ICE QUEEN COMETH: Charlize Theron is the prickly boss behind the mission to find mankind's origins, with Idris Elba, in 'Prometheus.'

Ridley Scott's curtain raiser to Alien, Prometheus, is an antidote to Avatar. The giants are less blue and more foreboding. But the contrast is like leaving one dorm-room party of the blessed for another one where the pointlessly cynical are airing their own world-view of doom.

In the 2090s, the Chariots of the Gods–style research of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) win the couple a berth aboard the deep-space explorer Prometheus. What clinched the ride: the discovery of a Cave of Forgotten Dreams–like mural, showing an alien gesturing to an alignment of stars.

Keeping a sleepless vigil over the crew is the android David (the terrific Michael Fassbender). This nigh-humorless film's best joke: the Weyland Industry's logo is imprinted in the whorls of David's fingerprint. (Maybe the second best is that the android is a movie fan.)

The Prometheus, full of soon-to-be murdered expendables, lands on a planet of grit and cold, near a mountain-sized hive full of artifacts, 2000-year-old cadavers, and a living slime akin to the "Black Oil" from the X-Files series.

Prometheus' effects are already being described as immaculate; the 3-D holograms of the vanished humanoid aliens are mysterious cyclones of pixels. The idea of a mission to find the engineers of the human race is enthralling. But Prometheus unfolds into a dim, visually monotonous movie of spelunking and marveling at statues that look like pre-Columbian cabezas.

As the plot progresses, the script makes less sense. The astronauts are grumblers. Why aren't they more wowed by their journey? The movie gives us an absence of info about Earth in the 2090s, except for a few improved gadgets aboard. Have we been to other planets? Is this just another day for these travelers? Is this all just supposed to mack on the blas–-ness of 2001? And why , in the future, is the theatrical old-age makeup not improved? (It's on Guy Pearce, as the evil Weyland, and it's dreadful).

The icy smile on David (as in 2001's "Dave") becomes the film's compass. You start to harbor bad robot thoughts that this crew is too stupid to live, from the ice-queen boss (Charlize Thereon) on down to Rapace's annoyingly innocent Dr Shaw, proudly clinging to her faith.


(R; 134 min.)

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