As a kid, no mystery of cinema tantalized me more than the elephant alien in the dick chair. You know, from Alien? The doomed astronauts of the Nostromo find him sitting there on the aforementioned dick chair, looking into the shaft at the stars, his chest exploded from the inside. All we knew of him was from the trading cards (in the ‘70s and ‘80s, movies had trading cards, because we hadn’t yet invented fun), which referred to him as The Space Jockey. A truly bizarre name, since I’ve seen Alien more times than I can count, and I’ve never seen a Space Horse or Space Turntables. Anyway, this mystery — who was this? what was this? — fired my young imagination, and started an appreciation for questions in film with no real answers. 33 years later, Ridley Scott decided to answer the question with Prometheus.
Tagline: We came from them. They will come for us.
More Accurate Tagline: Seventeen idiots shot into space. No way this goes bad.
Guilty Party: The guilt here has to be split between two parties. Let’s start with Ridley Scott, a favorite punching bag on the Satellite Show. Alien is a work of legitimate genius, but it’s become abundantly clear that Ridley Scott doesn’t understand it. In an interview, he points out that the eggs are never explained, nor why they explode on “that guy.” If you ignore the fact that the entire film explains exactly those questions to the satisfaction of anyone who can read without moving their lips, Scott is absolutely correct.
We also have to blame Damon Lindelof, one of the film’s credited writers, who apparently took a decent-to-good script by Jon Spaihts, and promptly stupided it up with murky character motivation, gaping plot holes and logic gaps, and some of the worst fake science since Kirk Cameron deep-throated that banana. Damon Lindelof does research with the same care Channing Tatum prepares for a role.
Synopsis: On some planet (that might or might not be earth, Scott apparently was to dumb to decide whether or not a film about the origins of life on earth should begin on earth), some weird Greek statue man gets naked, drinks some black goo, and goes swimming. He almost instantly dissolves, because his mom never told him he needs to wait two hours after eating to swim.
Cut to later. The “scientific exploratory vessel” Prometheus, with its crew of seventeen, zooms toward some distant star. They have a creepy android on board, David (Michael Fassbender) because these movies always have androids in them and seriously, that’s the only reason. Anyway, he wakes everyone up.
There’s a briefing, and it’s revealed that these people have no idea what they’re doing up there. I guess it must pay a lot — which is a relief to resident punk Fifield, who only got into the field of geology for the money. I think he’s mixed up “geologist” and “old-timey prospector.” There’s a VR briefing with Weyland (Guy Pearce in terrible old age makeup because Ian Holm is smart enough to screen his calls), in which he states they’re looking for the origins of human life. He turns it over to “Drs.” Shaw and Holloway, two dangerously insane people who claim to be archaeologists. They talk about these paintings they’ve found all over the world of people worshiping a giant, and the giant pointing to a specific array of stars, which corresponds to a system that has an earthlike planet (never mind that the position of stars is not static). Shaw says that they’re an invitation from the creators of humanity which she calls the Engineers. When Millburn the biologist quite sensibly asks for evidence (it’s the only sensible thing he does in the film), she says it’s what she chooses to believe.
So this rich dude created a ludicrously expensive expedition (based on Fifield’s line) on some crazy lady’s unsubstantiated belief? I’m pretty sure Weyland has bought the Brooklyn Bridge many, many times. Oh, sure, Shaw and Holloway “archaeologists.” Right. Maybe Shaw and Holloway have degrees, but if they do, they’re from the University of Phoenix. Personally, I think they’re a couple backpackers who saw some cave paintings and conned their way onto the ship. Hey, it’s what I choose to believe.
The expedition lands on the planet (called LV-223 and not LV-426, because goddamn it, this isn’t an Alien prequel, it’s just a movie that makes constant reference to the Alien franchise, has some of the same atmosphere, and the planet features the same shit in Alien. But it’s not the same one, okay?), and they head off to a structure. They’re all in space suits because the atmosphere is toxic, and one would think they’re worried about alien pathogens (one would be wrong). Shaw disallows weapons on the grounds it’s a scientific expedition. Hey, Shaw, fun fact: science made guns!
So they go in, and Fifield instantly maps the structure. They do some readings and determine that the air is breathable, so off come the helmets! You know, the air is also breathable during an ebola outbreak, but we keep the helmets on so we don’t shit out our own intestines. I’m officially done caring about these dolts. They find a decapitated alien, and for some reason, Fifield and Millburn (who, remember, is a biologist) freak out and leave. I would think a biologist would be too busy coming in his pants at the prospect of examining an alien to do much of anything but make his O face, but what do I know?
A storm’s coming, so everyone returns to the ship. Well, everyone except Fifield and Millburn, who have gotten lost. Man, they really should have mapped… oh. Yeah. Um. Anyway, David brings back some black goo, and Shaw brings back the alien head. They do some genetic testing and determine its DNA is identical to a human’s. This is despite being much taller, having superhuman strength, different skin and eyes. So, you know, not identical. Meanwhile, Holloway, who it must be mentioned is an archaeologist, is depressed because no one is alive in the ruin. Did he miss that day in archaeology class? Does he think that the ancient Sumerians are still around? Anyway, David poisons him with black goo because reasons. Fifield and Millburn encounter an obviously dangerous snake monster that proceeds to initiate a threat display and attack Millburn (the biologist) several times while Millburn tries to make friends. Yeah, I think the entire crew are con artists, head trauma survivors, and escaped mental patients. Anyway, Millburn dies and Fifield gets turned into a zombie.
