So sometimes I like to go on really long rants about movies that I really wanted to like, but ended up strongly disliking. I wrote this essay like 3 years ago after I saw Prometheus and I really really didn’t like it. The column is far too long, not very good, and will make no sense if you haven’t actually seen the movie… But I haven’t had much time to write lately and I need something to post, so here you go!
The Idiocy of Prometheus
Prometheus is a terrible film hidden inside some pretty spectacular effects. This essay will attempt to break down the movie’s plot and discover exactly what went so wrong with this Alien ‘prequel’ (spoiler: everything).
In short, the main problem with ‘Prometheus’ is that the plot is meandering mess in which the majority of events do not relate at all to the overall narrative or the theme. We’re left without a complete story, without any resolution, and without any questions answered (those are for the sequels, I guess). I’m going to try to summarize the plot below. I say try because it’s extremely difficult to clearly articulate this mess of a story. Its going to require a lot of assumptions and inferred information. This is because Lindelof thinks making a movie smart means asking, not answering, complicated questions and then filling your movie with ‘hidden meanings’ and ‘subtext’ most of which don’t actually make sense.
Billions of years ago (or 6,000 if you’re a creationist…I’m funny) when the Earth was young, an alien came to our planet and drank some black goop. The goop very painfully kill him and broke him down into the base elements of life, DNA…I guess… They show a DNA strand and I’m not a scientist so that’s the best I can explain it. The point is these giant aliens threw a bunch of organic crap into our water which seeded life on Earth. Actually, there’s nothing in this opening scene that actually says it was on Earth, it’s just kind of assumed. According to Ridley Scott, it doesn’t matter if its Earth or not. (This attitude of things central to the main plot not being important will continue through the rest of the film. Lets just go ahead and pretend its Earth)
So the film says we were created by the guts of a pale tall humanoid. Why? I don’t know. The movie never tells us.
Billions of years go by and the ‘Engineers’ as they’re called appear to continually check up on their creation. Cultures around the planet and thousands of years apart depict the same tall men as Gods reigning over them and pointing to some floating balls. We are told that the floating balls are a star system and the Aliens are showing us where they want us to come meet them when we’re smart enough to be able to get there.
Then suddenly, the Engineers decided that we are bad news and they needed to destroy us. Fortunately they had a military base where they had a bunch of ships and thousands of vases full of black goop that when touched by living tissue mutates into horrible death creatures. I guess their plan was to drop this black goop on earth and just watch us kill ourselves in the most terrible, cruel and inhumane way possible. Is this the same black goop that the alien drank at the very beginning of the movie? I don’t know. The movie never tells us. Why did they decide to exterminate us? I don’t know. The movie never fucking tells us*. Ironically, the military base planet with the terrible specie-exterminating black goop is the same planet that we were told by our creators to come visit when we mastered space travel. Why would they have the point of first contact with their creation on a fucking military base filled with extremely dangerous and unpredictable black goop? I’ll let you guess if the movie ever tells us.
*Funny story. I read in an interview with Ridley Scott that the reason the Engineers decided we needed to be exterminated is because Jesus Christ was actually an alien and after we killed him the other aliens were just like, “Fuck these guys”. Seriously…
Fortunately, before the Engineers are able to launch the death ship, something happens on the military base planet and they’re all wiped out. What happened? Why? If this isn’t their main planet, which the movie very specifically tells us it isn’t, how come different Engineers didn’t just fly to the planet, pick up a different black goop ship and ram that one into Earth? No idea.
Anyway, so they’re all dead and humanity goes on it’s merry way. We eventually do get smart enough to master space travel and thanks the ruins of all the old civilizations from back when the aliens still liked us, we even know where to go: LV-233 (It’s not the same planet from Alien…don’t get excited). So the Weyland Company (yes, this is the same one from Alien) commissions a ship,the titular Prometheus and crew to go check it out.
The Prometheus has a crew of like 17 people, but only 5 of those matter, so don’t get too worried about learning who everyone is.
- There is Elizabeth Shaw and that dude from Grey’s Anatomy*. They are the geeky scientists who first discovered the similarities between the cryptic stone messages and plotted the course to the alien planet. Shaw is like super into religion, but also a scientist. Even though she fully believes that life on earth was created by alien creatures and not God she still retains her christian faith. Don’t think about it too much, it’s really not important. Grey’s Anatomy has absolutely no memorable characteristics at all. He doesn’t make any sense.
