Kris and I took a day off work to go see Prometheus on opening day, so eager were we to see the new sci-fi film by Ridley Scott, creator of Alien and Blade Runner. I’ve written two reviews, and here’s the first one:
It’s a good, entertaining monster movie, but not the landmark piece of science-fiction I was hoping for.
Okay, now onto the second review, which is absolutely filled with spoilers, because despite my disappointment in the film as a whole, it was very entertaining, and it is a great deal of fun to talk about in detail.
Spoilers — lots of them — below.
Prometheus follows in the grand tradition of science-fiction, asking a number of important, heady questions that have plagued mankind for centuries, such as: Where do we come from? What does it mean to be human? If you could meet your maker, what would you ask him, and what would you do if instead of answering he just ripped the head off a nearby robot and beat the fuck out of you with it? But those are the big questions. It also raises some smaller ones, such as “Wha?” and “Wait… wha?”
The movie begins one of those lesser questions, as we see a naked waxy-headed alien drinking some goo and falling into some water, somewhere, for some reason. Then, on Earth in the future, scientists discover cave drawings that depict aliens pointing at some planets, and using the scientific method of totally guessing about stuff, they decide this means the aliens created human life, and we should go visit them. This seems a huge logical leap, but unless you’ve got a doctorate in Old Cave Art Science-Guessing In The Future, you should just shut up and roll with it.
Along for the two-year spaceship ride are the husband and wife archaeologists who discovered the cave drawings and thus are completely fit to be expert astronauts, a hologram of dead Guy Pearce under terribly fake-looking oldie make-up, a bunch of other scientists who didn’t bother to ask what the mission was before getting frozen in space-tubes for two years, and an eerie Aryan robot named David who does the thing robots do with watching old movies and trying to learn how to be more human from them. (I bet in the future there’s a Turner Classic Movie channel just for robots to stare wistfully at.) There’s also a bunch of other people on the ship whose purpose is to briefly stand in front of the camera so we can sort of recognize them when they die horribly later.
Arriving on the planet, the ship immediately finds an ancient alien structure and everyone rushes out of the spaceship to check it out, because HURRY. Also, don’t bring guns because scientists know everything from four old cave drawings and it’s safe, trust them. Once inside, everyone takes off their space helmets because they never saw any movies about aliens and the things they will do to your face.
A punk geologist lets some mapping robots fly around to map everything, then immediately becomes lost despite his own personal mapping robots giving him a robot map. Some dead big waxy aliens (called Engineers) are found, and the husband scientist immediately loses all interest in the mission because he was hoping for live aliens and they’re all dead, and dead aliens are completely boring. His wife, however, is still excited, so she does science on a severed Engineer head which makes facial expressions of extreme horror and then explodes, so the scientists decide to do more tests instead of immediately putting on sixteen extra helmets. Two other scientists are stuck in the cave because of a storm, and everyone is like, “Ha ha, have fun in the space cave filled with giant dead monsters, losers,” and no one is really worried about them.
Some things happen. The lady scientist tells us that she can’t get pregnant, which is a cool way of letting us know ahead of time that she’ll soon be totally pregnant with a horrible alien squid. Her husband gets infected with the incredibly common movie disease Your Veins Get All Dark, and they set him on fire, which makes the wife scientist briefly upset. A biologist finds a hissing alien cobra in some goo, and while his biology training taught him that hissing cobras are dangerous, this is an ALIEN hissing cobra, so maybe it’s super nice and just wants to hug. He tries to pet it and the cobra hugs his arm in half and then hugs the inside of his throat a little. The geologist turns into a giant angry lumpy-headed monster that enjoys punching anyone who has not had a whole lot of screen time, despite their extremely cautious procedure of walking right up to him and asking him if he’s okay (FYI: he’s not, he’s a giant angry punchmonster).
