After tremendous anticipation, Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel, Prometheus opened up this weekend. A couple days ago, there was a very lively discussion on IHC about the movie, and there seemed to be a lot of people who were very disappointed with what they saw. But while high expectations can be a real mood killer for a movie, I found Prometheus to be a pretty bad ass movie. Yes, it had its flaws, but it’s still a damn fun sci-fi horror movie that mostly brings back a lot of the beauty and thrill of the original Alien, while filling in some gaps in the Alien story. If you haven’t seen the movie, you might not want to read any further, because there might be spoilers. All I’m going to say is that you should really see it.
Prometheus takes place around the year 2090, well before the events of the original Alien movie, and tells the story of how humans first came into contact with the alien xenomorphs and why that confluence happened. It’s got a really damn good cast, an amazing visual style and it’s the first film in a while from Ridley Scott that really has that old style Ridley Scott feel to it. But it does have some pretty big flaws, mainly within the first half an hour, and I think it’s this first third of the film that has really stuck in people’s craw, so I want to address these first.
While the movie is very exciting and gory and fast-paced, I agree with many of you that the script by Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts is definitely the weak point of the movie. Not the dialogue, but the way the whole plot is set up and put into motion.
A pair of archaeologists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), for years have been studying ancient human art, artifacts, drawings and carvings in a search for humanity’s origins. Specifically, they’ve been tracking a particular pattern that keeps reoccurring throughout ancient history— a portrait of a tall main pointing at five dots. A pattern of five fucking dots. What are the chances that in tens of thousands of years of human history, they could find five or six examples of a guy pointing at five dots? Pretty fucking good, actually.
And yet somehow, with the scientific precision of a second grader, and on incredibly flimsy evidence, these two scientists make the astronomically stupid leap that these five dots must mean that the human race was created by aliens. I mean, obviously. That’s the first fucking conclusion anyone would reach. Five dots… humans came from outer space.
I’m not big on the idea of aliens seeding the human race, but I would have bought it with even a little, teeny tiny bit more convincing. But all we’re ever given is that these two scientists found about six examples spanning tens of thousands of years, from ancient Scotland, ancient Egypt, ancient Sumeria, ancient southeast Asia etc, of a guy pointing at five dots and came up with this retarded and far-fetched conclusion that humans aren’t originally from Earth. And then somehow, they convince Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), the extremely elderly founder of the Weyland Corporation to pony up a trillion fucking dollars to travel billions of miles to the moon of an exoplanet to make a discovery that completely overturns everything we know about the history of humanity. Because as the scientists point out, there’s “only one configuration of stars that looks just like these five dots, and it’s not something that can be seen from Earth without a telescope”. Oh, I’m pretty sure that when you’re in deep space and you’re looking at thousands of stars, you can pick out any five to make such a configuration.
So here we are, the spaceship Prometheus speeding towards a moon billions and billions of miles away from Earth and how have we gotten here?
Two “scientists” have found six examples of ancient art, across a period of tens of thousands of years, showing a configuration of five dots > They leap to the conclusion that these five dots have to be some sort of planetary system on the other side of the universe > This system is the home of some sort of alien race that created humans. And that’s it.
And why are we supposed to believe these scientists? Why are we supposed to believe that an old man put up a trillion fucking dollars for a batshit crazy expedition with evidence so shitty and flimsy that it wouldn’t even make it through the first round of an elementary school science fair? Faith.
This is another thing that I think people are getting hung up on with Prometheus, is the discussion of faith. I don’t care that our heroine, Elizabeth is a woman of great faith, but it did kind of bother me that it seemed that the writers were using faith as a shoddy method of covering up what should have been fairly easy leaps of logic. Elizabeth has faith in God, and she has faith that she’s right about humans coming from some other world than Earth. That would have been perfectly fine just as part of her character, but within the first thirty minutes, it’s built up as the reason why we should trust that this expedition won’t be a trillion dollar flop. Sorry writers, but you’ve got to give me a lot more than that to go on as to why I should believe that anyone, even a crazy old coot like Weyland, would spend A TRILLION DOLLARS to send a human crew across the universe.
Yes, it could be the most amazing thing ever discovered, or it could be the biggest waste of money in the history of mankind. But I’m pretty sure that no matter who you are or no matter how rich a benefactor is, if you go into their office and say “Five dots, therefore aliens, give me a trillion dollars”, they’d probably just break your kneecaps on the spot.
