[it] wasn’t what we thought [it] was; I was wrong, we were so wrong…Audiences in the first viewing that wanted to see an Alien prequel, 2012
The final phase is here: a long-awaited end is in sight to this series and my damned Alien project. It’s been quite a ride to bring opinions to you about movies your parents liked and then pretended to only like one or two of. Weathering two very different versions of dead franchises is no small feat, and we can all be thankful that the task is almost over. But before we go back to exclusively watching Disney movies and participating in the end of the world pandemic, there are two more movies in this franchise to discuss. All of the king’s horses and all of the king’s men had gathered together to allow Damien Lindelof and Ridley Scott to answer the question people never truly wanted answered: just what was that spaceship? And who was that jockey from the original Alien? With the last movies before us, let’s begin the conversation about Prometheus.
Prometheus is set following the intense discovery of creationism through intelligent design. A team of scientists and a crew of space-contractors venture into the stars for answers. The team varies in multiple scientific fields, covering all bases in the event that life is discovered in the cosmos. Much like all other Weyland financed operations, an android and company representative are on board as well. Immediately after the discoveries of life and technology on a derelict planet, things go horribly wrong as dangers from the ancient tech plague the crew. Prometheus swiftly becomes a cautionary tale of venturing into the unknown to seek that which has intentionally kept itself hidden.
Second Reboot/Third Time’s A Charm?
This is now the third attempt at a franchise. All of the films certainly make up one big group of movies, but they can certainly be separated into three groups. The original group was a seemingly self-contained story in three movies, with a strange fourth movie. Next came the action-packed comic-book adaptations that resulted in an overwhelming lack of interest quickly after the first movie. Now, with the original director back (Ridley Scott), and a group of writers willing to answer some questions from the original movie (Damien Lindelof and Jon Spaihts), the third set of movies take place as an elongated prologue to the Alien story.
Prometheus aims to be more of a “true to its nature” science fiction story. By this, I mean it attempts to be more thought provoking and allegorical and less about the action (though this movie loves gruesome action and intense gore). It is seen many times that the movie goes back to its roots with questioning the unknown and showing the error of attempting to control what can’t or won’t be understood. While I appreciate this in a science fiction movie, there is not enough to warrant any real praise in Prometheus.
Surface level is what you get with a lot of the aspects of the film, including themes and allegory. The name Prometheus is one shared with a Greek mythological character who provided humans with fire meant only for the gods. In fact, the story creators were so infatuated with the idea of this name being shared with a ship whose mission was to find the secrets of biological life, that the explanation of the ship’s name meaning happens in the first 15 minutes. Weyland (Guy Pearce) is a character who creates the voyage with this name and this mission, and inevitably ends up being punished by his “gods” for trying to share their “fire” with the world. It’s completely fine to have an allusion like this to Greek mythology, and I’d even go so far as to say that the story beat is an interesting one. But for a clever idea to be clever, it’s probably best to be pieced together by the audience rather than spoon fed to them through the “tell don’t show” method.
Another example of this method being used is when Janek (Idris Elba) gives a complete rundown on the intentions of the engineers and their black goo. He explains that the giant engineer people created something so incredibly dangerous that it became too volatile for them to control, causing the installation to fail. The planet is basically a deserted wasteland for the military to test their weapons of mass destruction like humans do. Again, this is fine, and even an interesting story of the god’s and their faults, but it’s much less clever than the writers seem to believe. I think that the engineers were hastily brought together as an idea to replace the mysterious Alien mythos.
Surface level explanations walk a very fine line between being fine and being overly simplistic. In either case for this movie, the surface level revelations and plot serve only to catch someone up in the movie who has become completely lost. Another detrimental side effect of the surface level is that it loses the interest of those who have paid attention and have more than just a brain stem in their nervous system. Honestly if you are reading this before watching this movie, you really do not need more than a chimp brain to understand the plot. Possibly the only complicated thing in this movie is the David plot and…well, we’ll get into that one later.
A very big inspiration for the writers was the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey. In an interview with Complex magazine, Lindelof talks about his interest in the explanation of the ending specifically. In the end of that movie, the protagonist experiences strange visions and surreal landscapes presented by whatever force created the Obelisk. While attempting not to spoil the end of a movie not being reviewed, there is a certain genius that should be credited to that ending because there was no Idris Elba character to explain what you were watching. The ending happens, it is incredible, and finally you are left to make whatever you will of the movie. Kubrick would eventually give his proper interpretation of the ending in an interview that went unreleased until decades later. The ending’s explanation is fascinating, describing something that I had been thinking about in my own mind for years after watching 2001. However, it now becomes a question of whether knowing the exact interpretation of the ending makes it better, or if the interpretation is only additive to the original experience. I would say that, even now knowing exactly what I was supposed to get out of the movie’s ending, I was still blown away by the revelations I had made up for years in my own mind.