The crew goes back to save Fifield and Millburn, but fail because everyone is a dunce. David finds a sleeping Engineer in the main chamber. Holloway also is having a bad reaction from the black goo, and when they try to get him back on the ship, Vickers — oh yeah, there’s this character Vickers who serves no real purpose — points a flamethrower at him and explains that quarantine exists for a reason. Holloway thinks he’d be better off getting set on fire, and when Vickers obliges, Holloway hilariously starts screaming. Man, he regretted that fast.
Shaw learns she’s been knocked up and three months along, despite only having had sex ten hours before. She thinks maybe she should get it taken out, but David and the others would rather put her in a freezer and deal with it later. She breaks out and runs to the surgery machine, which is bafflingly only calibrated for men, officially making it worse than having an actual human doctor on staff. She requests a “caesarian” despite actually needing an abortion, because Damon Lindelof still hasn’t grasped that words mean things. Anyway, the machine disembowels her, removes the mutant squid baby, and staples her up.
The Fifield zombie shows up and kills some people while Shaw staggers into a room and finds that Guy Pearce is alive and on the ship, and I don’t care anymore. Someone kill these people. Guy Pearce and David are going to meet the living Engineer. They invite Shaw along, and she’s just had surgery, so she’s up for a walk. At this point, the captain of the ship (Idris Elba), who has never actually left the ship, suddenly knows everything about the purpose of the installation. So he’s a sorcerer or something.
They wake up the Engineer, and he decapitates David and murders the last couple people, and decides to fly away. Once again, for no real reason, the captain decides to ram the alien ship because fuck ships. Vickers ejects, for all the good it does her. The alien ship crashes and starts to roll like a wheel because this is a comedy, and Vickers forgets that “left” and “right” are things, and is crushed.
The Engineer goes to kill Shaw, but she feeds it to her squid baby. Then she and David find another ship and fly away. Finally, the Engineer births something that’s almost an Alien because this movie isn’t done shitting on a classic until the credits roll.
Life-Changing Subtext: Not only is my ignorance as good as your knowledge, it’s better.
Defining Quote: Shaw: “It’s what I choose to believe.” This line is such a perfect storm of stupidity, it deserves to be deconstructed so when future generations gather around their trash fires to hide from the robot masters, they can learn of the dumbest fucking thing a supposedly sentient human wrote down.
Okay, let’s take the line at face value. Shaw’s a scientist (according to the script, anyway). This is literally the last thing a non-incompetent scientist would ever say. Science is about learning things, not picking stuff out of a hat and deciding “yep, that’s about right.”
Yet it’s even insulting to religion. See, it’s impossible to “choose” to believe anything. You either believe it, or you don’t. That’s how belief works. If you’re “choosing” you know in your gut it might not be right, and thus, you don’t really believe it. So this line manages to be completely moronic from the perspective of both reason and faith, which might be the first time anyone has ever achieved that.
Standout Performance: Fassbender is usually singled out here, and while I am a fan of him in general, he really has nothing to play in this shitsnack. David makes zero sense, like everyone else in this movie. I’m going to give this to the dick-snake monster, who really does a good job of conveying that it’s not to be trifled with, even if Millburn was too much of a cretin to know it.
What’s Wrong: The standard stuff of it being too long, the characters and plot being riddled with holes, you know the drill. What’s more interesting to me is how this particular movie uniquely fails, at how Scott and Lindelof are so incompetent, they actually find a brand new way to be imbeciles. Prometheus goes out of its way to create logic gaps. It’s not just that someone gets lost; it’s the guy who mapped the caves. It’s not just that someone tries to make friends with the penis snake; it’s the biologist. It’s not just that someone is upset everyone’s dead, it’s the archaeologist. If I didn’t know better, I’d think Scott and Lindelof were trolling people who can count past ten.
Flash of Competence: It’s a very pretty film. Also, it takes place during Christmas, which is a great throwback to the ‘80s where every other movie took place at Christmas for no reason.
Best Scenes: Every single easily preventable death. From Millburn making friends with the obviously hostile snake monster, to Vickers forgetting that she can run in two whole dimensions, and of course any time the movie goes out of its way to paint its characters as idiots.
Transcendent Moment: I noticed something in this run through. When David wakes everyone up, he informs Vickers they’ve been sleeping for over two years. Later, when the captain decides to ram the alien ship, he tells Vickers she can get to a lifeboat, where she has two years worth of supplies. Or, put another way, “not enough.” He condemns Vickers to a slow starvation/suffocation death just so he can go out in the most metal way he can think of.
And the best part? She gets on the lifeboat. Jesus Christ, these people are idiots.
Prometheus is a modern camp classic, though unfortunately at a smidge over two hours it’s too long to be truly fun.