'Prometheus' a gorgeous, intense trip

Wednesday, June 13, 2012 - 20:15
This film image released by 20th Century Fox shows Michael Fassbender in a scene from “Prometheus.”

Nothing could possibly satisfy the fervent expectation that has built for Ridley Scott’s sorta-prequel to his genre-defining “Alien,” but “Prometheus,” the director’s return to science fiction for the first time in 30 years, comes close.

Strikingly beautiful, expertly paced, vividly detailed and scary as hell, it holds you in its grip for its entirety and doesn’t let go. You’ll squeal, you’ll squirm — at one point, I was curled up in a little ball in my seat in a packed screening room — and you’ll probably continue feeling a lingering sense of anxiety afterward. That’s how effective it is in creating and sustaining an intensely suspenseful mood.

But the further you get away from outer-space journey, the more you may begin to notice some problems with the plot — both specific, nagging holes and a general narrative fuzziness. Describing some of them would give too much away, and we wouldn’t dream of doing that. We’ll just say that Scott and writers Damon Lindelof (executive producer of “Lost”) and Jon Spaihts vaguely touch on the notions of belief vs. science and creation vs. Darwinism, philosophical debates that never feel fully developed.

Still, the performances are excellent, especially from Michael Fassbender as a robot with the looks and impeccable manners of an adult but the innocence and troublemaking instincts of a child. His character, the genteel, fair-haired David, serves as an homage to Scott’s own work as he calls to mind Ian Holm’s android Ash from the original “Alien.” His eerily calm, precise demeanor also is reminiscent of the HAL 9000 computer program in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and the pop-culture influences that shape David’s habits and speech are a clever celebration of the power of classic cinema in general. (“Prometheus” probably will not go on to be considered one of Scott’s classics in the same category as “Alien” and “Blade Runner,” but you’ve got to admire its ambition.)

The reason for the journey may seem a bit muddled, but what happens once they get there is undeniably powerful.

“Prometheus,” is rated R. Running time 123 minutes. 3 stars out of 4.

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