Yesterday I was in Dallas with some downtime between appointments so I went to the movies and saw Prometheus. I was really the ideal audience for it. I am a huge fan of the genre and a big fan of the series (at least the first two Alien films). But I’d also heard the movie was disappointing. So I went in with diminished expectations and an eagerness to come to a somewhat contrarian conclusion about the movie. Moreover, at the tail end of one of the busiest weeks I’d ever had, I was just plain psyched to sit in an air-conditioned theater, with a big soda (Coke Zero if you’re interested), and escape.
I will say I enjoyed myself. The movie is so cool looking, that I forgave a lot for a long time. But once you take the time to digest the whole thing, it’s really hard to avoid the conclusion it’s a really hackneyed mess of a movie. I gather the interwebs are full of long lists of plot holes, idiotic character glitches, and the like. Here’s a good example (and review) from David DiSalvo at Forbes:
Where Scott & Co. have innovated on these stolen ideas is by making their characters — who are all bizarrely unfazed by the philosophical weight of their mission and discoveries — do ridiculously dumb things. When they see black alien ooze, they touch it. When they find a giant severed alien head, they bring it on the ship and perform inexplicable experiments on it in an open environment with no protective clothing. When the answers Charlie seeks are not immediately offered by the alien temple — which would be an earth-shattering discovery in its own right — he foregoes further inquiry and gets drunk. When members of the science team are lost in a gigantic, danger-filled alien structure, the mission leaders all go have sex. When a giant wheel-shaped object is rolling toward a couple of characters, they don’t run right or left, but stay directly in its path, like the security guard and the steamroller in Austin Powers. There isn’t a moment in the film where the human characters do something that humans would actually do, and the laughter of the audience in the screening I saw confirmed this.
But, the humans aren’t the only dummies here. The aliens–who all resemble buffed, albino Woody Harrelsons–are just another version of the brutish, humanoid killing machines we see in garbage like this year’s Battleship. You would think that aliens who engineered human beings–and who have some unstated reason for wanting to wipe us out–would be smarter than the Xenomorphs from the Alien series. They aren‘t. Apart from having spaceships–and technology that conveniently shows pixilated holographic recordings of their fate to people who happen to drop in and push the right buttons–there is nothing advanced about them. They weren’t even smart enough to keep their deadly bio-weapons safely locked-up, choosing instead to keep them in jars on the floor. This is the equivalent of keeping buckets of poisonous snakes, viruses, and toxic waste in your family’s minivan. What advanced race would be that careless?
I’d like to expand on a couple of these. I agree the alien-humans are dumb beyond words (which may be why they don’t speak). Granting that he has to be evil for some reason, why the revived alien-human’s first instinct is to kill everyone rather than trick them, exploit them or at least extract knowledge from them is a mystery. Instead he’s just in a huge hurry to get to earth ASAP, even though he has no idea how long he’s been asleep. It’s been at least a couple thousand years, I would guess. Is there really no time to have a danish and a cup of coffee and catch up on what’s been going on? He can clearly kill the humans after he’s asked them a few questions.
I think Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof are trying to make some interesting point about how advanced technology doesn’t necessarily translate into advanced humanity (and I agree with that point, I’ve long considered it the key to understanding science fiction as a conservative genre). But I’m at a loss as to why the alien humans have to behave like John Travolta in that Scientology agitprop movie, Battlefield Earth.
Also, the problem isn’t merely the incredibly stupid storage methods employed by the alien-humans, it’s that they’re using these monsters at all. As I gather from the film, the alien-humans created Earth-humanity and then changed their minds, opting to destroy us. We don’t know why, but apparently deploying the franchise-monsters of the Alien series is the way they want to get rid of their Earthling progeny.
Really? They had the technology — thousands of years ago — to seed earth with the genetic building blocks of humanity. But the best, most efficient, means of wiping out life on earth is by releasing these demons? What’s wrong with a death ray? Or nuclear bombs? Or a tweaked-out flu virus for that matter? (And why kill all the Terran bunnies and kitties too?). Why unleash the Xenomorphs, particularly when they can be so unruly and downright surly? I mean good gawd, these things are the honey badgers of the cosmos.
And the answer is that they didn’t need to.
Indeed, if Scott and Lindelof simply opted to make a Chariots of the Gods style movie without any reference to the Alien franchise they’d have been so much better off. Instead they tried to make a profound philosophical movie (by their lights) within the confines of a sci-fi horror movie genre. They failed. More importantly, they should have known they’d fail. It’s a bit like trying to turn Halloween 6 into a nuanced meditation on the nature of evil while still having Michael Myers be a main character. I suppose it’s possible, but who needs the headache of trying? It’s similar to my complaint about J. J. Abrams’s remake of Star Trek. The movie was okay, but every scene that had Leonard Nimoy in it was a hate crime against the franchise and earth-logic.
I suspect I’ll like the film more on cable as it becomes an exercise in “What were they thinking?” But that’s a shame.