Prometheus, or, How I felt like I had my guts eaten out and watched them regrow right before my eyes...
First off, two warnings: Massive spoilers; like, this is only a discussion for those who have seen the film and despite my following complete dressing down of the film, Prometheus is not bad. I repeat, NOT BAD. It’s just not what it should or could have been. Regardless of its failings, it is still better than 90% of current Hollywood productions.
I’ll begin with the beginning. It gives it all away, the central mystery of the film is immediately answered, and wordlessly. By opening with the answer, you get to do the whole LOST mystery within a mystery questioning. If this happens, then why did it happen, and of course later on, why did it go different? There’s a series of SMS messages floating around the internet poking its fingers through some of the holes opened up by the very first scenes of the movie which you can read here. Aliens came to proto-Earth, dropped a dude off who sacrificed himself to seed the planet’s waters with his DNA.
I'm polluting your waters with my black junk!
The logistics of this idea are atrocious. Even if you have the capability to reach other stars, why would you only go for a few minutes, just to drop a guy off so he can commit suicide? If all you’re going to do is seed the planet, and even considering just for a moment the pomegranate soup he drank (I see what you did there, forbidden fruit theories, lol!) that disintegrated him and then rebuilt his genetic material, why did he have to die? Couldn’t you synthesize the same product in a lab with soup, digestive enzymes, blood, and samples of tissue? Dude doesn’t have to die, just fire a canister in the water. This scene is wholly unnecessary and makes a few later scenes lose all weight.
Next up, and where the movie perhaps should have started, is the Isle of Skye where a lost ancient cave filled with paintings perhaps a little too detailed for the given timeframe shows us a giant pointing at the sky, suggesting the Engineers came back and taught us things. There’s nothing wrong here, ancient aliens is a fun theory to jump into. Old religions persist today on stories of not-quite-men doing super-heroic things and benevolent force entities talking to a select few offering society changing ideas. I think something happened a very long time ago that jumpstarted our spirit, probably drugs, but if a wayward ship managed to crash and the few survivors had nothing better to do than get along with us, I wouldn’t be shocked. Similar events have occurred within our own human history. Islanders during WWII began to believe that burning effigies of planes would bring back soldiers with trinkets and supplies. Look it up.
Without dwelling too much on an idea, we’re in space, alone and quiet with a robot. A creepy no boundaries robot who watches your dreams. This is nightmare fuel here, screw aliens, this is something we may have to actually deal with one day. A robot without any inhibitions, doing what he wants because he can. He’s not evil or nefarious, just curious, it’s that same discomfort you might get when you catch the dog or cat staring at your junk after a shower. You know the animal doesn’t care, but your shame kicks in all the same. Except with David and the sleepers, you can’t brush him aside or ask him to stop, only us the audience is aware of this horrible invasion.
When everyone starts waking up we run into the first problem I noticed, and I caught myself nitpicking the scene, questioning the goings on as they occurred, and I was already sad. The members of the crew act like this is the first time they’re meeting each other. I don’t see how that’s even remotely possible, even if you wanted to keep the mission secret, they should have at least met each other when they needed to stow their belongings and then enter hypersleep.
Alien was tough to watch because you knew this was a tight knit crew, they were friends, and laughing with each other over breakfast, when all hell broke loose you could see their horror and fear as a member of their team was incapacitated, then struck dead from the inside. Maybe it was better acting from a bygone acting generation, but I feel a lot more for a crew that displays feeling, not strangers to each other, how am I supposed to care about them if they don’t care about each other?
Anyway, we get a scene that with a little editing could be placed before anyone wakes up and are in space: the mission briefing. A backhanded introduction to David the android, creepy old man imparting mere mortals to discover God, all for the glory of man. There’s nothing wrong here, it’s just in the wrong place. The previews for the movie would have you believe this did happen before anyone took off, and in reality, it should have, maybe not on the ground, but certainly before cryo-stasis.
Getting to the planet surface and finding the temple was a little too quick, a few seconds of dialogue of the crew examining telemetry could have pointed them to obvious manmade Nazca-style lines on the surface in a valley, but otherwise, getting there and eager to explore is realistic but contradictory to any scientist. Is it a hostile place? Send the robot first, or probes, make sure it’s not, at best, populated, worst, crumbling apart and unstable. Science is slow, and slow makes for great tension if used right.
Once inside the movie becomes both brilliant and soul crushingly disappointing. The air of loneliness and creepy machined organic interiors give way to a holographic black box recording activated by the overly eager David. It’s of the Engineers seeming final moments in this place, looking like they’re running from something. One gets decapitated by a door (we can travel between stars, but we don’t have personal safety protocols), and David goes to work being curious and opens the door to reveal a perfectly preserved head and an inexplicable…room.
