'Prometheus' offers origin of the human race -- and one of its classic movies

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Entertainment,Movies,Kelly Jane Torrance

"Prometheus" is an origin story. It offers a striking suggestion of how the human race might have come into being. But far more important, it hints at how the titular character of "Alien" was born.

Ridley Scott's 1979 film practically created the modern science-fiction horror genre. Now decades later, the legendary filmmaker has revisited his classic. The much-anticipated "Prometheus" is a sort of prequel to "Alien." I say "sort of," because the director himself has emphasized that the new film is not a direct link to the old one. It alludes to future events, rather than explaining them outright. That might simply be Scott's way of giving himself an out should devotees of the original find contradictions between old and new.

In the near future -- 2083, to be exact -- a group of scientists find a well-preserved cave with drawings made by our ancestors. What makes this such a find isn't just the age of the work -- it's that these drawings include a star map exactly the same as those found in ancient art around the planet.

On screen
3 out of 4 stars
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green
Director: Ridley Scott
Rated: R for sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language
Running time: 124 minutes

Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) believes she's found something no scientist has before: evidence of our creators. Of course, few scientists have gone looking for quite that. But the cross around her neck speaks of Shaw's deep faith.

Fast-forward 10 years. Elizabeth and her team are in stasis aboard a spacecraft heading for the planet pictured in that star map. David (Michael Fassbender), the ship's steward, wakes everyone up as the ship approaches its destination.

David is a bit of an odd duck, spending his solitude learning languages and studying "Lawrence of Arabia." Played with an understated sense of humor by Fassbender, he's one of the most entrancing creations on the big screen this year.

The same, unfortunately, can't quite be said of the heroes, villains and creatures of the rest of the film. "Prometheus" is very well done. What else would you expect when you give Ridley Scott $130 million to explore our deepest desire: to understand the meaning of our existence?

Shaw wants to ask the Engineers -- that's what she's dubbed those she believes created the human race -- some deep philosophical questions. But she's not the only one on board the ship with an agenda. Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) represents the company that's funded the trip. And like the corporation of the original alien, it's not above putting the entire crew in danger in service of its goals.

But the big questions that give "Prometheus" its heft are undermined by the rest of the plot. You expect a certain amount of preposterousness in a horror movie. Those types of things happen over and over here, though. For smart scientists and businesswomen, the people of "Prometheus" are awfully naive.

But the professionalism of the acting -- especially that of Fassbender and an underused Idris Elba as the ship's captain -- and the special effects make "Prometheus" worth watching. Even if you haven't seen the 1979 film that inspired it.

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Kelly Jane Torrance

Washington Examiner Movie Critic
The Washington Examiner