*It turns out this actually isn’t the guy from Grey’s Anatomy, but since I don’t remember his name and I also don’t care…that’s what I’m going to call him.
- There’s David. He’s a robot and because this movie takes place in the Alien universe, he’s going to go crazy and do evil things for some undisclosed reason. We assume its on ‘company orders’ like in the other alien movies, but that doesn’t actually make any sense within the context of this movie, but more on that later. He could have been the coolest character in the film, but since it’s terrible, so is he.
- Charlize Theron is in this movie too! I don’t remember her character name. It’s not important. She’s kind of played up as the bitch character, but is usually the only one acting sensibly on the ship. Her last name totally isn’t Weyland (spoiler: It is!).
- Captain….I can’t remember his name either, but he’s played by Stringer Bell. He’s the captain. Zero time is spent on his character. He kind of explains stuff to the audience at times when the movie can’t be bothered to and also becomes super noble at the end. This would have been cool if he had been established at the beginning as like a super self involved guy who was never willing to risk his own life for others, but then by the end of the film grew to realize that self-sacrifice for the greater good is really the way to go. I think they call it an “arc”. The movie can’t be bothered to actually have any of those though.
- Captains assistants. These guys are great. They have this whole subplot where they keep talking about a bet they made at the beginning of the movie and how it’s so funny that everyone is dying but we’re still talking about this bet we made. El. oh. el.
- Geologist and Biologist – These guys are monster fodder. They serve no purpose other than to die and therefore receive no characterization, but still get an annoying amount of screen time. They also switch between behaving like scientists and idiots based on the needs of the script.
- Weyland. His rich and probably evil company is funding the 1 trillion-dollar expedition. That sounds like a lot of money but considering its like 2093, it’s probably the equivalent of like 17 dollars adjusted for inflation. Which explains why all the scientists on board are idiots; you get what you pay for. His motivation for funding the expedition is mysterious. Charlize doesn’t seem to like him. We assume it’s because he’s a total shit daddy Or maybe its just because Charlize is just a total bitch. This is never explored. Your guess is literally as good as mine, and I’m like…super awesome at guessing things. He’s played by Guy Pearce for some really weird reason.
So that’s our crew. Everyone else is not important.
The journey begins with all the crew of Prometheus asleep in cryo tubes while they travel the multi-year journey to the alien planet. David is an android so he doesn’t need cryo sleep and spends his time doing creepy things like spying on sleeping crew member’s dreams (why does this technology exist!?), watching old movies, dressing and talking like a human, and playing basketball. He also learns how to speak all these ancient languages by some computer who analyzes his pronunciation. See, in the future people have discovered a method of discerning how ancient civilizations pronounce their spoken language even though no one alive has ever heard the languages and there were no recording devices in existence. The future is awesome.
Anyway, everyone wakes up and we get a cool briefing scene (it’s supposed to remind you of the one from Aliens) that explains stuff that the audience kind of already knew thanks to the first couple scenes in the movie. We meet a recording of a now-dead Guy Pearce in old man makeup as Weyland and learn that he’s funding this mission because he
has a secret agenda loves science. Then, Prometheus lands on the alien planet. Our characters see what look like roads leading to some giant dome things and decide that this is the first place they need to look. All of this was done visually since they have no scanners of any kind that detect heat signatures, life forms or anything like that. Oh wait, they totally do, they just don’t use them for some reason.
So we land on the alien planet and immediately set out to the giant dome thingy to investigate. Once inside, the crew stumbles upon some weird room with a giant alien heads, some murals that the camera doesn’t stay on long enough to see, and a bunch of vases filled with the black goop. As soon as they enter this room, it activates “kill all humans” mode and the goop starts to seep out of the vases. The murals change, but again, they move by too quickly for us to see anything, so I’m not really sure why the movie took the time to point that out to us. The team finds a severed alien elephant head and decides it’s super important and they need to bring it back with them. Fortunately they remembered to bring their giant alien elephant head duffel bag with them. Then some weird storm comes and the crew needs to hurry back to the ship or they’ll die. Oh, also David secretly steals one of the vases for some reason and two members of the crew (geologist and biologist) go off on their own and get lost and stranded within the alien structure.