Just before the room is revealed its worth noting a geologist gets all angsty because he likes rocks, not dead aliens. He wants to run away, coaxing another scientist to get back to the ship with him.
Those who remain check out a room with a giant human face, a bunch of jars, and a slab with a green jewel right in front of a wall carving of a xenomorph. David is of course interested in the jars because they seem to be reacting to either their presence or the atmosphere. The scientist Holloway is disappointed in his find, “Just another tomb.” FUCKER! It’s an ALIEN tomb! You open everything and take a damn LOOK! But when it’s deduced the atmosphere is destroying the scene when the ceiling murals start melting, they bail in an effort to get specimens back to the ship to study. Oh yeah, there are worms in the floor. ALIEN WORMS! And this guy has the audacity to be let down.
As the group leaves the structure they say out loud the other guys must have already gone back to the ship (no shit, Sherlock, they said they were going back to the ship!), but WAIT! Where are the other two guys? Aren’t they back yet? We thought they were with you? Cut to: two guys lost in the temple.
Told that they’re stuck for the night because of a raging sand storm loaded with static electricity (but the radio still works), the guys continue to explore in their meandering way. They come across a pile of Engineer bodies, huddled or thrown together. Guy who freaked out earlier is now ALL ABOUT checking shit out. I can feel the massive convulsion seizing my brain already when the ship gets a “ping” of a life form. They radio the guys and ask where they’re at. One guy looks at his wrist and gives an exact coordinate. What?
There’s two problems here, one, how the hell could they be lost if they know exactly where they’re at? And let’s say I’m flat out wrong and I’m only assuming they were lost, why the hell did they walk around exploring and checking out dead things when one dead thing scared them into wanting to go back to the ship? They’re of course scared of a life ping, so they decide to go the opposite direction.
It’s here that the mystery of the Engineer’s plight is completely abandoned. Instead we now have two guys conveniently all alone. I’m now as disappointed as asshole scientist Holloway because an event occurring only because the plot needs it to is just fucking lazy. Shame on EVERYONE involved in this setup.
Examining the familiar elephantine head, scientists deduce it’s a helmet, screw around with a human looking alien head until it explodes, and check out its DNA. Cause, in the future, it only takes a few seconds to completely map an entire genome. And it’s human DNA. This falls flatter than…something really flat, thanks to the opening scene showing the suicide contamination.
Meanwhile throughout the ship, David’s talking to daddy Weyland while he sleeps, Vickers (icy hot bitch) is jealous, David poisons Holloway, everyone has sex, and no one is awake or on the bridge when shit hits the fan for our two lost dudes. This is seriously unfortunate. A dual helplessness would have added tons to the following scene.
The viral marketing and previews for Prometheus are turning out to be infinitely more edgy and creepy than the movie itself. A clip was released in reverse and when people put it back the right way, we got this. Even still, after seeing the movie, that is fucking scary. You know what? It sounds like he says “it’s in my throat, it’s in my throat.” But in the movie, it’s distinctly “suit.” I don’t know if it’s audio quality or what, but it’s not the only instance of slightly changed dialogue. Not that little changes from the preview to the final product are terrible, but it makes me wonder what could have been.
Again, meanwhile, dudetime is not going well for the bros. The room where they die is now covered in black ooze from the jars and space cobras are swimming around in it. I think we’re supposed to infer that the ooze changed the worms into TEENAGE MUTANT PENIS MONSTERS! But again, this is a mystery presented with little to no follow through. They die so we can have a scary scene.
Holloway wakes up the next morning from boning the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and his eyes are all red and there’s a worm wiggling in his iris and rupturing his cornea. No big deal. Again, something that doesn’t get explained or revisited, if anything, it’s completely derailed.
Lots of yada yada yada and they go back to the temple and explore until Holloway falls suddenly sick as a dog, his veins turning black like the Michelin Man at the beginning of the movie. No worms, no changing into a monster, he’s just dying painfully and turning into an Etch A Sketch. Running back to the ship, he’s completely incapable of moving, he’s just a screaming mess, until Vickers says he can’t come on the ship.
Now he’s okay and asks Vickers to kill him while he walks a-okay no longer screaming. “What’s my motivation?” “You’re in debilitating pain!” “But then I get up and walk straight up with my arms out and issue a small request?” “Yes!” Fuck.
Shaw, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is catatonic and in quarantine and David is stealing her dad’s cross necklace and revealing he watched her dreams, and she’s three months preggers. That can’t be, she can’t make babies! But she is, and she knows now that Holloway must have already been infected with…whatever, and she wants it out. David won’t comply, no one else will either, time to run for the emergency self-operation table (it was foreshadowed earlier when Vickers was being all bitchy). Never mind nothing was wrong until David said so, never mind she didn’t notice pain or discomfort prior to David saying so, never mind she wasn’t showing a growth of any kind (it would have been noticeable if it grew so big in ten hours), and never mind that despite being cut open with a laser by a machine that performs precise surgery she’s sewed up with metal staples, instead of, you know, lasered shut. After pulling a squid from her guts she runs into a very alive and very there Weyland who is looking for immortality from the Engineers.
