In theaters.

Alien is a classic horror movie in large part because of its simplicity. Stark and raw, it plays on primal fears with no subplots or distractions from the conflict at its center. That is its brilliance, the understanding that elemental needn't mean shallow. Alien, in its simplicity, is intelligent and incisive and ridiculously terrifying—and Prometheus, director Ridley Scott's new film in the Alien universe, is none of those things because it is a convoluted, overblown, pretentious mess.

Maybe—maybe—Scott and his collaborators deserve credit for their ambition, for trying to make something grand and profound. But I'm reluctant to give that credit because they've gone about it in all the wrong ways. There's absolutely no evident discipline on screen, no rigorous thought, no narrative insight, not even a shred of storytelling capability, just self-indulgent, would-be philosophical ramblings reminiscent of a college freshman getting high in his dorm room on a Friday night. Despite the pretensions of grandeur of PrometheusAlien is not only scarier but also much smarter and more deeply provocative. Prometheus might as well be called Icarus—it's failure would be tragic if weren't so incredibly annoying.