After nearly 2 years of waiting and rampant speculation, director Ridley Scott’s science-fiction epic Prometheus has finally arrived. The project initially started as a prequel to Alien, and in doing so got the attention of the Alien fan community. After the last two sequels and two disastrous Alien Versus Predator spinoffs, this fan community was eager for the director who started the series to bring the series back to prominence. However, hopes were dashed when it was announced that Prometheus would not be a prequel but instead a standalone film that “shared” DNA with Alien. As production of the film developed under very tight conditions, fans could only speculate as to the nature of the film even when leaked photos and eventually trailers seem to indicate more than a passing connection to the Alien franchise.

The film follows the story of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), who in the late 21st century makes a startling discovery with her boyfriend Charlie Halloway (Logan Marshall-Green). Their discovery leads to an extremely expensive expedition to an unknown area of space aboard the state-of-the-art research vessel Prometheus. The eclectic but talented crew of experts along for the ride are under the stern watch of Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), who has been appointed by the Weyland Corporation to oversee the expedition even though she is highly skeptical about the expected goals that set the crew on the journey.

Holloway and Shaw believe that a series of paintings they discovered at several archaeological sites throughout the world indicated that ancient man had been visited and guided by beings from beyond the stars and that said beings may very well be responsible for engineering humanity as well.

After a journey of nearly 2.5 years the crew arrives at the star system depicted in the paintings and soon find themselves exploring a temple-like structure on an otherwise desolate and apparently lifeless moon. Despite the misgivings of the crew, when the true nature of their expedition is revealed upon their arrival, Shaw and Holloway are vindicated when remains of alien life forms and other technology are discovered by the crew.

Their initial exploration cut short due to a violent storm, the crew returns the safety of the ship to wait out the storm, save for two members of the team who remained at the temple after becoming lost. A series of events follow which soon indicate that not only are there hidden agendas at play but that the crew has stumbled upon a discovery that they are ill-prepared for.

Bizarre and horrific revelations and events follow which cause the crew members to question their motivations and the expedition’s purpose as well as examine their place in a much more complex and dangerous universe, where their petty human concerns and conflicts now seem much more insignificant.

It would be very difficult to go into further detail with spoiling key elements to the film. Suffice it to say that there are some real twist and turns along the way as well as some thrills and action that keep things moving along nicely as the film makes its way towards the conclusion. But, yes, Prometheus does have a very clear connection to the Alien films.

Scott had said that he wanted to do something epic in scale and in that he has, for the most part, succeeded. Shot using the latest 3-D technology, the film is amazing to watch. The opening sequence, as well as some footage of the ship in-flight, are truly gorgeous to look at and the amazing attention to detail not only on the alien world but on the ship itself is truly spectacular.

Early in the film, the android David (Michael Fassbender) is seen going through his various routines on the ship as the crew sleeps in suspended animation. His various activities range from monitoring the crew and their dreams, to watching old movies and studying ancient languages and keeping an eye on the ship systems. All that seems fairly routine, but it is his skill with a basketball that was fascinating and establishes the complex and dynamic character that he portrays.

This introduction underscores the diversity of the crew. We are given bits and pieces about all of them to help them stand out from the usual stock characters in this type of film. While we are not given as complete a background set up as I would’ve liked, little touches such as Capt. Janik (Idris Elba), insisting upon celebrating Christmas as well as the crew running side bets, help to underscore that these are people we can easily relate to, just doing their job in extraordinary situations. This was something that Scott mastered in the original Alien, giving you average Joe’s who had to deal with extraterrestrial horror.

I mention this because Prometheus is not an action film, nor is it a horror film. I wonder if perhaps this film had not had the production costs that it does, if it would be better suited for fall release. I say this not as a criticism of the movie, simply to emphasize the fact this is a movie that requires thought, something your typical summer blockbuster doesn’t. Scott does not lay it out on a plate for the audience and say “Here it is, take it.” He presents a story filled with questions, and instead of giving you answers, gives you even more questions as the film goes along.

At first, this was more than a bit frustrating as I wanted answers to questions I’ve had since seeing the original Alien back in 1979. I wanted to know more about some of the plot lines and characters as well as certain situations that were in the film. At one point the captain shares some very important information. I asked myself how this piece of news was arrived at, as certainly a discovery of this magnitude would have been a very interesting scene. However much like the film’s premise, faith is an underlying and key component. Just as the characters discuss and act based on faith, or lack thereof, audience members asked to have faith in the storyline and the sequence of events that lead up to the finale. There will be those who will be unwilling to do so and will be quick to find fault with the film, cast, and plot. But I hope there will be more who accept that they are seeing the first part of a larger journey and understand that there are things that they are meant to know, as well as things hey are not meant to know and in time more may be revealed.

Scott has indicated that he would like to do another film in the series and scuttlebutt indicates the studio would very much like to entertain thoughts of a trilogy. I would certainly like to see this, as would a few of my fellow critics. Following our screening, three of us stood around discussing aspects of the film, trying to figure out what it really meant and how it connected to the Alien series as well as potential future films in the series. If nothing else, this movie will spark interesting conversation.

As the days have passed since seeing the film I’ve appreciated it more and more with each passing day. Scott could have taken the easy way out and given a straight up prequel to Alien complete with all manner of monsters and CGI creatures on the loose wrecking havoc upon a crew of unfortunate victims. Instead he opted to take a much larger look at life, the universe, and our place in it and wove a complex and open-ended framework that not only provided fantastic entertainment but also provided an opportunity for intelligent conversation and introspection.

From the incredible visuals to the engaging and enjoyable cast, Prometheus is a refreshing and enjoyable film and an extremely welcome and much-needed addition to the alien franchise.

4 stars out of 5