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Prometheus takes sci-fi horror to next level
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Michael Fassbender is seen in a scene from "Prometheus."

‘Prometheus’

Runtime: 2 hours, 4 minutes
Rating: R, for sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Kate Dickie, Rafe Spall
Bottom line: Arguably better than “Alien”

“Prometheus” is a better overall film than “Alien.” Now that I have blasphemed in the eyes of diehard “Alien” fans, let me explain and qualify.

“Alien” was ahead of its time in many ways when it was released in 1979. The design of the ship Nostromo, the space flight scenes, H.R. Giger’s design for the alien monster, Sigourney Weaver’s tough as nails portrayal of Ridley — all of those elements made it a landmark film. And those particular elements hold up even today.

However, the second half of “Alien” has aged badly. Once the baby alien pops out of John Hurt’s chest, it’s a clichéd horror film. One by one, the crew members make stupid decisions that get them killed, just like a bunch of hormonal teens in the woods. (Let’s not forget, the latter half of “Alien” borrows heavily from “It! The Terror from Beyond Space” from 1958. Not exactly cutting edge.)

“Prometheus” retains all of the great visuals, including more Giger-inspired designs, and has another strong female lead, but it also offers a more complex story than “Alien.”

Researchers Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) believe they have discovered messages from an alien race in 30,000-year old cave paintings throughout the world. The paintings hint at visitations that took place during the dawn of the human race.

Might these messages actually be from an ancient race, perhaps even from promethean beings who created life on Earth?

Wealthy eccentric Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) wants to answer that question, so he funds an interstellar excursion that will take Elizabeth and Charlie to the planet where they believe that ancient race came from.

When they reach the planet, of course, it’s not what they expect and the horror elements begin. It quickly transforms from a quest for knowledge into a game of survival.

Like “Alien,” the crew of the ship are played by an extraordinarily talented supporting cast. Charlize Theron captains the ship. Michael Fassbender is David, an android so full of affected humanity it’s disturbing. Idris Elba, Rafe Spall and Kate Dickie highlight the rest of the crew.

The harshest criticism of “Prometheus” is as much a product of the film’s dazzling marketing campaign as the film itself.

Over the past several months we have been teased by an advertisement for Weyland Corporation’s “David 8” model android and a TED talk by Peter Weyland set in the year 2023. Both are flat out brilliant and have stoked feverish anticipation.

They’ve also made us expect something profound. Even the title and premise hint that the movie will provide its own version of the creation of life and insight into human nature.

But this is not “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Nor does it pretend to be.

The marketing campaign gave us glimpses of a highly sophisticated sci-fi opus, perhaps even an art film. If you go in expecting that, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

“Prometheus” merely dabbles in the philosophical and metaphysical issues it raises, never exploring them deeply.

It also indulges in some laughably hackneyed scenes. There’s even a scene in which a character has to run to avoid being squashed by a huge, round, rolling object. Even though said object is moving quite slowly and in a straight line, the character somehow manages to get crushed by it.

Just as in its predecessor, the characters in “Prometheus” also do plenty of bonehead things to get themselves killed.

There is some debate about whether or not this is an actual prequel to “Alien.” The public relations folks say it isn’t. Scott says the film “exists in the same universe” as “Alien.”

I think that’s splitting hairs. This is a prequel, and that doesn’t diminish its power at all.

So “Prometheus” doesn’t quite live up to the hype. It never transcends its science fiction-meets-horror genre. Nevertheless, it might be the best film ever within that category. That’s still saying quite a lot.

Jeff Marker teaches film and literature at Gainesville State College. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and online.

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