The lady scientist decides to have a big medical science-tube cut out her horrible alien baby, which it gruesomely and hilariously does in the film’s best scene. Meanwhile, it turns out that Guy Pearce is totally alive and on the ship, and that was a huge secret for some reason. Old Guy Pearce wants to meet an alien because he thinks it will let him live forever, which is a natural assumption to make provided no one has told him that the one thing all of the different alien monsters have been consistently doing is murdering everyone else in the movie.
They wake up a giant waxy Engineer monster from his space-tube, and everyone wants to ask him questions like “Can we pretty please be made immortal even though you’re clearly not immortal because there’s a whole bunch of dead ones of you in a giant heap by the door?” and the Engineer answers by immediately punching everyone in the fucking face. Then the Earth is in danger because the Engineer wants to go to Earth and punch us all, one by one, that’s just how much he hates humans. Instead of just using his space radio to tell Earth to fire all their rockets at any aliens ships they see coming, the space-captain decides to kamikaze the Engineer’s ship along with two co-pilots who are totally cool with sacrificing themselves because they forgot to have personalities or value their own lives.
Then, uh, I don’t know, explosions, and more gross aliens doing gross things to each other, and then rather than go back home to Earth, the lady scientist decides to take another alien ship to the Engineer home planet because seeing that Engineers want to punch us to death without talking to us has inspired her to go visit them and ask them why they want to punch us to death without talking to us, even though science can predict the answer will come less in the form of talking to us and more in the form of punching-to-death us.
So. Yeah! It was kind of a confusing mess, though definitely an entertaining one. Part of the problem is me, because I desperately wanted it to be something it’s not: a landmark Ridley Scott science-fiction film like Alien, Blade Runner, or Thelma and Louise. After a strong start with some heady concepts, it eventually gives up and just presents us nothing but stupid people being idiots and dying of monsters. The script, while initially thoughtful, quickly becomes unforgivably lazy. I mean, why have the geologist — the guy who has his own mapping robots — get lost, of all things? Have him fall through to another level so he has to take a longer route out; that would explain why he gets stuck in the cave, even with a robot map. Or have him find some interesting rocks to use his geology on, and have him get sidetracked.
On that note, why have the biologist try to pet the horrible alien throathugger? At least have him trying to take a picture, or take some readings, or maybe stun or kill it with a science gun, or catch it in a science box, or even just be cornered by it, instead of having him try to pet it? I’m no biologist but I don’t even try to pet my cat when he has that look (you know, that look), and I’m reasonably sure there’s no danger of my cat ever jumping into my mouth and rushing down my throat. There is some satisfaction, I guess, in watching people do stupid things you know will do them harm, so maybe that’s why people are so dumb in monster movies, but the people in Prometheus are too dumb for me to do anything but wonder why they’re so dumb.
The Engineers’ motives are unclear, too. They apparently sacrifice themselves to bring life to other planets, including ours, but then want to kill us so badly that one of them tries to fly to earth and presumably spread the horrible black goo that turns humans into monsters that are most definitely more dangerous than actual humans are. If you want to wipe out a planet, use bombs, or poison, or deregulate its financial system, or use something that kills everyone, not something that turns everyone into deadlier monsters than they already are. Ambiguity is fine, and there’s no reason to think we would fully comprehend the actions of an alien race, but I’m left feeling like the Engineers just did what the script told them to do.
On the plus side, Ridley Scott still makes very pretty sci-fi movies, though it’s hard to give him points because he’s Ridley Scott and you expect everything to look pretty. But it does look pretty! The main cast was mostly good: Idris Elba is enjoyable as the roughneck captain, though I don’t know what kind of accent he was doing, but still: Idris Elba in space! Michael Fassbender is great as the enigmatic artificial person David. Noomi Rapace is no Sigourney Weaver, but her character is tough, sympathetic, and resourceful (though also dumb). Charlize Theron was okay but didn’t do much but act cold to people and not know how to run sideways when it really counted.
Bottom line: Prometheus is definitely entertaining, absolutely worth seeing if only to participate in the frenzied, confused discussion, but sadly not a classic sci-fi film for the ages.