Prometheus is two movies, one of which is pretty awesome

Some spoilers. Use your judgment.

Prometheus is two movies smashed together. The movie about Ancient Aliens and humans “finding our maker(s)” and a creepy old man played by Guy Pearce in creepy old man makeup, I could live without. Entirely. Junk that whole plot, it kind of sucked. In fact, let’s blame that whole part of the script on Damon Lindelof (Lost), who co-wrote, whether it’s fair or not. Why? Because Lost had major gaping narrative pitfalls, too, a lot of which related to mystical sci-fi bullshit, and that was my issue with this part of Prometheus. Mystical sci-fi bullshit is a cop-out for “I wrote myself into a corner and I don’t know what to do”. (Lindelof has been hired to rewrite World War Z before they embark on a mind-numbing seven weeks of reshoots, and I’m not bitter/worried about that AT ALL.)

Here’s the problem with mystical sci-fi bullshit—and by extension, mystical fantasy bullshit—and it’s why I am not super fond of genre movies/television/books: Because you can do anything, writers usually just do anything. The logic, science and physical laws of nature in your sci-fi/fantasy world don’t have to resemble any that exist in our real world. They don’t even have to make sense. But you do have to have rules, and you have to follow the ones you establish. Consider JARVIS in the Iron Man/Avengers movies. Of course, AI doesn’t exist yet, nor does any robot/computer system function as comprehensively as JARVIS does for Tony Stark. But JARVIS is so consistent in when/how he is used and behaves, that we accept him as a “character”. JARVIS isn’t real, we know that, logically, but he feels real, so we accept him, practically.

The logic behind Prometheus isn’t really functioning that well. Everything weird/inexplicable is chalked up to the “Engineers”, a race of alien beings that Dr. Shaw (Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Dr. Holloway (Logan Marshall Green, Tom Hardy’s little brother) believe created humanity. We don’t need every detail spelled out—but at least Prometheus is erring on the side of assuming the audience is smart, and it isn’t talking down to us—but we do need enough to make the leaps. Unfortunately, the script is relying on “this is that” storytelling, which amounts to, “Don’t worry about it, this is that.” It just means someone was kind of lazy and didn’t want to account for the internal logic of the story. And look, I could not in a million years write sci-fi/fantasy because accounting for all the workings of the new world you’re creating is hella complicated and I am lazy and also, not that smart. But that’s exactly why truly good sci-fi/fantasy is so thin on the ground—there aren’t that many people who can really do a proper job of it. Unfortunately, Prometheus was not written by people doing a proper job of it.

HOWEVER.

The other movie crammed in alongside the mystical sci-fi bullshit is a SUPER GOOD horror movie about a robot wrecking havoc on humans for morally ambiguous reasons. Michael Fassbender is chilling as David, the android who looks after the spaceship Prometheus while it’s on its 2+ year journey to its destination while the crew is in cryogenic stasis. David clearly does not like being reminded of his otherness and he manages to suggest resentment of being treated as a servant, and he takes this resentment out on the humans around him. This half-movie so thoroughly grossed me out that at the end of it, the first words out of my mouth were, “I really need a shower.” But it’s the good kind of gross out, the kind that comes from effective horror.

Director Ridley Scott is returning to his roots here, making the kind of atmospheric horror that builds up to its scare through judicious use of music, lighting and setting to set moods, and then punctuating scenes with explosive, frightening violence. I’m not a big horror nut and I found Prometheus watchable, if disgusting at points, so unless you’re really squeamish, I don’t think this should be a problem for most people. And that cast—Rapace, Green and Fassbender are joined by Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce and Idris Elba—is really good and satisfying to watch. This is a well-made movie that is not a chore to sit through. It’s also fucked up enough to promote interesting conversation among friends.

If Alien was all about rape, and it was, Prometheus is all about the (potential, assumed) horrors of childbirth. (And also, rape. Aliens are still out to rape our faces.) The better half of Prometheus is built on the idea of a thing being planted, unwillingly, inside a body and then that thing bursting out of the body in various horrible ways. At one point, Dr. Shaw even undergoes a violent cesarean to remove alien spawn. It’s one of the grossest, scariest, most visceral scenes in the movie, and this stuff is why Prometheus is worth the price of a ticket even if there is a lot of mystical sci-fi bullshit surrounding it. I know it’s weird to recommend something that will gross/freak you out, but the value of Prometheus lies in how those basic ideas—rape and the fear that Something Is Wrong With The Baby (woman’s two greatest fears)—are extrapolated into a mostly satisfying story (and if you still doubt this, go back and watch how many times characters are violently overtaken by an alien, usually by having something shoved down their throat. Hell, HR Giger’s aliens even look like space vaginas, which just adds a whole other layer because they attack men—vagina dentota, man’s greatest fear).