All of that preamble to say that I think the approach Lindelof and Spaihts took with Prometheus was taking the wrong message from Kubrick. Rather than focusing on how interesting the ending of 2001 made them feel, as well as the ambiguity of the original Alien movie, they instead focused on the true interpretation given in the interview. It is almost shocking to see an explanation of the Space Jockey from Alien, or the intention of the engineers in creating what would lead to the xenomorph. Those tepid explorations into the lore of the franchise are so close to stupid that they almost are. Rather than anything else to write about, we instead to go with ruining the wonder and mystery from the best movie in the franchise.
Why Is Everyone In This Story Dumb?
Characters that feel like they have more than just clouds in their heads are in short supply in Prometheus. Aside from the crew piloting the ship and the security detail assigned to protect the Prometheus, every other person on the mission is the top in their scientific field. There are archeologists, zoologists, geologists and medical doctors aboard this ship, and every one of them has a chimp brain. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) is by far the biggest dummy in the entire movie, with the possibility of being the biggest dummy in the entire franchise. Whenever presented with a moment where even a small amount of thinking is involved, Holloway’s thoughts have all left the station. I think the writers were trying to show us that he may or may not actually know any amount of what he studies with Dr. Shaw (Noomi Rapace), so they wrote him as a dumb bully. Every chance he gets, Holloway tries to be an ass to the android David (Michael Fassbender), blurring the line between accomplished scientist and space racist. The most egregious thing to happen in the film happens when Holloway realizes that the air within the installation is breathable. Without a single doubt or perceivable thought, he immediately takes his helmet off and begins shouting like a baboon. It’s really just more confusing than anything what this character was supposed to be other than a vehicle for exposition and a death to progress the plot.
Other characters share this strange lack of brainpower in anything they do. Fifield (Sean Harris), the team’s geologist, filled his respirator full of vaporized drugs in an attempt for the movie to get a single joke out of him. The zoologist Millburn (Rafe Spall) sees a hissing alien lifeform and immediately attempts to touch it, hoping that it is friendly. Nearly every character in this movie aside from Mercenary 1 (Branwell Donahey) lacks enough brain power to have been seriously considered for a mission like the one undertaken in Prometheus. I know that I have already talked about slasher movie archetypes, but these characters are the closest that come to that in the entire series (to this point; the jury is still out on Covenant).
David’s Plan or (The Strange Unease of Coincidence)
David (Fassbender) is the first character we are met with in Prometheus. He is an android created to be a son-like figure for Weyland (Pearce), and he is included in the religious/creationist themes of the movie. His relationship with his creators and their ambivalence towards him is ultimately reflected in the relationship the human crew has with their engineer makers in the end. As an aside, I really like David in this movie: he’s a little clunky but he seems like an actual character in comparison to the rest. Throughout the movie, it is hard to pin down what David genuinely wants because, unlike the rest of the story, it isn’t explained by Weyland or Janek. Because of his understanding of creation through observing humans and engineers alike, David decides that he wants to be a creator himself.
His plan is weird and convoluted, involving a lot of random chance to come to fruition. When exploring the installation, he comes across the black goo: a substance that Janek tells us later is a powerful biological weapon. The goo presents itself to David as a means to screw around with his crewmates, so he makes the choice to spike Holloway’s drink with some. Holloway and Shaw have sex with the goo in Holloway’s system, and conceive some form of black goo offspring in the process. This, David thinks, will ultimately mean the creation of something that is a mixture of both aliens and humans.
On paper, the plan seems interesting. I like the idea of an unhinged robot that has decided that it wants to play around with creation. In execution, it’s a little messy. David’s plan requires a lot of coincidence and dumb characters to work in the way that it does, and because that is the case the plan deeply impacts the quality of the movie overall. It reminds me of a much messier version of the plan that is enacted by Ash (Ian Holm) in the original Alien. This is the single aspect of the movie where some more explanation of intentions would be great. Even though I believe I understand the intentions of David, there is still a good amount of guesswork as to what the plan truly is. He wants to create life but also does it in a way that would immediately set off red flags if people in the movie had brains in their heads. In order to get the black goo in someone, he decides the sexually active people aboard the ship are valuable targets. Holloway being the victim also implies that David has feelings of ill will on him despite coming off as noncaring to the insults Holloway throws at him. As with many aspects of the movie, the more I think about it, the dumber it becomes. Since David and his little subplot are the two things I like, I might just cut it off there.
Final Verdict: 2 out of 5
This serves as a cautionary tale of what happens when people go seeking answers they may not want or expect. Like the crew of Prometheus, the people crafting this story took concepts intentionally made to be vague and revealed how vapid and heartless they can be. The mysterious space jockey is really a big meanie, the ship is a delivery for super weapons, and artificial people still are too curious for their own good. I wanted to like this movie more, but everything comes off as either too dumb and surface level or too confusing that I’m unsure what is intentional. It looks prettier than any of the other Alien movies in the series, but a polished turd still smells.