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“Prometheus” is a big film. Its director, Sir Ridley Scott, is a huge talent whose films cover a plethora of genres: They include “Alien,” 1979; “Blade Runner,” 1982; “Thelma and Louise,” 1991; “Gladiator,” 2000; and “American Gangster,” 2007.

 With a screenplay written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof (co-creator of “Lost”), Mr. Scott returns to science fiction and to the “Alien” universe, but the movie is only, almost accidentally, a prequel.

 Though not as cutting-edge as were “2001: A Space Odyssey” or Scott’s own “Blade Runner” when they came out, “Prometheus” is a disturbing and thought-provoking movie that is well worth watching on the big screen.

The cast is exceptional in this 20th Century Fox production, as are the special effects and design.  The music was composed by Marc Streitenfeld, played by a 90-piece orchestra and then reworked.

Dr. Eizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace,“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” 2009) and Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are scientists who have found archaeological evidence that humans were constructed and situated on Earth by an ancient race they call “the Engineers.”

They have also figured out the area of the universe to which they feel their forebears are calling them. Drs. Shaw and Holloway  embark on this expedition to answer questions people have asked for millennia: Why are we here? How did we come to be? What is a human being? And are there others besides us?

Ms. Rapace’s Shaw equals Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in strength, resourcefulness under pressure and a superlative will to survive. These will (of course) be tested to their limits during Prometheus’s sojourn on a moon light-years from earth where structural remains show signs of alternate life forms.

 Logan Marshall-Green is Charlie Holloway, Dr. Shaw’s partner in both work and love. Dr. Holloway, who teases his partner about her faith in God, has faith in science, and is eager to “meet his makers.”

Idris Elba (Stringer Bell of “The Wire,” 2002-08) is Janek, the genial, tough captain of Prometheus, who will ultimately save the day – and Earth – in an almost casual act of heroism.

Charlize Theron (“Monster,” 2003) represents the Weyland Company, whose eponymous owner, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) was, years before, on Earth, interested in answers to a question of his own and who funded this trip.

Michael Fassbender (“Inglourious Basterds,” “X-Men: First Class”) is eerily convincing as David, the very powerful, very intelligent, if “soulless,” robot.  Mr. Fassbender in this role will remind those who remember “2001” of HAL in more ways than one: David is at once innocent and sinister, a combination that winds up making him effectively human.

Spoiler alert: The film starts out as a dream come true for the scientists but soon becomes a horrifying discovery of what the Engineers had in mind for their creation.

One after another, the members of the party mutate, die and kill each other, and it becomes clear no one will be going home. Dr. Shaw and the robot David (as human as the replicants in “Blade Runner”), are all that is left. So, however, is an Engineer ship, which they commandeer, pursuing Dr. Shaw’s yearning to discover the Engineers’ origins, and there they seek the answers to existential questions.

Mr. Scott’s budget was medium-sized for a film of its kind at about $130 million – that is, roughly the same as that of  “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl.”

It was well under the $237 million it took to make “Avatar” and though not as pretty, it is a much better film. The payoff is not quite as huge as the buildup of the 124-minute production lead the audience to believe; but the ride is still a fun one.