Philosophy and sci-fi monsters collide in this latest Ridley Scott directed feature, his first bite at the sci-fi apple since "Blade Runner." The script explores the idea that human life arose from an earth-visiting alien race, but it also seeks to embolden our faith in an all-powerful creator. Two such journeys might dovetail nicely, but at a certain point, the script doesn't know where to take the two ideas.
Approximately 85 years from now, a pair of archaeologists discover cave paintings from around the globe that depict large hominids pointing out a grouping of stars.
"It's an invitation," says scientist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), the daughter of missionaries.
Keen to see more, she is one of 17 crew members arriving at a planetary system located 3.46 x 10 to the 14th power (or "10" followed by about 35 zeroes) kilometers from Earth. The voyage requires placing the crew in a 28-month cryostasis, while android David (Michael Fassbender) spends these lonely days studying movies and ancient languages.
When the ship arrives at a faraway moon orbiting a Saturn-like planet, David awakens the mission director, Meredith Vickers, played to the icy hilt by Charlize Theron. After rousting the rest of the crew, Vickers calls a meeting to explain their directive. The trillion-dollar exploration is funded by a private corporation whose elderly CEO (an unrecognizably aged Guy Pearce), hopes their discoveries might extend human life.
Elsewhere, the human drama depends largely upon the skills of Rapace (from the Swedish version of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"). She's an unexpected but not unwelcome foil for evil forces, not the least of which are among the crew. Vickers, and to a lesser extent, the ship's captain (portrayed by Idris Elba) demonstrate a lack of regard for human life. Most succumb to infection, parasites or outright attack, but android David correctly observes that Elizabeth demonstrates an uncanny will to survive.
The film begins by emphasizing Elizabeth's desire to get closer to God, but as the action heats up, her quest is all but forgotten.
They find that advanced, very large humanoid creatures created a habitable environment within a group of underground caverns that meander through this hostile moon. The crew's technology for exploring these caverns, and the remnants left behind by the alien race, are breathtaking. Yet, despite the beauty of the film's sets, the cutting-edge thrills are insufficient in both number and chills.
The film demonstrates its kinship to "Alien," with creatures that appear to be that creature's cousins, but lacking scares, the relationship seems tenuous.
Given the sequel that is surely coming, we wish it had dared to let its DNA rip.