I’d like to pause here for a minute. I wanted to make it noted that at this point the movie isn’t really all that bad. I’ve mostly been poking fun at it up to this point, but you can do that with every movie. The fact is the first act of the movie does a very good job of setting up an interesting narrative with potentially interesting characters. I was looking forward to seeing these characters developed. Shaw, wrestling with her spirituality as she comes to term with the truth behind the ‘why’ of her creation. David, the robot, very inquisitive and curious about his creators. He wants to be more like them, and to understand why he is here, which is a perfect parallel to the humans quest to understand their creator and the why of their creation. Charlize, what’s her deal…why is she such a bitch…could she possibly realize that being a bitch usually gets you killed in these type of movies and that she should shape up before she gets run over? These were all things I wanted to see explored. And of course, get the answers to the overall questions: Why did the Engineers create us, where did they go, and what was David scheming at when he took that vase?
Had the movie continued with the plot/character elements that it spent the last 45 minutes setting up, I would have been writing a much different essay, or perhaps no essay at all. Alas, that is not this movie. From here on out everything falls into a jumbled confusing mess. None of the set up pays off and nothing is answered.
So let’s, unfortunately, continue.
Back on the ship Shaw’s boyfriend is suddenly super depressed he didn’t get to meet his creators. He’s not interested in examining any of the evidence that the team found inside the mound and just decides to get drunk and pout. I want to touch on this for a second, because it’s the greatest example in the film on how character motivations don’t equal character actions. There is absolutely no reason why this character should be upset right now. In fact, he should be ecstatic. He is a scientist who has devoted his entire life to the theory that aliens from other planets are the ones who created us. In the first 25 minutes of being on this world all his theories have been proven correct. In the first hour, they’ve stumbled upon an evidence goldmine that could lead to countless new discoveries. The inquisitive character with the unceasing drive to find where he came from that was set up in the first act of the movie would be shitting himself with excitement. But the script calls for him to go off on his own and get drunk, so he does that.
Drunk Grey’s Anatomy (I should probably look up his name) is still wrestling with the “why” of his creation when the movie decides to take a baby step towards insightful. David shows up and asks Grey’s about his own existence. Why was he, an artificial life, created by mankind? The response is simply “We made you because we could.” David responds that perhaps this completely unsatisfying answer will be the same one mankind obtains from its creators. This is really cool! It would have been great if this idea was shown to our characters by the plot, not mere exposition. Seeing how they would react to this ultimately depressing news would have been a great direction for the film to go.
Sadly, this is really only a throw away scene who’s only purpose was to set up a situation where David can slip some of the black goop he nabbed into Grey’s drink. At this point I think we’re supposed to think that David is doing these mysterious malevolent actions on Weyland’s order’s I guess. But we never actually find out why this happens.
MEANWHILE – Shaw investigates the alien head and finds a semi human looking alien under the elephant alien. Then they try to reanimate the head with electricity…cause that works in the future I guess. The future is awesome. Then it explodes….for some reason. This scene does not matter at all.
MEANWHILE – the Captain and Charlize talk about having sex…and then go have sex. Character development…maybe? We now know humans in the future still like to have sex. So that’s good. This scene does not matter at all.
MEANWHILE – The geologist and biologist die. Cause…the black goop turned some earthworms into giant vagina snakes…or something. And the snake totally dove into the mouth of the biologist, cause that’s what snakes do. Also the script said something had to melt off a guys face with acid so people could remember this was an Alien movie so the goop temporarily turned into acid and melted through the other guy’s helmet and face. So they’re dead. This scene does not matter at all.
MEANWHILE – David sneaks into a secret tunnel within the alien mound and finds a function alien spaceship with an alien dude in cryo sleep. This scene…actually matters, I guess.
If you didn’t catch it from my ‘MEANWHILE’s or the immense sarcasm in my writing all of the above scenes are throw away moments that have no bearing on the overall plot. Why did I include them in this summary? To show you that the majority of the scenes in this movie are throw away moments that have no bearing on the overall plot.
