When "Prometheus" was introduced by 20th Century Fox CEO Tom Rothman at the film's London premiere, he called Ridley Scott's terrifying science-fiction adventure a project "33 years in the making." And while that's a hefty amount of hype to live up to, it fits right in with the rest of the buzz leading up to this weekend's U.S. premiere of the film, which is being heralded as a landmark moment in cinema history.
A pseudo-prequel to Scott's 1979 sci-fi horror classic "Alien," "Prometheus" is neither a traditional reboot nor the typical prologue chapter to an existing franchise, and the true nature of its place in the greater "Alien" universe is just one of the closely guarded secrets that helped build anticipation for the film. The involvement of "Lost" co-creator Damon Lindelof and an all-star cast that includes man-of-the-hour Michael Fassbender, original "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" star Noomi Rapace, and many, many other notables has only added to the ridiculously high level of buzz surrounding the project.
Of course, with that much hype, the question of whether the movie is a success often plays second-fiddle to the question of whether it lives up to the hype – a scenario that definitely applies to "Prometheus," which is an excellent film, but not quite the genre-redefining, mind-blowing, life-changing experience much of the hype suggests. [Photos: Scenes from "Prometheus"]
In "Prometheus," Rapace plays scientist Elizabeth Shaw, who discovers – along with her colleague and lover Charlie Holloway, played by Logan Marshall-Green – a set of universal coordinates repeated throughout history on cave walls and in ancient tombs that point to a mysterious moon located in deep space.
Thanks to funding from the Weyland mega-corporation, Shaw and Holloway set off on an outer-space expedition to the moon, and are joined on the space ship Prometheus by the movie-watching, basketball-playing android David (Fassbender), cold-as-ice corporate rep Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), and a host of other crew mates. After waking from a four-year sleep in suspended animation, the team sets off to explore the moon and potentially meet the “engineers” of human civilization, only to discover a dangerous truth about our origins and the ultimate fate of humanity.
From start to finish, "Prometheus" is a fantastic treat for nearly every sense you use as a member of the audience. The visual effects are just as epic as the previews suggest, and Scott has made excellent use of both the 3-D aspects of the film and the advantages an IMAX presentation can provide. Every moment truly fills the screen and “pops” with the sort of detail only a master filmmaker can provide, and Scott extends that expert touch to the film's sound effects and score, too. Whether it's a quiet scene brimming with tension or a massive, deafening explosion, you feel the world Scott has created just as much as you observe it.
And just as he's done in the past, Scott succeeds in bringing the best out of his cast – a feat that's certainly assisted by the tremendous talent of actors like Rapace, Fassbender, and Theron, and supplemented by a supporting cast (including "Luther" star Idris Elba) that elevates the entire film.
As the team's android caretaker, Fassbender continues the franchise tradition of making the film's robot character one of the most fascinating, memorable roles. His take on David is a tricky balance of android logic and humanity as interpreted by an outsider, and like Ian Holm ("Alien") and Lance Henriksen ("Aliens") before him, Fassbender shows why it takes a great actor to play a great robot.
And though Fassbender shines in "Prometheus," he never quite outshines Rapace (though he comes very, very close to doing so). Once again, Scott has created a strong, female lead in Elizabeth Shaw, who's cut from similar cloth as Sigourney Weaver's iconic space-trucker-turned-alien-fighter Ellen Ripley.
Nevertheless, Rapace truly makes Shaw her own over the course of the film, and gives the audience a heroine who's more inclined to out-think her enemies than out-gun them, and approaches danger with the mind of a quick-thinking scientist rather than a grease-stained cargo jockey. Her grasp of how to play the horror elements is especially obvious in a particular scene (that I won't spoil here) combining claustrophobia, xenophobia, and whatever the fear of self-surgery is called, all in one nightmare-inducing sequence.
Still, the long list of existential questions Scott clearly intended to pose with "Prometheus" manage to provide both the best and worst qualities of the film. Much like Christopher Nolan's infinitely layered 2010 thriller "Inception," "Prometheus" is the sort of film that demands post-screening discussion from its audience and leaves many questions unanswered when the credits finally roll. And like "Inception" – and better yet, Scott's own 1982 sci-fi classic "Blade Runner" – those questions are part of the experience, and supplement your enjoyment of the film rather than leaving its audience unsatisfied.
However, in the push to ask these questions and offer only the most ambiguous of answers, "Prometheus" occasionally suffers from holes in its plot that distract from the greater discussion points. [Top 10 Scary Sci-Fi Series]
Certain characters' motivations for key actions are never fully explained, for example, and the absence of these and a few other fundamental story points seems less like a thought-provoking storytelling decision and more like something the writers mistakenly assumed would be clear. At times, it feels like the question being asked of the audience is missing an important word, and you're left wondering what the question actually is before you can ponder its answer.
It's important to note, though, that even these flaws are minor when you look at "Prometheus" as a complete package, and how much you notice these particular problems will probably depend on how much of the hype surrounding the film that you've absorbed. While the movie offers a great blend of speculative sci-fi and scream-inducing outer-space horror, it's wise not to enter the theater expecting "Prometheus" to be the supreme culmination of an entire cinematic universe and all of the questions anyone has ever asked about that universe and our own.
Instead, you should expect "Prometheus" to be a tremendous sci-fi film by one of the greatest filmmakers of that genre, and the sort of movie that you'll be thinking about – and likely discussing with everyone else who sees it – for a long time after you leave the theater.
Because that's exactly what it is.
Get the Space.com Newsletter
Breaking space news, the latest updates on rocket launches, skywatching events and more!