“The search for our beginning may lead to our end”
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron and Idris Elba
This is going to be a more in-depth summary than usual, because the devil in this film is most definitely in the details.
On primeval Earth (I think, but it might be somewhere else), an alien who looks kinda like Mark Strong is left behind by his ship, drinks black goop, disintegrates and his DNA creates life (well, animal life, there are already plants). Well… maybe. See below.
In 2093, an expedition on the starship Prometheus reaches the moon LV-223, following an ancient star map discovered by archaeologists Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace) and funded by by-now-totally-dead-so-not-showing-up-unexpectedly-at-all industrialist Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce in gratuitous old-guy make-up). Their mission is to find the ‘Engineers’, whom Shaw believes created humans and left the maps for their creation to follow when sufficiently advanced. In accordance with the requirements of long-haul, long-term deep space missions into the unknown, the crew are a mismatched pack of squabbling, psychologically unstable pillocks who have neither worked nor trained together, nor even met before waking out of cryosleep in a tin can the size of a farmhouse, surrounded by hard vacuum.
The crew includes Weyland’s creepy android protege, David (Fassbender); corporate executive Vickers (Theron), who has clearly been mainlining books on how to get ahead by being an unsympathetic ice-queen; and the ship’s captain, Janek (Elba), a slacker with integrity. Lesser roles go to an idealistic young Scottish doctor (Kate Dickie), an uptight security specialist who gets pouty about not being allowed to bring a gun to the dig (not conspicuously named, so I don’t know who played him), mad as a bag of spiders geologist Fifield (Sean Harris) and Pollyanna biologist Milburn (Rafe Spall). Of the crew, at least two are Englishmen doing American accents for no discernible reason.
Landing on the moon, they find and enter an alien structure. Fifield sends a group of drones to map the complex, and they then find a recording of the Engineers running from something. This leads to a chamber full of cannisters – which looks a lot like the egg chamber in Alien – and the discovery of an alien body and head and some black goop.
And this, sadly, is where it starts to get stupid.
A storm forces them back to the ship, but without Fifield and Milburn, who got separated from the rest because they left earlier and got lost, despite Fifield being the one who controls the mapping drones. The alien head explodes for no adequately explored reason when they do bad science at it, then Fifield and Milburn are killed by Freudian snake-things.
David infects Holloway with the black goop, because he has been given bad orders by the totally mysterious person still in cryosleep, which causes him to knock-up the previously infertile Shaw and then begin to decompose. Shaw uses a ‘men only’ medical pod installed in Vickers’ personal quarters/lifeboat to cut out the ‘child’, which is a squid.
David also finds a living Engineer in stasis, wakes Weyland from cryo (what! It was Weyland! And Vickers is his daugher? No way!) and takes him out to meet his maker, which ends up way more figurative than planned.
Realising that the facility they have found is a WMD factory and that the Engineers intended to unleash its weapons on Earth before they had a breakout, Janek crashes the Prometheus into the Engineer’s ship. Everyone dies but Shaw and Vickers, and the latter is promptly squashed by a falling spaceship when she forgets how to corner.
The Engineer tries to kill Shaw, but is glomped to death by the now-grown squid-baby/face-hugger.
Shaw and the decapitated David set off in another Engineer ship to find the Engineer homeworld and learn why they wanted to destroy their creation.
What’s wrong with it?
Prometheus was heavily sold as ‘a return to the universe of Alien‘ for director Ridley Scott. This promotion weighs on the film like a lead albatross, forcing the parts that work to conform to a pattern which does not suit them. Also, Scott clearly gives not a fuck for anything after Aliens, so that gets confusing for anyone unlucky enough to have seen Alien vs Predator.
There are a lot of WTF moments, and some of the science is iffy – the ‘map’ is a set of five stars which match a given constellation invisible to the naked eye, but a constellation is not a location; David opens the cockpit blast doors especially to pass by a planetary ring system – although some of the apparent inconsistencies make sense in retrospect.
Guy Pearce is unrecognisable under his old man makeup, but there are no scenes of the young Weyland, so I’m not sure why they didn’t cast someone older. Speaking of Weyland, his motivations drive much of the plot, but are batshit crazy. Sure, he wants to cheat death and sees the Engineers as his ticket, but why not crew his ship with people on board with that idea and link it to Shaw and Holloway’s goals, instead of sneaking around and hiring a crew of barely-functional misfits? Is this just part of his habit of being a total douchebag to anyone who cares for him?
David’s fixation with Peter O’Toole.
Idris Elba’s accent? If they needed him to be American, why not get him to do the Stringer Bell Baltimore drawl he was so good at? Likewise, why is Rafe Spall doing an accent? Why was it so important that character be American?