Shaw attempts to make her boyfriend feel better by having spaceship sex. Grey’s isn’t feeling well because he drank too much black goop and vodka which gives him the grossest eye boogers ever. The next day on his way back to the alien dome thingy to do more science he starts turning all weird and dying, cause the black goop does that when the script wants it to. So they try to take him back on the ship, but Charlize is all concerned about breaking quarantine, so she lights him on fire. So he’s dead. Charlize is supposed to be like a bad guy here, but she’s actually acting in a pretty logical manner. He’s been infected by some alien biological parasite that they don’t know or understand at all and it could very easily result in the death of the entire crew. See guys, she’s being like Ripley in the original Alien. Aren’t throwaway references fun?
In a shocking turn of events Shaw is suddenly pregnant with an alien baby! 3 Months pregnant per David…because….the black goop accelerates the birth cycle when the script wants it to. As a good christian woman, Shaw is pro-choice, but apparently the future is pro-life because none of the robot operating machines (including David) have abortion programmed into it. Its okay though, because apparently “foreign object in abdomen” and “emergency c-section” are essentially the same operation. Doctors have been pulling the wool over our eyes for years on this one. So Shaw cuts an alien squid baby out of her. It’s an alien squid baby because the black goop does whatever the script wants it to. After successfully removing squid baby Shaw suddenly decides that everything she thought about the engineers was wrong, despite not actually having any information that supports this besides her dying boyfriend and squid baby. While running around the ship telling people her new revelation (somehow after heavy surgery) she bumps into Guy Pearce, who’s not actually dead! Surprise! He’s come to the planet because he believes the Engineers have the secret to eternal life and he wants to not die. So that’s the entire “mystery” of Weyland plotline.
Here’s my problem with this: Up until this point its heavily hinted that David has been acting on orders from Weyland. He’s been in constant communication with him since landing on the planet and appears to be completely subservient to him. Stealing the vase, drugging people with black goop, being just a big old dick to Shaw; we assumed that this was all part of Weyland’s ‘true’ plan behind the expedition. Those of us that are big Alien fans know that the company is never thinking in the best interest of the crew/colonists/bald ladies and is just out for its own self interests, so this kind of makes sense. And David is a robot after all. In the alien universe, robots are usually the bad guys, but not because they’re just flat-out evil, mostly just because they’re programmed that way by the evil Company. So…if the entire point of the expedition was for Weyland to meet his creator and demand eternal life….what…the… FUCK has David been doing all this time? What does killing/poisoning/dicking over anyone do to accomplish Weylands mission? It doesn’t…at all.
So if David is either acting on his own, or under the orders of someone else…why? What is his motivation? What is his goal? This movie absolutely wastes the character, who could have easily been the most interesting thing about the film. The parallel between both humans and android trying to better understand their creator is perfect, but it doesn’t go ANYWHERE. David doesn’t really have a purpose at all other than to move the plot along at predetermined places. He’s kind of an antagonist, but since we don’t really know why, its cheep and meaningless. Maybe this stuff will be addressed in the sequel, but that’s a fucking terrible way to tell a story.
Also, while we’re on the subject of Weyland. I still cannot get over the fact that he is played by Guy Pearce. Why? There are plenty of old man actors out there willing to put in the 2 hours of work it took to film his three scenes, so why hire a young actor and spend hours making him look old? There are no flashbacks of young Weyland and even if there were, he’s not in the movie enough that we would care if young Weyland is played by a different person than wrinkly-as-balls Weyland. This doesn’t make any sense.
So anyway, Weyland says David has found a living Alien asleep inside the ship and even though half the crew has died because of these fucks, they’re gonna go wake it up and ask for immortality. The Captain Stringer Bell urges Shaw not to go with them, but she goes anyway because….I dunno…she’s an idiot. Captain stays behind though because he’s black and the black people in these movies always make the right decisions and yet still end up dead.
So they all go see the alien, who, shockingly, isn’t too happy to see them. David can talk to him because of his ancient language lessons or something. But he must have said something wrong because the Alien immediately rips off David’s head and then beats old man Weyland to death with it. Coolest way to die ever. He then activates the ship they’re in and sets it on course for Earth because…um…some reason…that the movie never tells us.
