Returning at long last to the sci-fi genre, Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” is part classic Ridley and part recent Ridley.
Once upon a time, the director made great movies such as “Alien,” “Blade Runner” and “Thelma and Louise.” Back in those days, movies took time to explore characters and their relationships to the spaces around them.
Then Scott grew more concerned about what his audience would like to see, rather than what he would like to say.
Happily, only the last chunk of “Prometheus” — which Scott has stated is related to “Alien,” but not a sequel, prequel, remake or reboot — concentrates on satisfying viewers.
Mostly, it focuses on mind-boggling ideas: How did humans get here? Is there a God? When we create babies, robots or music, are we emulating God? What if we destroy the thing we create? What if it destroys us?
In “Prometheus,” two scientists (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green) discover a similar celestial pattern in cave drawings across the world and pinpoint its deep-space source.
A few years later, in 2093, a discovery mission is launched. Piloted by laid-back Janek (Idris Elba) and run by icy, nasty Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), its passengers include assorted co-pilots and science types.
As in the other “Alien” movies, there’s also an android: David (Michael Fassbender) watches “Lawrence of Arabia” and wears his hair like Peter O’Toole’s.
Enhancing the mystery and sense of discovery, Scott deftly creates creepy spaces, odd spatial arrangements and moody lighting to go with expected terror and gross-out moments.
The brilliantly simple “chestburster” scene in the original “Alien” became a water-cooler staple. In “Prometheus,” a sequence less brilliant, but more harrowing, involves Rapace and an unwanted intruder.
In another key, and moving, scene, David discovers a recording of alien music.
One more musical reference comes with the use of a real song from the 1970s, still vibrant 100 years later even though its creator is long dead, and exemplifying the film’s thought-provoking themes about the nature of life, creation and destruction.
But, disappointingly, Scott drops those ideas, shifting focus to the mundane. While the old Scott would have cooked up an ending worthy of his material, the new Scott at least has delivered three-fourths of a great movie.
Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron
Written by Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof
Directed by Ridley Scott
Running time 2 hours 4 minutes