Vickers’ fling with Janek. It comes out of nowhere, goes nowhere, and adds nothing to the film.
Holloway is a complete arse. He mocks his girlfriend’s faith, is moronically insensitive of the feelings of inadequacy her infertility clearly engender in her, and calls David ‘boy’. I guess that could be a reference to Aasimov, but damn.
The Freudianness of it all! An incomplete Freud count is:
- daddy issues all around
- the facility is shaped like a boob, complete with nipple
- it is also full of shafts which are explicitly warm and moist
- the penis-vagina snakes; they look like ambulant penises, then open up to reveal their vagina dentata jaws. The double act of sexual fear.
- the infertility subplot
- the monster miracle pregnancy
- the giant, extra-Freudy face-humper, which basically makes to engulf the Engineer with its vagina-jaws and then deep throats him with its ovipositor.
Someone must have unlocked the idiot multiball, because… Well, again an incomplete list:
- Weyland’s pointless and ultimately self-defeating scheming
- Holloway takes off his helmet out of impatience, then everyone else does the same when he doesn’t instantly drop dead
- Fifield and Milburn completely forgetting the existence of a map so as to conveniently get lost
- The security team just walking over to Fifield when his corpse shows up at the foot of the ramp, bent over on itself like unto a pretzel
- Milburn trying to pet the penis-vagina snake
- Randomly running current into the Engineer’s head, pretty much to see what happens
- Vickers hiring this useless crew!
- The abject failure of an entire crew to contain a traumatised, sedated, pregnant woman and to prevent her reaching a medical pod in a sealed lifeboat
- Vickers and Shaw both running directly away from a falling spaceship, made worse by the fact that Shaw gets out of the way in the end by rolling sideways about three feet
Shaw remains incredibly badass for a woman who has just had major abdominal surgery with only local anaesthetic.
The black goop does pretty much whatever it wants, acting more like the monster in a supernatural slasher movie than a scientifically-based bio-weapon. Once more, a list:
- causes complete genetic and cellular breakdown and reconstruction
- engenders monster pregnancy
- that leads to face-humpers
- which impregnate victims with Aliens-like aliens
- spontaneously generates vagina-penis snakes
- animates corpses
The movie offers no explanations for anything much, which is fine, but in this case is more confusing than mysterious.
And why do the aliens look so much like Mark Strong?
What’s right with it?
Fair play to it, this film looks great. I mean that, it is gorgeous to behold, from the majestic sweep of the planet in the opening crawl to the Prometheus‘ descent over LV-223, to every aspect of production design, the cinematography and the shot compositions, this is a masterclass in technical film-making.
Some of the things that bothered me on first viewing make sense in retrospect. Most of Vickers’ unpleasant characteristics pan out as the result of being second-string to a robot because her dad wanted a son so much he wouldn’t legitimise her, and David’s super-creepy behaviour, which seems odd in a robot, makes sense as the result of Weyland’s creepy instructions (although see above re Weylan’s creepy instructions). Even the overarcing plot makes more sense when you realise that the planet at the beginning isn’t named as Earth, and maybe that scene is actually the start of a purge, not the creation of life.
Or not. It’s not explained.
How bad is it really?
Prometheus is its own worst enemy. If it had just knuckled down to its own story of aliens and faith and identity and not pissed about with Alien, it would have been a much better film. It would still have had problems, but they would have been fewer and easier to ignore in the grand sweep of the visuals.
Best bit (if such there is)?
Any given long shot of landscape, but especially the landing shot on LV-223, as the Prometheus passes vast mountains and descends through the clouds.
What’s up with…?
- The fixation on lionising or tearing down faith?
- The crew?
- The goop?
- The stupid decisions?
- Idris Elba singing badly in a cod American accent?
Production values – Pretty much flawless. 0
Dialogue and performances – There are some weird accents on display, which is odd, because otherwise a top-notch cast gives top-notch performances of a mostly-coherent script. There are a few pseudoscience clangers and pretty much every assault on Shaw’s faith is hamfisted, but nothing too egregious. 8
Plot and execution – There are no clear explanations, which comes across as messy, not enigmatic. People forget stuff when it is convenient to the plot, and the idiot ball in this film is a sharer. The second half of the movie is a mess after a pretty tight opener. 14
Randomness – The Freudian symbolism; the goop; the Engineer ship being controlled by a flute. Every plot development brought on by stupidity. The entire corporate conspiracy plot. The attempt to pretend Weyland wasn’t the one in the pod. 16
Waste of potential – This film promised so much, literally as well as figuratively. It is not terrible, but it is terrible compared to what it offered. 19