Prometheus starts out slow and confident, as a meditation on existence: who made us, and why? Then, midway through, the film tries to appeal to horror/sci-fi/Aliens fans, and it all goes tits up. Tits Up In Space.
There’s a line of demarcation that separates the good parts of the film from the bad, and it is a line of fire. When Charlize Theron’s character uses a flamethrower on a character, Prometheus has crossed the Rubicon into nonsense. Like Theron’s victim, the film never recovers.
From there we move to the worst scene in the film. Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw discovers she’s pregnant. Even though she can’t have kids. Also, the dad’s just been killed with a flamethrower. Oh yeah, and she’s giving birth to an alien. Michael Fassbender is wonderfully creepy as android David, who relishes delivering this news. This should be a delightfully bleak moment—hey, your boyfriend’s dead and an alien’s going to burst out of you soon—but it feels all too rushed, with no time to let the enormity of Shaw’s situation sink in. David just has to mention her ‘unusual pregnancy’ and she quickly figures out what’s what. No confusion, no creeping dread, just realisation. The scene goes by so quickly that only after the film finished did I realise there was another level of bleakness: David was the one responsible for Shaw’s infection, due to poisoning her boyfriend with the evil black goo.
Shaw makes her way to a medical pod, a machine that can automatically perform surgery. She opts for get this goddam alien baby out of me, then finds out this wonderful piece of technology is set for a male (perhaps she should’ve chosen a different login). Instead she opts for abdominal surgery and jumps into the pod.
It’s here where director Ridley Scott has aimed for creating a gory scene to rival Alien’s chestburster. And it is surprisingly graphic, as we watch Shaw lasered open and the camera dwells on the wound. The moment is diminished when the alien is revealed. Asylum films release bad horror films about animal hybrids every few days, they’ll get to one called Fishtopus eventually. When they do, Prometheus’ alien could serve as the prototype. The pod takes an age to open while Shaw squirms, terrified of fishtopus. Will this scene be remembered as well as the famed moment from Alien? No chance. But it is a harsh and memorable scene, diminished by a dodgy monster design.
I won’t go through all the logical breakdowns and plot-holes in Prometheus (but watch this video for a lengthy list ). Many of these flaws bug me now, after discussion and trawling forums. During the film there was really only one that irritated me. The crew’s first visit to the alien base had to be cut short because of an incoming storm. Two crew members get lost and have to spend the night there. They wear helmet-mounted cameras which transmit video of everything they see back to the ship. These two men wander round and round the area, finding all kinds of stuff. But no one is interested in watching. Back on the ship, what are the two archeologists (who are obsessed with this location, who are the reason for the trip) doing? One’s having a shower, the other one’s getting drunk and playing pool. While footage of something never seen before is being broadcast nearby. Really?
Lost showrunner Damon Lindelof co-wrote the screenplay for Prometheus. Like Lost, the film has sparked debate about what is being deliberately vague, and what is just bad writing? Some Lost fans were miffed that the show never explained why there were polar bears on the island. I consider that explained: we were told zoology studies were carried out on the island, and at some point bears were kept in cages. That’s enough for me. Some wanted to be told how the bears were freed. Did they escape? Were they let loose when the Others conquered Darma? Maybe, I don’t really care, I’ve got enough to go on, but some wanted more.
Ridley Scott and Lindelof maintain that they kept a lot from viewers in order to inspire debate. Yet the only debate I’ve had about Prometheus is how illogical a lot of it was. If they did have explanation and chose not to reveal it, then they are at fault, their product is incomplete, so viewers are entitled to dismiss these omissions as logical failings, not as the creators withholding info.
I didn’t want to write the following paragraph because it could attract accusations of sexism. Thankfully, no one will read this, this post gathering dust on a forgotten planet of the internet. Did we really need another female hero? If Prometheus is an Alien prequel that wishes to keep a respectful distance from the other films of the franchise, did we really have to watch Rapace be a poor (wo)man’s Ripley? Maybe it’s because Rapace lacks Sigourney Weaver’s presence, but having her as the lead made Prometheus feel all the more like a weak alien tie-in. I know the Alien franchise cashes in on the Ripley-as-xenomatriarch angle, but Shaw birthing an alien feels reused and stagnant.
One of the benefits of a prequel is of course knowing the future. So the film’s final shot of something close to the acid-bleeders we know and love was a nice geeky moment. What I liked more was realising that the Engineers’ plan to get this deadly goo to Earth failed, but will almost be rekindled by Burke in Aliens. Burke wanted Newt and Ripley to be carrying chestbursters when they returned to Earth. And while his plan may not have resulted in out-and-out destruction of life there the way the goo may have, a pair of alien killing machines may have done some damage. It’s good to see a parallel there—an attempt at eradicating a race versus an attempt to make a fortune from bioweapons, both potentially having the same fatal impact.
I also assumed that the Engineers’ plan had failed because Earth seems to be fine when Ripley returns in Aliens. But with the Engineers’ ships all over the place, and at least the pilot we see being cryo-frozen, Earth could still be in danger. So a Prometheus 2 or 3 could take place post-Alien 3 or Resurrection and be concerned with saving Earth. Again.
I would have preferred Prometheus to have concentrated most of its energy on the Engineers, our creation, their reasons for wanting us erased. Revealing their plan to destroy us could have come later. The film seems to be saving a lot for a sequel; I would’ve preferred if the bigger questions came here, save that horror-action stuff for Prometheus 2. Would my version be less successful commercially? Yes. But it would’ve avoided a shaky, uneven, mish-mash of a film that we ended up with.