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There are two types of passionate filmgoers in this world, and "Prometheus," the sci-fi attempted epic by director Ridley Scott, is bound to split them into warring factions. The first camp could be described as the realists. These are people who want the story they're experiencing on-screen to feel like a cohesive, coherent world, no matter what rules are set in place. The second camp is made of impressionists. They favor films that generate strong emotions and achieve memorable aesthetics, regardless of niggling details. In crude terms, this is a left brain, right brain tension, yet the great films, the great stories of all types, satisfy both sides.
"Prometheus" will prove particularly divisive because it skews heavily right-brain in a genre that prizes intellectual consistency. The visuals, the sound effects, the broad-stroke concepts are all of exceptional quality. But the plotting, the dialogue and the internal logic are so infuriatingly erratic that to impose rational thought to them feels like pouring pebbles straight into your frontal lobe. The conversations after the movie are mostly confused yet hopeful, because while many in the audience felt a great film in there somewhere, no one actually saw it.
Since its announcement about 10 years ago, "Prometheus" has been billed, somewhat erroneously, as a prequel to "Alien," the 1979 sci-fi horror tour-de-force that led into "Blade Runner" three years later; together, those cemented Scott as a premier director, despite his having made only three or four decent movies in the 30 years since. The aesthetic pops a bit brighter than the "Alien" palate, though with more set design from the inimitable H. R. Geiger, "Prometheus" has a familiar visual echo of the predecessor.
The plot, too, rhymes a bit. Two scientists — played by the fierce Noomi Rapace, recognizable as Liz Salander from the Danish "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," and by the unconvincing Logan Marshall-Green, recognizable as some jerk from "The O.C." — have theorized that the beginnings of human existence may lie on a specific moon in a not-too-distant solar system. Their mission to find proto-people overlaps with the interests of a massive corporation that poured a trillion bucks into sending them, along with a crew of borderline misfits. The movie wastes Charlize Theron as the stiff, dollar-driven company rep on the trip, and without explanation embalms Guy Pearce under five hours of makeup to play the decrepit corporate patriarch. Michael Fassbender as the attendant cyborg David, a prim but coldly guileful presence, turns in the only performance other than Rapace's worth remembering.
Once they arrive on the moon and confirm that it was at one time inhabited, a whole series of alternately wondrous and hammerheaded events take place, as the characters morph into a collection of action-movie dullards who seem to relish in making decisions that lead to disasters. They rush into situations that call for patience, they get lost despite their sophisticated mapping equipment, and one guy does everything shy of actually begging a local alien (oh, spoiler: there are alien-monsters around) to kill him in horrible fashion.
Why do we care about this faraway alien civilization when our own species is so clearly littered with twits? "Prometheus" purports to address Big Questions about human creation, swirling in a pinch of religion, like fish food, as it baldly builds toward (admittedly very awesome) set pieces. But oh, what a disarray of ideas. Utter hash has rarely been this seductive.