Sometimes, a movie will come along that I get intensely excited for. I’ll sign up for updates–watch the promotional videos and the viral marketing–and read incipient thoughts on what the movie is about or going to contain. And then I go to the movie, I watch it, and it is awful. Prometheus is one such movie. Please note, this is not a spoiler-free review, and I am going to be positively nasty about this movie.
The movie starts with echoes of Erich von Daniken, as evidence is uncovered globally that points to “ancient aliens” having manipulated primitive man. We are treated to a somewhat inexplicable scene where an alien drinks a black ooze, and then literally collapses apart into a waterfall. Thousands of years later, a scientific expedition is built and sent out to the system identified in these pictograms and early cuneiform writing. So, we’re already ignoring the fact that Earth cultures had different ways of expressing stars in designs, and that stellar drift over 30,000 years is a significant factor. All righty, those are fairly subtle oversights, let’s continue.
The movie starts to build up the oversights as time goes on. An angry geologist with a mohawk and tattoos on his face, who brings along ‘tobacco’ in his space suit breather? A biologist, sorry, a biologist who was selected to travel to a distant star systems refers to evolution as Darwinism?! Elizabeth, the female lead, is confronted with direct evidence that her creation myth is patently false, and that aliens have manipulated our development for milennia. But even against this she says “This is what I choose to believe.” What is this, the community college team of science exploration? What the hell? If someone had truly spent the trillions of dollars needed to travel all the way to this system, you’d think they could afford experts to go.
From here on out it just gets worse. They smash and stamp their way into an ancient alien facility, discover an unknown chamber with horrifying pictograms and mutilated remains of the aliens and their technology. They recover a head–which they try to “trick into being alive”, a scientific impossibility–and they find canisters filled with a horrifying black liquid. One scientist blatantly fiddles with it, while David the android steals one and brings it back to the ship. The male lead takes his helmet off (War of the Worlds, anyone?) in bold defiance of all billions of years of evolutionary progress of microbes. The geologist and the biologist run scared (the exact opposite reaction of even the lowest-level geologist and biologist on an unknown world). No scientific expedition, even 50 miles away, would commit some of the scientific crimes that this team did.
And now things begin to unravel. David poisons one of the humans, the black ooze runs rampant and creates the first proto-facehuggers, and Elizabeth gets impregnated by the poisoned human and gives birth to a terrifying creature. The movie is playing into good fears–homosexual oral rape, abortion, poison–but it’s doing an awful, utterly awful delivery. Are we supposed to believe that a biologist would think a black ooze-snake would be cute, and wants to be its buddy? Are we to believe that scientists get lost in this structure, despite the extremely advanced mapping technology?
Throughout the movie I was just bouncing on my heels for the aliens to appear. And I mean Xenomorphs, from Ridley Scott’s original Alien (and much maligned sequels, though Aliens is generally considered wonderful). Instead we’re treated to the absurd genetic mishaps, following the Japanese horror trope of huge mottled heads, limbs in the wrong position, jumping and smashing and generally being more effective at melee combat bare-hands than any other team member with a ranged weapon. The alien at the end, when he does appear, is the only thing we vaguely recognize as being Alien-esque. But the way it appeared at the end, popping out of an Engineer’s body all smooth and clean, reminded me of Aliens vs. Predator (something I never want any movie to do). All I could think was “Ooh, look, a new form of Alien–just like the Predalien!”
Ultimately the entire movie could have removed the human beings and had a cast of Davids instead. Now that would be interesting–they’re not meeting their gods, they meeting their grand-gods! And as far as technology is concerned, these ancient aliens had the sense to avoid making some form of artificial intelligence, but perhaps it was because they had such a command of genetics. I suspect David would have been clever enough to roll sideways when the alien spaceship crashed back down on the planet–I was quite pleased that the two female leads were crushed (did they have Being Crushed Coaches? (It’s huge!!!)) beneath the crashing spaceship.
Online, I’ve read that there are as many interpretations of Prometheus as their are viewers of it. Every good nerd has their own theory about the development of human life, as well as what it would look like if it had been tampered with by aliens. Frankly, I feel like my review is kind of a shambles at this point and not nearly as succinct as some of the ones I’ve read online. I’m deeply dismayed that a movie I was so excited about turned into, well, a pretty bland sci-fi movie that fought against all elementary scientific knowledge. Prime directive? Incompatible microbes? General biological analysis of new lifeforms? Quarantine of people exposed to external biological agents? Hyperdrives in atmosphere? DNA is an “exact match” after thousands of years of drift?
As Lev Grossman put it so well, a crew of monkeys making decisions based on horoscopes in USA Weekly would have done better than this crew. I suspect they were exiled as they were all shitty scientists. I left the movie theater bummed, waiting for the motherly gush of affection for a science fiction movie, but it didn’t come. I don’t want things spelled out for me directly in a movie, but I also expect that when there are things to be read into, they make some sense or give me some general direction of where I should be thinking. Instead we’re given a Lost-esque foray into scientific absurdism, a Waiting for Godot in space that made little to no sense. The only thing this movie points to is another shitty sequel.