Anyway, so they get to this moon, and what’s the first thing they do? They drive their only ship, their only way back home straight down into the atmosphere and land on the surface with only a minimal amount of knowledge about where they’re going. We’re never told that anyone researched this place ahead of time— they had almost no idea of what they were getting into. Hell, it’s hard enough to send an unmanned probe to Venus, because it might get eaten up by the highly acidic weather and then crushed like a soda can in the intense atmosphere. There appeared to have been almost no research. Just “Hey, let’s just fly this thing down into this moon and hope we all don’t die within seconds!” I would imagine, the responsible thing to do would have been to orbit the moon for a few months, take as many measurements as possible of the atmosphere and the surface to find a good landing spot, drop down a remote research base, send out some robots to make sure it’s safe for humans to land, send some drones over the surface, etc. But no… after a trillion dollars, they just haphazardly swoop down onto the moon, land and instantly rush out with their helmets on to the nearest cave to check it out. The most important find in human history and there’s absolutely no forethought of exactly how they’re going to conduct this expedition.
But of course, if they had spent months being careful, it might prevent a complete disintegration of the mission. Or not. Writers are clever… they should have been able to figure out how to bring the tension to a head, while making it realistic and plausible. The encounter with the alien slug things and the giant proto-humans still could have happened, while making a very smart movie, but it didn’t happen.
So within the first thirty minutes, the writers sort of screwed the pooch and left way too much hanging, opened up several big plot holes and tried to convince us that the movie was going to go fully into a weighty discussion of the meaning of life, religion and science and the origins of what makes us human. I like sci-fi that asks and answers big questions, but the writers of Prometheus wrote a big check that the script never cashed, so the whole set-up was a bit confusing and I fully understand people’s rage against the movie…
I really, really liked it. Within those first 20 to 30 minutes, I was afraid the movie might get too preachy in terms of religion, I was afraid it would end up being stupidly sappy, but in the end, Prometheus is pure Alien. Whether or not the crew of the Prometheus ship were sloppy scientists or not, once the ball gets rolling, it really gets rolling.
The characters could have had a bit more backstory, but whether it was Noomi Rapace cutting alien babies out of her abdomen, Michael Fassbender as the evil and manipulative android David, Idris Elba as the ship’s captain, Sean Harris as the twitchy team geologist or Charlize Theron as the cold and calculating Weyland Corp liaison, the whole cast came together with a similar chemistry as the original Alien film.
Even the writing came to life after that first 30 minutes. The film fit very nicely into the Alien canon, answering questions about where the alien xenomorphs came from, and even though the script never outright answered its own questions about humanity, it did confront the questions of “What is life?” and “What is humanity?” in a more subtle way. Who, among the characters were more human? The religious scientist? The android whose insatiable curiosity for creating life is the doom of almost everyone? The dying old man who is willing to bet everything and everyone on a whim, in the hopes he can beat death? The ancient alien human, the last of his kind?
She just had her abdomen completely sliced open. She shouldn’t be able to walk anywhere. But she’s just hardcore like that.
To use a car analogy, the damage in Prometheus from a weak script was pretty modular, and the logical flaws of the first third or less of the film were pretty much self-contained. All it would have needed to be a solid five star film would have been to replace the fucked up front bumper and front left quarter panel, but it’s still a hell of a ride. Instead, it was a good three and a half out of five, even with its wide range of flaws. Why? Because isolate those flaws, ignore them, and you’ve still got an hour and a half of one of Ridley Scott’s best pieces of directing in years, with a cast and a world that often gave me the same feeling as watching Alien for the first time.
Ridley Scott is a brilliant director, with Alien and Blade Runner being two of my favorite films ever, and while Prometheus’ script was weak at times, Scott did his job well here. With a little bit of film grain, much of Prometheus could have come right out of the original Alien— it had the same look, the same feel, the same amazing HR Giger scenes and art direction, and for an Alien movie, it just felt right, unlike Aliens, Aliens 3 and Alien: Resurrection. Not everything Scott has touched has been gold, but plot holes aside, I felt he really nailed this movie and made it every bit as fun and scary as the original Alien. Many of you may have gotten hung up on the first 20-30 minutes, but if you can get past that, and get past incredibly high expectations of Prometheus being the best thing ever, it’s a damn good action film. Yes, there could have been a lot more done with the issues that came up, but if Prometheus bugged you, wait til it comes out on video and watch it again. It actually was pretty badass and entertaining.
It gives me a lot of hope that Ridley Scott will impress with his new Blade Runner movie, but it doesn’t give me much faith at all in World War Z, which is being written by Damon Lindelof.