The story kicks off with an ominous scene: a human-like being standing on the precipice of a breathtaking waterfall. What he ingests destroys him, but his DNA twists and turns underwater, perhaps recombining. Jump forward to 2089 as two archeologists, Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway, find cave pictographs that mirror other such drawings pointing to the same heavenly sphere. Two years later, in hypersleep, a 17-person, corporate funded, scientific exploration mission arrives at that mysterious planet to investigate their predecessors. They quickly realize that they aren’t welcome.
Throughout their confrontations both among the crew members and with the Engineers, as those who inhabited this planet are called, the cast sells the plot. As Shaw, Noomi Rapace shows grit and resourcefulness in one of the most repellent scenes. Logan Marshall-Green is an appealing Holloway. Charlize Theron plays the Weyland Corporation’s cold, calculating agent. Michael Fassbender is a fascinating android named David, who explicitly models his look after Peter O’Toole's in Lawrence of Arabia. And Idris Elba as the ship’s sensible captain steals every scene with his charismatic presence. Still, Prometheus hedges its bets on the big existence issues, digressing to its horror jolts to keep the energy going—and they work extremely well in this isolated, claustrophobic world.
Director Scott with cinematographer Dariusz Wolski designed and shot Prometheus in dazzling 3D. Rather than a gratuitous gimmick, the 3D immerses the viewer in the locations: the caves, the spaceship, and the bleak terrain. Scott has a stunning visual imagination, so much so that it dominates the proceedings even with a bleak color palette, mostly shades of dark grays. The nicely integrated technology benefits from an array of lights and multi-screen displays. Wolski shot on Scotland’s Isle of Skye, in Iceland, and, primarily, on sound stages. For more on the technical features, see July’s American Cinematographer magazine. To get the full visual and aural effect of Prometheus, it must be seen in IMAX 3D or, at least, 3D. Check listings, at area cinemas.