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'Prometheus' comes up short of 'Alien' aspirations, critics say

June 8, 2012 |  3:56 pm

"Prometheus" director Ridley Scott has said, using an aptly biological metaphor, that his latest film shares DNA with his groundbreaking 1979 sci-fi horror show "Alien." The plot involves a group of scientists in space exploring the origins of life on Earth, and the big question surrounding the film is whether it can match "Alien" — or perhaps Scott's other sci-fi landmark, "Blade Runner" (1982). For critics, the answer seems to be: not quite.

The Times' Kenneth Turan writes that although "Prometheus" is "more involving than much of this year's summer blockbuster competition, by the standards set by its wizardly director it's something of a disappointment." While Scott succeeds as a technician — his first-ever use of 3-D is "expert," and he "remains a master creator of alternate worlds" — the director also "pushes too hard for significance" in a film with run-of-the-mill plotting. As far as acting, Charlize Theron is "strong" as an ice-cold corporate bigwig, Noomi Rapace is "hit and miss" as the lead scientist, and Michael Fassbender "excels" as the android David.

New York Times critic A.O. Scott touches on many of the same points, writing that "[Ridley] Scott’s sense of visual scale … achieves, especially in the first hour, something like genuine grandeur." However, "once the themes touch down and the arc of the story becomes clear, some disappointment sets in." While "the visual scheme is sufficiently captivating, and most of the performances are subtle enough that whatever skepticism you may arrive with quickly turns into happy disorientation," in the end, "the virtuosity on display makes the weakness of the story … all the more frustrating."

The San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle asserts that "'Prometheus' has the integrity of a serious and sincere attempt, but ultimately it won't please anybody." The film is neither "a fast, crowd-pleasing sci-fi action thriller" nor "a deep existential experience," LaSalle says. And while there are "a handful of first-rate sequences," which Scott can always be counted on to deliver, "most of the film consists of long, dull stretches interspersed by the sudden appearance of ugly, stomach-turning aliens." Rapace, for her part, gets high marks.

USA Today's Claudia Puig says the film starts strong but falters: "In the first half hour … '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." That said, "When it comes to technical wizardry and sheer visual spectacle, 'Prometheus' unequivocally delivers."

The Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert is one critic who gives "Prometheus" a glowing review, declaring it "a magnificent science-fiction film" that echoes "Alien" but also creates its own world. Rapace "continues here the tradition of awesome feminine strength begun by Sigourney Weaver" in that film. All told, "Prometheus" offers "staggering visuals, expert horror, mind-challenging ideas and enough unanswered questions to prime the inevitable sequel."

For a film that emulates and aspires to "Alien" in so many ways, it should come as no surprise that there's likely more to come.


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Noomi Rapace vs. Sigourney Weaver: Ridley Scott's screen tests

— Oliver Gettell

Photo: Noomi Rapace in "Prometheus." Credit: Kerry Brown / 20th Century Fox