 to see Prometheus in IMAX 3D, and another $15 for a bottle of water, a small popcorn, and a box of M&Ms, I was treated to a movie that reached for the heavens—and pulled a muscle doing so. Scientific sweethearts Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her partner Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) find some provocative cave paintings that lead them to outer space aboard the titular vessel in search of “the engineers” who may have created mankind. Naturally, there is a crew to escort them, but they’re a flimsily drawn bunch that includes Janek, the sturdy captain (Idris Elba), Vickers, a cranky company bitch (Charlize Theron), and David, an affable, secretive mandroid (Michael Fassbender). Naturally David’s protocol and that of the corporation aren’t exactly in perfect sync. After a few years in cryo-sleep, the crew awakens to find themselves hovering over the planet depicted in an assortment of prehistoric murals. Shaw and Holloway are gung-ho to “meet their makers” but they end up badly disappointed. Welcome to the club!

Once again, Prometheus is fairly sumptuous in the high-tech eye candy department, but the failure of writers Jon Spaights and Damon Lidelof to come up with a character we can invest ourselves in weighs heavy. Noomi Rapace as Shaw is the best of the lot, but most of the time it seems like various attributes of Ripley, Dallas, Ash, and Parker  are simply doled out sparingly to everyone on board. It’s like looking forward to a gourmet meal and getting pricey, reheated leftovers.

Furthermore, it’s easy to see that there isn’t a firm hand at the wheel. My goodness, how many back and forth trips between the ship and the alien station are there? It feels like half the movie is spent getting into and out of space suits and then very slowly trekking to the next location. The suffocating atmosphere of dread and isolation that made the original movie such a tension fest, is nowhere to be found. Instead, there’s a forlorn flourish of heroic horns, ala John Williams, that wells up every now and then as if to remind us that this is meant to be an epic tale of exploration and valor, you know, like Star Wars. I suspect that too many opinions and too much studio meddling scuttled this ship, because Prometheus ends up way off course.

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