Shaw frantically calls up Captain to ask him to stop the ship. Naturally the captain, going simply on the word of a hysterical woman who just watched the love of her life set on fire, aborted an alien fetus out of her womb, and witnessed a 10 foot tall alien beat an old man to death with a robot head, rams Prometheus into the alien ship killing himself and the rest of his crew and crashing the Engineer vessel. The ship then lands on Charlize Theron and kills her. She officially contributed nothing to the plot except getting hilariously crushed by a donut ship. Yay.
So Shaw survives and is now alone on the planet. OR IS SHE!! Shaw gets a call from David’s disembodied head telling her that Engineer is on his way to kill her! Right as Shaw gets inside Charlize’s personal escape pod thingy the engineer attacks her, but fortunately Shaw’s squid baby, which is now just a giant squid man magically shows up to save the day and facehugs the Engineer to remind us that we’re still in an Alien ‘prequel’.
So let’s analyze this for a second. The Engineers are a race of hyper advanced humanoids who have the ability to build spaceships that can travel thousands of light years and seed other planets with life. So we can assume that by amassing this level of intelligence, they’ve learned to dictate their actions more by logic and critical thinking then by emotional responses to situations. We on the same page? Good.
So, let’s pretend that the reason that this Engineer was on the planet to begin with is because he was sent to activate a warship to go drop the goop on Earth and kill all humans, because we HAVE to kill all humans because they’re bad or something. This is his job. And it is so important that as soon as he wakes up from stasis, he immediately resumes this mission. However, his ship is then unexpectedly rammed by the Prometheus and crashes. But the Engineer survives! And what does he do? Does he travel to one of the other spaceships that we’re told specifically exist on this planet so he can finish his EXTREMELY important quest? No! He gets super pissed off and runs onto the escape pod in order to kill the one human left on the planet that would probably die in a few months of starvation anyway. This hyper-intelligent god race abandons all logic and reasoning to seek emotion-based revenge on the human that dared to come to his planet…even though his race left us messages specifically telling us to come to their planet. This is so incredibly stupid. Nothing about it makes any sense at all. The only purpose for this entire scene is so the giant squid could facehug onto the Engineer and then during the credit scroll we could see a progenitor xenomorph burst out of his chest, thus ruining the coolness of the xenomorphs forever. God damnit movie.
Shaw and David-head are then the only two survivors of the Prometheus. They decide to get to one of the other alien ships in the area that the stupid Engineer should have taken. Instead of going home, however, they’re going to the Engineer homeworld because Shaw needs answers and in their experience the Engineers are great guys who would totally not beat her to death with a robot head.
So that’s the story…that was something, huh?
Here’s the thing. The reason I’ve gone through so much trouble to insult this movie is because I REALLY REALLY wanted to like it. The world needs more insightful, intelligent sci-fi movies and this movie was well made, well-directed and well acted. The problem is the script is a terrible shitfest. Nothing makes sense, nothing is explained, no one acts logically or according to their character at all. Characters have no motivation, they do stuff because the script tells them they’re supposed to do it. That’s not good writing. It’s not a good way to tell a story.
The story itself has no meaning. What was this movie about? The search for our origins? No, because we didn’t get it resolved. We don’t know why we were created and then subsequently deemed not worthy of existing. Spirituality? Not really. Shaw only mentions her faith a couple of times, and it really has no bearing on any of the events in the film. So what? What were you trying to say here Ridley Scott?
I’ve read a lot of stuff about the “hidden” meaning behind the film and how the movie is actually a piece exploring the value of self-sacrifice vs self-indulgence, greed vs selflessness. I think these theories have merit, but they rely on a lot of inferred information, stills of murals in creepy vase room that go by too quickly to see in real-time, and external interviews with people involved in the movie. If all these things are essential to properly convey the meaning/theme behind your work, you’re doing it wrong. There’s nothing wrong with being subtle and requiring people to think about your movie, but Prometheus either flat-out tells us plot points through pointless exposition or masks them so deeply in nonsense that they’re almost impossible to discern in real-time. It also fails to tell a complete story, regardless of how nuanced the themes are. It is a terrible, terrible film.
This movie should be forgotten and ignored in any Alien cannon. No sequels should be made. I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Go away.