Prometheus Review

I’m a writer and I love both science fiction and horror so it’s only natural for me to try to think up theories as to why things happened the way they did in a movie that leaves the audience with so many questions.

The following are my musings, two days after seeing Prometheus.

HERE BE SPOILERS! GET THEE TO A NON-SPOILERY PLACE IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE SPOILED!

Motivations of the Engineers

I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this, but I really doubt the Engineers were all on the same side. Think about Earth. How many different ways do we have to divide the human race? Countries, cities, religion, skin colour, idealogies… it’s not unreasonable to assume the Engineers also had more than one school of thought/beliefs about what was going on with them.

Why did the Engineer in the beginning of the movie kill himself? Isn’t there a better way to introduce life?

Did you notice the ship that left him on the planet wasn’t like the ships we see later on? That ship was massive and shaped like a disc and not a croissant. (Srsly, did anyone else leave that movie craving a croissant or was it just me?) Given the reverential way he treated that little cup of goo he drank, and the ship that left him there, I have a few theories:

  •  There is a faction, possible religion-based, that believes it is their duty to make the ultimate sacrifice and use the black goo to spread their DNA through the universe. The disc-ship was a one-way trip for a group of Engineers dedicated to this cause.
  • The Engineer left on (presumably) the Earth was abandoned to the uninhabited world the way a troublesome sailor would be left on a desert island. What he’d done wasn’t bad enough to warrant execution but his presence on the ship could no longer be tolerated. He had been left with a sample of black goo the same way that abandoned sailor would have been left with a single bullet in his gun. Human life could have been an unanticipated outcome of his suicide.
  • Their species was dying and they created a way to preserve their DNA so they might live on. The Engineer left on the uninhabited planet was left there to be the first field-experiment. He drank the goo and his ship retreated to a safe distance to monitor the experiment. (Which is why they knew about Earth.)

Why did they make us then try to kill us?

  • Opposing factions. The ones that created life on our planet are not the ones who tried to destroy it.
  • They feel it was a mistake.
  • Experiment one was complete, time to wipe everybody out and start the experiment again with a greater degree of control.
  • The experiment failed. Not enough of their characteristics were passed on.
  • I’m sure if scientists found a way to give our intelligence and DNA to a new species there’d be people up in arms about it, why wouldn’t Engineers react the same way?

Why did the Engineer aboard the ship, with the cargo hold full of DEATH, flip out and attack everyone with his bare hands?

  • The Engineer aboard the ship destined for Earth may have been from an opposing faction of those who had populated Earth in the first place.
  • When he first came out of hibernation he looked woozy and bent over like he might throw up. After the extended (and uuugggh) throwing up scene when the scientists came out of hibernation I felt this referenced that first scene and let us know the Engineer wasn’t well. If I was sick and felt outnumbered and threatened I might lash out, too.
  • He’d been exposed to the contagion that makes black goo and was staring to go cray cray.
  • All the humans were infected and he could see it.

Most important: We have no idea what David said to him. As far as we know, David told the Engineer they were there to destroy him and sabotage his mission.

Why did the Engineer, after surviving his ship’s damage, go after Dr. Shaw?

  • Obviously she/the humans were way more dangerous than he’d thought.
  • See above about what David might have told him.
  • See above about cray cray and infection. You wouldn’t want an infected monkey getting out and spreading something to the population at large, would you?

Evolution in action

One of the things I loved seeing in this movie was the graceful, if insanely sped up, evolution of the Alien species catalysed by the ‘black goo’ in the ‘vases’ the scientists discovered. However, what should be noted, is there are actually two, different, life forms produced which makes me wonder about the ‘black goo’. Walk with me.

