Sci-fi or Horror?

Director Ridley Scott broke some real ground in science-fiction films, first in 1979 with Alien, and again in 1982 with Blade Runner.

Both films flew in the face of the sanitized and gleaming other worlds presented in Star Wars, the most successful model for the genre to that date.

Alien took place on a very industrial-looking spaceship with a decidedly proletarian crew, and Blade Runner presented a similarly gritty view of a future metropolitan landscape.

Scott’s Prometheus has been billed as a prequel to his Alien, and has also been compared to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do a very good job of following in the footsteps of either film.

Visually, it’s a stunning film, and it boasts a capable and talented cast. It’s just that Prometheus doesn’t give them very much to work with, and ultimately its visual appeal isn’t enough to carry it through.

Noomi Rapace, whose work as computer hacker Lisbeth Salander in the original Swedish version of The Girl Who Played with Fire brought her universal notice, plays scientist Elizabeth Shaw in Prometheus.

She is part of a team that discovers ancient cave art, with figures pointing heavenwards to celestial orbs, that seems to suggest a link between humanity and some sort of a cosmic presence.

Somehow the team’s theories seem to be enough justification to launch the giant spaceship Prometheus in 2083 towards the moon of a distant planet that presumably holds the answer to the question of mankind’s origin in the universe.

Alien life-forms are indeed found, but they’re long dead, and somehow the DNA of one of them turns out to be an exact match for that of humans. So the question of our origin is answered.

The rest of the film, instead of speculating on some of the details as to what exactly our links are to this extinct race, and how or why they ended up on our planet, takes a turn towards the horrific.

Without giving away too much of the plot, it turns out that there are still some life-forms left on the planet, and they definitely qualify as more of the bug-eyed monster variety than the beneficent and wise presence one would expect from a race thousands of years old that had mastered interstellar travel.

Elizabeth Shaw’s resourcefulness ultimately saves her life in her struggle with the malevolent alien presence, but her future is uncertain on the cold and forbidding world that somehow gave birth to our species, yet seems ultimately determined to destroy it.

Instead of venturing forth into larger questions around our cosmic destiny à la Kubrick, Prometheus instead goes for the shock value of trying to scare the blazes out of us with one threatening monstrous presence after another, but without the skill of Scott’s earlier work in Alien.

The result is an unevenly-paced and ultimately not very satisfactory film that can’t make up its mind whether it’s going down the science-fiction or the horror film road.

Prometheus plays at 6:55 and 9:35 p.m. at the Qwanlin Cinema, and is rated 14-A for violence, not suitable for younger children.

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