I’ve just watched Ridley Scott’s inofficial Alien prequel and read a couple of the reviews online. And I came away being certain that those people must have seen a different movie. To make it short, Prometheus is horrible, and an insult to the Science Fiction genre and the Alien franchise.
Set in the near future, about 80 years from now, Prometheus has no science content worth mentioning and gets everything that’s even slightly sciency utterly wrong. It’s an action/horror movie set in the near future, but even typical Hollywood action movies get more of their basic premises right.
It begins very early, with the crew waking up and – meeting each other for the first time, some of them outright uncooperative, several mercenary troops, a ramshackle crew if you’ve ever seen one. You’d think for a one trillion dollar (adjusted for inflation, that’s 10% of the US budget) mission, they’d pick an excellent crew both in individual capabilities and in the teamwork section. You’d be wrong. Most of the crew apparently meet for the first time when they wake up from cryo sleep, they’re unprofessional action hero types, and they don’t all get along very well. The crew selection for Mars One is more refined than that, and that is set for 2023, not 2093.
Now movies do get to take some liberties for the sake of the story, but in this case there isn’t even the slightest necessity. The ramshackle crew does not add anything to the story and is unnecessary for dramatic purposes. A realistically professional crew would have worked just as well.
More importantly, as we later learn the old Weyland has put his life into the hands of this crew, and if that’s not the best reason you can imagine to get the best crew money can buy, I don’t know what is.
A few words on the Prometheus – the space ship – itself. Ignoring FTL and artificial gravity, which obviously exist but aren’t explained at all, the ship design and construction makes no sense whatsoever. Even though the crew is in cryo sleep the entire flight, there are extensive facilities for recreational and sports activities, including half a basketball court. The interior is more than spacious, with wide corridors and even an entire luxury appartment inside. Not to mention that the idea of an interstellar spacecraft being a landing craft at the same time is ridiculous, especially when set in the very near future.
The Engineer ship is an equally dumb construction. It’s almost-donut shape is wasteful and stupid. I’m not sure if you could come up with a worse ship design if you tried. From surface-area-to-interior-ratio to material stress and simply walking distance inside, it’s simply ridiculous. In the Alien movie it works because it’s not explained any further and could be anything, even just a part of a larger ship. But as a bomber type interstellar craft of a highly advanced civilization it is so utterly dumb that it hurts.
So then the Prometheus lands on the surface of an alien world and about half the crew goes exploring an ancient ruin of some kind.
Hold on. You read that right, they send half the crew on some kind of inner africa expedition. In 2093. We have robots doing cave and planetary exploration today. And they have some cool auto-mapping drones in the movie. Except that they don’t send it out ahead while they plan their expedition, they go in first and then let the drones fly. And again, there is no dramatic or story-telling point to this stupidity, the movie would have worked just as well had they sent the drones first, maybe minus the part where they discover the locked door / lifeform / spacecraft, but that could easily be worked around.
So far, it’s already an expedition that makes you wonder how they ever got off the ground in the first place. Add the fact that crew members including the pilot/captain don’t even know the ship and are oblivious to entire sections of it (the module/lifeboat of Vickers as well as the secret section for the old Weyland) and a whole bundle of other crew stupidity and the primary message of the movie seems to be that old tycoons are senile, too, and it shows in the way they throw together what could’ve been their legacy.
It gets worse. So they find stuff inside – writings, a dead body, a giant head/statue and more strange things. Already the most important discovery in the history of mankind, as someone puts it in the movie, and they act like boy scouts. Actually, boy scouts would probably be smarter. If you consider how much thought and effort goes into not contaminating Mars when we send robots there, it is more than crazy how little the crew of the Prometheus seems to worry about contamination in both directions. They apparently have some kind of sterilization protocol that doesn’t work at all (and is later replaced with torching things with flamethrowers) and they proceed to have pretty much as much contact with alien life on an alien planet as possible. Or, in short, the exact opposite of what an actual expedition would try to do.
And again, the whole thing flies square in the face of everything we have and do today, so unless one of the movies backstory assumptions is that IQ falls by half during the next few decades, it’s an insult. Doctors and scientists operate via remote hands or at least glove boxes like the one shown on the right all the time. It’s the kind of minimal equipment and precautions you would expect an expedition to an alien world would bring with them, considering they aren’t even that expensive (a couple thousand bucks).
Let’s ignore how the guy with the mapping drones gets lost and how the biology expert fails at the most basic how-to rules when it comes to meeting an unknown animal. Several other articles include these and many more plot holes.
And it still goes deeper. So you are more than two years away from mankind, with a crew of just 17 on an unknown alien planet. Basically, you’re on your own with no hope of getting any help, as nobody even knows where you are. Secret mission, as is established early on. For whatever reason – what are they afraid of? Someone else building a faster ship and passing them by midway through the trip? The time constraints on designing and constructing a ship like that should make sure that even if you tell everyone where you’re going, nobody is going to catch up.
Anyway, back to the point. So you’re entirely on your own, with just 17 people, and you start suffering casualties. That is kind of a big deal, isn’t it? And yet, the movie shows no emotional reaction to the first deaths by anyone on board. None whatsoever. No sorrow, no regret, no fear and not even a hint at a bit more caution. Even though by that time three crew members are dead from unknown sources, they take their helmets off again just because their robot companion announces it wasn’t transmitted through the air, with no evidence to back up that claim even after being asked to provide such.
But what turned me off most was the utter anti-scientific, religious undertone of the whole story. A christian cross the main actor wears is put center several times, and the fact that her main thesis does in fact, as the biology guy points out, go against the theory of evolution with so little evidence to back it up that it would be laughed at in any actual scientific circles – and yet all these things go unexplored. It almost seems as if there is a religious message being shoved down your throat with lip service to scientific counterpoints that go totally ignored otherwise. Shaw continues to wear her cross after she discovered the Engineers, with the flim excuse of “yes, but who made them?”. Another case of a valid point being brought up and brushed aside. Sure, the question may remain, but even if you assume that some god made the Engineers, it can’t be the christian god as described in the bible.
There are many such points throughout the story. Too many to make it accidental. Someone was trying to send us a religious message and forced it through even though the entire story, the entire body of science and everything else in the movie does not only not support, but actively contradicts it.
And that, I think is what made me hate the movie. Not only does it do the Science Fiction genre a disservice by slapping every piece of science it encounters in the face, it also insults the SF tradition of looking forward instead of backwards. It doesn’t tell the story of how the world could become, how life or society or anything could change. It’s not even a criticism on the current state of the world by extrapolation into the future. It’s just a dumb action/horror movie with religious undertones force-fed to the Alien universe. And it fails as an action movie, as it contains far too little action that has too little consequences for the story. And it fails as a horror movie because most of the shockers are predictable and executed badly. And it fails as a delivery vehicle for its religious message due to the self-contradictory context and the obvious compulsion involved. And it fails as an Alien prequel because the final-shot tie-in is so cheap and the Giger-inspired art style so badly copied and beneath the original, and the whole story diminishing rather than enlarging the Alien universe.