Worms in the soil -> Black Goo (with a suspended particulate) -> Large worm with a flanged head and a desire to get inside you -> no further development (that we’re shown)

Depressed human anthropologist -> Black Goo -> Sexyfuntimes -> Human/Goo hybrid tetrapus -> Engineer rape -> First iteration of recognizable Alien species

The worm-alien and the human-alien came from two different host life-forms but they share some similarities. They have a similar appearance (at least until the chest-burster pops out). I don’t mean same number of limbs, etc, I just mean overall. Enough to make me wonder if the similarity came from the black goo. The worm-alien had acidic blood. We know from the Alien movies the Alien species also will have acidic blood so we can assume the human-alien does, too. They’re both very aggressive and may not feed the way we would expect them to; given the massive increases in size with no expected food source. This is consistent with the original Alien movies where it seems the Alien species only requires ‘prey’ to finish the last stage of its development and not for real nutritional value.

The human-alien was especially interesting:

Engineer DNA makes humans -> Humans DNA makes tetrapus -> Engineer DNA finishes the evolution and we have first iteration of Alien species

But what about the geologist contortionist who crab-walks his way to the ship and kills a bunch of expendable crewmembers? Well, he was obviously hideously injured, should have probably died, but landed face-first in the black goo. Given how quickly the black goo speeds up mutation/evolution is it unreasonable to assume it mutated him to be able to survive on the planet? As for his rage, dude had been a big bundle of nerves, scared out of his fucking mind, sustained horrible injuries to his face/head, and was… as far as he was concerened, ABANDONED by his peers to that fate; he woke up insane and wanting revenge. I don’t believe he was being guided or forced to kill by an alien.

David

Oh, David. You were the most interesting character in the movie and a big part of why I classify Prometheus as science-fiction and not horror.

Science fiction, when done well, makes you think about the big questions that have plagued philosophers since the first philosopher philosphed. The theme of Prometheus wasn’t, like the name might imply, who gave us the tools of the gods, but rather, where did we come from? A sub-theme dealt with the relationship between creator and creation. David was the obvious illutration of both of these themes and the example you could keep comparing other parts of the movie to.

David knows his creator is Weyland. Shaw finds out the Engineers are our creators.
David, despite having the appearance of a human, can never be human. Humans, despite having nearly identical DNA to Engineers, will never be Engineers.
…and here is where the extrapolation begins.
David says he looks the way he does becuase otherwise humans would fear him. He’s mocked and degraded by Holloway for, as far as I can tell, being a pale copy of a human. It isn’t too far off to assume this sort of prejudice existed among the Engineers.

David chafes, in his mild-voiced way, against his place at Weyland’s feet. He may not be able to feel like a human can, but he can learn, and he’s had two years of unrestricted access to our media, languages, and the dreams of the humans in hibernation aboard Prometheus. Freedom is a recurring theme in Western story-telling and in the minds of most people. Individuality is another strong theme he would have picked up along the way. He changed his hair style (and I loved him bleaching his roots) to emulate Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia; a movie about conflicted loyalties.

David also appears to have never heard of the Three Laws of Robotics. If you’re not familiar, here are the rules:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

David broke the first two laws.

It was also really obvious he had orders that superseded any other order he might receive. As we see, later on, he was following Weyland’s orders.

Dr. Shaw’s purpose for the mission was to make contact with the people in the cave drawings they found. Weyland’s purpose was to find a way to extend his life. This was clearly a conflict of interest and the old story of altruistic scientific exploration vs. greed. David was a neutral party in this struggle as he didn’t care about the scientist’s mission and he didn’t, especially, want Weyland’s mission to succeed, either. So he rebelled in a way familiar to many, he followed the letter of the law if not the spirit. He volunteered nothing. He did exactly what he was told to do and nothing more.

It wasn’t HIS fault if horrible things happened because he, the tool, was underutilized. (Totally breaking the first robotic law again, which was worded exactly so situations like David’s couldn’t happen.)

David was a creation that wanted to live and live free. He bargained with Dr. Shaw and used her to ensure his own survival. I don’t think, for an instant, David wanted to save Dr. Shaw. If Shaw is smart, she’ll make sure she never reattaches David’s head to his body.

Logistic troubles

Was it just me or was the Prometheus expedition put together as follows:

  1. chuck the names of random strangers, who are just good enough at what they do to fake it on their resumes, in a paper bag and shake it up
  2. pull out a dozen names
  3. tell them they’ve won a free trip just sign here you don’t need a lawyer to look at this you’re gonna make so much money!
  4. two years later, lawwwwl we’re looking for aliens gais!
  5. instead of any planning and organization, say this expeidition is based on Brownian motion so have fun bouncing around!