Oh yeah, somewhere in there we see more Engineer holograms, everything’s hunky dory, so either this is prior to the scary running away before or we just forgot they were running from something, and they’re doing a systems check for their trip to Earth with a bunch of jars of ooze (that are fine and not melting) and David learns EVERYTHING. He reveals this back on the ship, but for action’s sake, one of the bros knocks on the door. He’s all twisted up Hellraiser Cirque de Soleil style but instead of being a twisted I-don’t-know-how-to-be-human crazy monster, he gets right up and bashes nameless people around until he gets run over. No reason.
BACK to the temple which has a ship underneath it that may potentially be on an eradication mission to Earth because there’s a living Engineer on board. They wake it up, it smiles, Weyland and Shaw tell David to ask competing questions, he does. But we don’t know what. We’re purposefully blinded to David’s questions. Still smiling, the Engineer rips his head off and wants to kill everyone. I’d be pretty cranky too if a bunch of kids woke me up. Somehow, despite her muscles probably being on fire from all the adrenaline she’s used up in the last hour or so, she manages to get out of the Engineer’s way and off the ship. The Engineer is going to fly solo.
She makes it outside and when she can’t get back to the Prometheus (there is a lot of running back and forth going on) because the ground outside the temple is actually an iris door for the familiar derelict space ship from Alien, she warns the Captain of the Engineers’ presumable intention of destroying humanity. Vickers says no, Captain says yes, Vickers runs away after she’s told the lifeboat will be discharged, they’ve got some time to survive. Heroic kamikaze action ensues. Crazy crashing ships everywhere.
Shaw looks like the only survivor and she’s running out of air in her suit, so she heads for the lifeboat, which also has the operating table room which she checks out, and in presumably an hour or two since her C-section a giant tentacle monster has grown from the squid baby. How it achieved such mass without a food source and in such a short amount of time, even relative to its accelerated growth from before isn’t supposed to be a question the audience asks. But when nonsense takes me out of the scene, you’ve failed to suspend my belief.
David’s head is still operational and tells Shaw the Engineer is alive and coming for her. And then he immediately shows up. Convenient. This movie has next to no tension. Shaw opens the operation room and the youngling Elder Thing attacks them both, but mostly the Engineer since he was right in front of the door. Shaw escapes and the new monster’s purpose is revealed, it’s a big ass face hugger.
After rescuing David, who’s head and body are in the exact same position they were left in despite the ship falling from the sky, rolling a good turn and then falling over (physics? lol), Shaw and David discuss going on an adventure to find the Engineers and find out why they’re such pricks. Good luck with that.
Before rolling credits, though, we get to see a dead Engineer, the giant face hugger fallen off. Convulsing, his chest pulses…oh yes, a chest burster! No, wait, that’s a shark fin…wait, no, what is that? A witch hat? His body rips open and out falls a retarded looking xenomorph, gangly and deformed, with an umbilical cord attached to a giant cheddar popcorn ball. There’s no telling how much time has passed, but I have to wonder how a fully formed xenomorph grew inside the Engineer, again, going back to the earlier pregnancy/abortion scene, something on the inside that big would be noticeable from the outside and we already have an established growth pattern for such a creature. Anyway. It gets up and screams, exposing some Bubba teeth and healthy pink gums. It looks like Geena Davis from Beetlejuice when she tried to be scary.
And that’s kinda how I felt about the whole movie, it was trying to be scary, and for all intents and purposes, what was produced should have been scary, but it just comes off poorly executed. For all my ripping here, it works on some levels, it is visually magnificent. Cues from Giger’s 70’s artwork do not go missed, the monsters are mostly well conceived, and some of the mysteries it raises may very well be worth exploring. It may take multiple viewings to truly process everything that was on display. With some separation and knowing what to expect, a second viewing might see me like the film a lot more. But as it stands, I’d say I enjoyed all four Alien movies and even the first Alien vs. Predator more on initial viewing.
If I could indulge my own editing of the film I would cut the opening scene entirely and begin with the finding of the cave painting. If I could execute the dialogue correctly, I would even move the briefing scene to before David being alone on the ship. I would also smash cut to the credits immediately after the first chest pulse on the dead Engineer, never revealing the Alien until, you know, Alien.
There’s nothing wrong with trying to establish a new franchise, but don’t rush me, don’t treat me like I’m stupid, don’t ask me to ignore the obvious, and for all that is holy, don’t bore me with formula.