Ridley Scott's return to science fiction and the universe he established with the classic film Alien is a visual masterpiece. The work of cinematographer Dariusz Wolski and production designer/frequent Scott collaborator Arthur Max, along with their respective teams, is marvelous to behold, whether on the silver screen in 3D or on Blu-ray in 2D. I wish the frames of the film were collected in a photography book, so I could gaze at them at my leisure. My deep appreciation of the film's visual style is why I am so disappointed there are problems with the script.
Prometheus opens at an unspecified time with a spaceship hovering above a planet. A large, mysterious figure, white and muscular, from a race later identified as the Engineers, drinks a concoction that causes his body to break down at the cellular level. His DNA breaks apart, and then within a waterfall, it reassembles, altering the planet's ecosystem.
In Scotland 2089, scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) find cave drawings they've seen before. These ones are determined to be at least 35,000 years old, and they see it as a message to head to the stars. Four years later, they are aboard Prometheus as part of a mission funded by the elderly Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) that takes them to the moon LV-223, which is 3.24 x 1014 kilometers from Earth. David (Michael Fassbender) is an android that runs the ship while the human crew is in suspended animation for over two years; he knows the precise amount of time.
Once they land, the team prepares to venture into a massive alien structure they discover. Shaw orders expedition security not to bring weapons because it's a scientific mission. Surprisingly, he listens. Inside, they find a decapitated Engineer body that visual records show was being chased by something. Shaw wants it and the head brought back aboard the ship. David finds something else to bring back unbeknownst to the rest of the crew.
Back on Prometheus, ship captain Janek (Idris Elba) and Weyland mission leader Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) see a massive storm approaching and order the away team to return. It is an awesome sequence as the fierce wind whips so much dirt and debris it obscures nearly everything. Shaw drops the head and risks her life to retrieve it. She discovers Engineer DNA is the same as human. Dave conducts his own experiments on an unsuspecting crewmember. Each is searching for an Engineer but for different reasons, but when they find one in stasis, what will its response be to them, assuming they are able to wake and communicate with it.
It's interesting that the characters have competing goals because from the commentary track by writers John Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, edited together from separate sessions, it's apparent they had did as well. From what Spaihts says, his version was a more direct prequel to Alien. Lindelof came in later and, for whatever reason, added some ambiguity. Both offer very good insight in the story and the ideas they were exploring, even though Spaihts sounds understandably disappointed in the changes to his work.
While I appreciate the writers explore some major ideas, such as where we come from, it's frustrating because it's all set up and no resolution. On the Blu-ray packaging it repeatedly states "questions will be answered" but it's more accurate that the film just asks questions, never intended to be answered until a later film. There's no clue why the Engineers created life on Earth, why they left clues for humans to find them, or why they changed their mind about Earth.
There are some compelling characters, most notably David. Fassbender plays the most intriguing android in the franchise. It's good to see two intriguing female characters in a major blockbuster. Shaw has faith issues, which are compounded by the Engineers. She has a great scene where she deals with a parasite. Vickers has issues of her own, revealed towards the end of the film, but she shows her conviction when she's willing to kill one crewmember to save the rest of them. I also enjoyed the heroic Janek.
There are also terrible choices characters in service to the plot. The worst is Fifield (Sean Harris), a perpetually angry, punk rock geologist, and Millburn (Rafe Spall), a dopey biologist, leaving the team and having to camp over night within the structure because of the storm. Millburn demonstrates the caution of the Crocodile Hunter after a cobra-like creature comes out of the black muck. He attempts to pet it, leading to tragic, yet obvious, results. Another scene finds crewmembers running from an enormous falling object. Rather than running out of its path, they stay right in front of it with tragic, yet obvious, results.
The Blu-ray has a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect of 2.39:1. Right from the beginning, the visuals look impressive. Colors are vivid, and blacks are rich. There is great detail evident on every set and object, and the image offers great depth. It's one of the best visual presentations on Blu-ray I've seen. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 audio immerses the viewer in this universe with Marc Streitenfeld's score and sound effects. Items are placed throughout the soundfield. Dialogue is as clear as intended. The bass is very good, but too loud at times causing serious reverberations.
Ridley Scott delivers a typical thorough and thoroughly entertaining commentary track for those who want great detail about the filmmaking process. Listening to him is like taking a college course.
Deleted and Alternate Scenes (HD, 37 min): 14 scenes that offer a little more about the characters and the movie. They are worth seeing but nothing essential has been removed from the final cut. Editor Pietro Scalia and visual effects supervisor Richard Stammers offer optional commentary for each scene
The Peter Weyland Files (HD, 19 min) are promo videos offering character moments. They include "Quiet Eye: Elizabeth Shaw;" "Happy Birthday, David;" "Prometheus Transmission" with the ship's crew; and Weyland at "TED Conference, 2023." Weyland is supposed to have written notes about these, and there's an Easter egg suggesting Scott's other classic sci fi film, Blade Runner, takes place in this same universe.
Rather than allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good, I am going to listen to Voltaire and recommend Prometheus because there are so many aspects that are done well. While the minor story flaws here can't be fixed, it is possible satisfying answers will appear in the sequel, and if Ridley Scott is directing, it will be worth seeing.