Heralded as director Ridley Scott's return to science-fiction, Prometheus combines the horrific monster violence of Alien with the pacing and sensibility of James Cameron's sequel, Aliens. Scott has always been quite open about the fact that he considered Alien more of a horror film than a true example of science fiction, calling it (in the film's DVD commentary) "fundamentally a thriller." That the his next film after Alien was Blade Runner, one of the most intelligent and most beloved science-fiction films of all time, both shades some viewers' memories of Alien and helped raise expectations that Prometheus would be a film about big ideas and not just one with big explosions.
For the first twenty minutes or so, Prometheus looks like it might meet those expectations. After archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway discover cave drawings in various pre-historic locations suggesting that humanity's ancestors were aware of (and influenced by) visitors from another planet, dying tycoon Peter Weyland funds an expedition to visit the planet indicated in the drawings. Weyland hopes that its occupants can provide answers to cosmological questions such as how life on earth began and what will happen to him when he dies. Based on the drawings, they expect to find humanoid aliens, which they dub "the engineers" based on their belief that these life forms may have "built" life on earth. As anyone who has seen the first Alien film will suspect, what they find instead is an outpost decimated by some sort of attack. That it never appears to occur to anyone on the Prometheus that there could be a relationship between the deaths of the "engineers" and the mysterious pods oozing black oil they find in a room in the settlement is ...1