Ridley Scott‘s Prometheus (20th Century Fox, 6.8) is impressively composed and colder than a witch’s boob in Siberia. It’s visually striking, spiritually frigid, emotionally unengaging, at times intriguing but never fascinating. It’s technically impressive, of course — what else would you expect from an expensive Scott sci-fier? And the scary stuff takes hold in the final third. But it delivers an unsatisfying story that leaves you…uhm, cold.

It’s a watchable, well made, at times better-than-decent ride, but it really doesn’t hang together. I’m sorry but anyone who says “wow, this is really great!” is just full of it. But there’s no way to kick this around without dropping all kinds of spoilers so I’m going to keep things vague.

For what it’s worth Scott shoots the hell out of Prometheus, but the script isn’t integrated. It’s half-assed and lacks a clear hard line. The fault, I hear, is mainly with Damon Lindelof‘s rewrite of Jon Spaihts‘ straightforward Alien prequel script. Roughly 40% delivers some absorbing futuristic technological razmatazz and exposition on a long voyage to a distant planet, 30% to 35% is proficient scary-icky stuff (slimy alien snakes) and 20% is some kind of half-hearted spiritual quest film on the part of Noomi Rapace‘s Shaw character, a scientist who wears a crucifix.

The spiritual-religious angle is what disappoints the most because it’s only flirted with. The script starts off in a semi-solemn, semi-thoughtful vein, asking questions about the origin or spawning of humanity and the possibility of alien creators or “engineers”, but none of this develops or pays off, and things eventually devolve into standard shocks and creep-outs.

Most ticket-buyers will go looking for a standard alien flick and come away going “hmm, I dunno but this isn’t quite it.”

It was Scott, of course, who decided to push things in a less generic or predictable vein so the failure is more on his head than Lindehof’s. The ending is obviously a set-up for a sequel (I’m told there’s actually a trilogy in mind) so maybe the second and third will be the charm.

The best performance is given by Michael Fassbender as David, a somewhat distant but gentle mannered android who’s taught himself to interact with humans by studying Peter O’Toole‘s performance in Lawrence of Arabia. I wish the movie had been more about him, but I also wish his arc had ended in a way less similar to that of Ian Holm‘s Ash in Scott’s original Alien (’79) and Lance Henricksen‘s Bishop in James Cameron‘s Aliens.

Who’s the hero of this thing? Rapace’s Shaw is the most emphatic and impassioned, for sure — the feistiest survivor. But I felt little kinship with her. She wasn’t me and I’m not her. She’s no Sigourney Weaver, that’s for sure.

I didn’t identify with any of the human characters. Charlize Theron plays a tough, brittle mission master — another frosty bitch on top of her psycho-demon queen in Snow White and the Huntsman. Idris Elba acts like he’s an actor who’s been paid to act cool and and confident. I took an instant dislike to Rapace’s scientist boyfriend, played by Logan Marshall-Green, in part because of his dipshit tennis-ball haircut. Guy Pearce wears about eight pounds of old-guy makeup, and that’s all you can focus on when he’s on-screen.

I felt settled only with Fassbender-the-android, the only guy with any real empathy.

Aliens is still tops, followed closely by Alien. I think the other three are also-rans — David Fincher‘s Alien 3, Jean-Paul Jeunet‘s Alien Resurrection and now Prometheus. I don’t think Prometheus is third best, but I’m not going to fight with anyone who claims it is. Fine, whatever.

Maybe there was a problem with the projection in Prague, but the whole thing seemed awfully dark and grim to me. Shadowy, murky.

Prometheus is a 2.35 to 1 Scope film but the Prague projectionist showed it with a 1.85 aspect ratio, slightly chopping off the sides. Some of the credits (or letters in credits) were missing on either side. Amazing.

This is a cold, gray film about howling winds and chilly people. Rapace’s scientist is hoping for some kind of spiritual fulfillment or answer, but what she gets in the end is a lesson about the universe being a concealer of horrors. She’s really, really sorry she went on this voyage at the end. But that’s been guessed already.

Methinks Mr. Scott is saying something to the audience about the cold, horrid, pitiless nature of creation and survival. But why bring up notions about God and alien ancestry if you’re just going to…? I’d better not go there.

What kind of philosophical or theological dwarf would imagine that “God” or a remnant of a community of celestial “engineers” would reside on a horrid lifeless planet that has nothing on it but dust and howling sand storms and craggy rock formations and gloppy oil puddles?

And what kind of space-voyage movie has on-board officers walking around in flip-flops and sandals? All space travellers in all the space-travel movies going back to George MeliesA Trip to the Moon have worn boots or lace-ups or anti-gravitational grip shoes or whatever. Sandals! My heart sank when Fassbender made his entrance with his milky Irish man-toes…don’t get me started.

The story is happening before Alien and Aliens, and yet the technology is way beyond what Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerrit and John Hurt had to work with. So technology reverted? A friend says the Prometheus ship is an elite cruiser whereas the Alien ship was a primitive cargo ship. Okay, I’ll buy that for a dollar.

Much of the third act payoff is about providing a backstory/explanation for the giant dead space jockey with the elephant trunk that we first encountered in Alien. But who cares? H.R. Giger‘s production design for that 1979 film was fine unto itself itself. It doesn’t need explaining, and it never will.

Right now Prometheus has an 85% Rotten Tomatoes rating so I’m in the minority so far.