So here’s my elaborate Prometheus theory, because apparently having elaborate Prometheus theories is a thing now. Dr. Shaw is Lillith/Pandora/Eve, trying to shove Evil/Knowledge back in the box, David is Lucifer, a non-human Other who resents his Otherness and punishes humans for the difference, and the Engineers are God, because they are the Creators/Destroyers of life, and the various aliens of the space vagina/space squid type are Knowledge, which is not inherently evil but because we can’t know everything, the assumptions we end up making are inherently evil, and will always end up destroying us.

In other words, don’t have kids because they might turn out to be face-raping space vaginas. And also, robots are the devil.

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6 Responses to “Prometheus is two movies, one of which is pretty awesome”

  1. I enjoyed the movie for a lot of the reasons you did: tension, effective horror and a really creepy atmosphere. And though I’ve observed some mixed reviews about Noomi Rapace’s role–not her performance, just the character–I personally liked that she wasn’t painted as a hardcore badass bitch and still managed to survive anyway. I mean, she basically gave herself a cesarean section, so… Honestly, she was probably the biggest reason I enjoyed the movie.

    I didn’t HATE the sci-fi/mythical storyline and in fact kind of appreciated the effort to return to the mystery of where the face-rape aliens came from as opposed to the increasing cheap action movie quality of all the prior sequels and alien vs. predator movies. I have also read some interesting theories about the “Engineers” and my favorite one was about how the Engineers DID like us until about 2,000 years ago, which according to one viewer, was when we killed Jesus. Space Jesus the Engineer. Here it is if you’re curious:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1446714/board/thread/200177706

  2. Wow, that blog post listed above is way deep. I had no idea Ridley did that movies.com interview and if I go along with it, the 2000 years makes sense.
    I also love, love, love how someone referred to the spaceship as a giant croissant.
    Sarah, I definitely noticed narrative WTF’s in this film thanks to your last post.

  3. Great review! I thought the mystical scifi bullshit didn’t work only for me, because I have zero interest in the question of Why Are We Here? Glad to know it wasn’t just me.

    I did a cursory google and couldn’t find verification that Logan Marshall-Green is related to Tom Hardy. Are they actually or is it just that they’re so pretty in a similar way?

  4. Brittany Says:

    Was is just me, or did anyone else get the feeling that maybe David had a “crush” on Shaw? It’s pretty clear that he has the strongest interest in her out of all the crew, but I noticed a few things that suggested that maybe his interest in her was the android equivalent of like liking someone:

    1. David peeping in on Shaw’s dreams during hypersleep,
    2. When she’s vomiting after waking David comforts her, and despite others in the background coughing and vomiting his focus stays on her.
    3. After David saves Shaw and Halloway when she retrieves the engineer head, while Halloway is angry with her, David comforts her again and makes sure she’s ok.
    4. David takes Shaw’s cross because it might be contaminated, but instead of leaving it contained in the lab, he keeps it with him.
    5. David warns her that the engineer is coming after her, and he explicitly states that we was afraid she might have died.

    It’s possible to use the antagonism between David and Halloway as another example, and the fact that David infects Halloway, although it might just be because Halloway is a just total ass to David in general. But I do think the idea of David being “in love” with Shaw adds an interesting dynamic to the hostility between them, and I think it adds another layer of creepiness to the movie.

  5. Anyone else find the squid baby kinda cute? Sure, you didn’t expect to have a squid baby, but that’s no reason to abandon it and try to kill it. Mothers should love their squid babies.

    Brittany, I agree that David seemed to have a crush on Shaw. I think he was fascinated with Shaw’s faith because he wanted to be more than what others made him out to be. That’s why he was as interested to speak to the Engineer as Weyland was, because whatever answer the Engineer gave could be applied to him as well. He would be equal to the humans while standing before the Engineer. If things had turned out differently, of course.

  6. Mariana Says:

    This is a good review and it sums up my feelings on the matter. This movie would have been about 10 times better without the “writing ourselves into a corner with unanswered plotlines” half movie with mystical bullshit, but I can live with it, because the horror part is really good.
    Something I’d like to say is that I found Noomi’s performance a great one, and her Shaw is a dazzling mix of vulnerability and resilience.
    As for David, Fassbender is an awesome actor, and while I don’t think that he’s actually “in love” with Shaw, she undoubtedly fascinates him more than anyone on the ship. Her faith confuses him and intrigues him at the same time, as her strength does. I imgaine this dynamic, having already been picked up by many viewers, will be explored in any possible sequels.

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