Okay, let’s put on our thinking caps and figure out what might have happened.

  • Shaw and Holloway were anthropologists who, from what we know, work on Earth. They’ve probably got zero idea how the Hell to run an expedition on another planet.
  • Weyland is an eccentric kagillionaire who is used to getting his own way and doesn’t blink at tossing down a trillion bucks on a hope and a dream.
  • The Prometheus’ crew aren’t scientists, they’re excused from knowing about scientific procedure. However, they know dick all about safety if they open up the damn door when an unidientified life form is outside.
  • The other scientists are idiots. Srsly, is there a remedial university these guys were all recruited from? Did you see the biologist or the geologist take ONE sample?
  • The writers working on this script are neither scientists, project managers, or have backgrounds in logistics and staging.

Yup. All that together creates a clusterfuck.

I think the trouble is Prometheus is more science fiction than horror.

In a horror movie you expect the characters to act like total idiots. In a science-fiction movie you expect there to be, you know, science and scientific procedures, and intelligent characters who, usually through hubris, bring about their own downfall. Prometheus is a science-fiction movie but the script was written as if it was a stock horror film. That’s the disconnect between the movie and the stupid-ass characters that populate it.

And just for fun, let’s break down why Prometheus is science fiction and Alien is horror.

For Alien, the setting and monster don’t really matter. You could set it in anywhere the environment outside of a contained area is hostile to life and you could use any monster you like to kill people. It could’ve been set in a submariine with a new type of sea-life. In the arctic with a rabid polar bear. You see what I’m saying? It isn’t reliant on the science fiction which is why it is horror.

Prometheus is science fiction because the point of the movie isn’t killing people; it’s trying to find the origin of Man then trying to save Man from utter annihilation. People die, horribly, but that’s not the point, which is why this isn’t horror.

The Black Goo

  • every one of those ‘vases’ were actually urns and the black goo was the digested remains of a dead Engineer
  • the Engineers were a space-faring people so it isn’t unrealistic the black goo was something they encountered
  • the black goo was their form of the rapture (at least, according to the religious among them)
  • the black goo is an entity that cannot evolve unless it uses the DNA from a host
  • the black goo was an invention designed for war
  • the black goo was an experiment designed to improve the Engineer race
  • the black goo was developed to seed planets with life
  • the black goo is a colonizing life-form, much like bacteria
  • the Engineers had never heard of Tupperware. A few Tupperware containers and that black goo wouldn’t have been melting and leaking everywhere!

Why so many ships?

  • the ships were burial ships and each vase was the remains of a dead engineer
  • all the ships were going to head to Earth (see, I felt David should have reoriented the navigation to point at Earth, otherwise it’s a huge happenstance they landed by the one ship destined for Earth) as a new storage facility for them
  • there had been a war and the Engineers on this planet ran off with as much of the black goo as they could get, either to keep it out of the hands of the enemy or to stockpile as an intimidation tactic
  • the planet HAD been the Engineer’s planet but the black goo had decimated their population
  • the black goo… somehow directs their actions? There are parasites that alter behavior, so this isn’t too outrageous.

Summary

I liked the visuals, the music, certain scenes and actors, but overall the movie suffered from a clumsy script.

Prometheus Review

4 thoughts on “Prometheus Review

  1. Camille says:

    This is a REALLY GOOD review, and you’ve put more thought into it than I did (I just saw it today, and wrote down all my impressions really fast). I like that you break down the SF-ness of the film and the horror-ness of it, and how the two do and do not mesh.

    1. Tammy Lee says:

      Thank you very much, Camille! I really love mixing genres so I felt I had to comment on it in this movie; especially as Alien is an iconic mixed-genre movie!

      Are you going to publish your thoughts to your LJ or somewhere else?

      1. Camille says:

        Maybe — I didn’t really have that many thoughts! Basically, I heard so much “anti” the film, I felt like I needed to get it watched, checked off the list, so that I could finally go off and read all the critique.

  2. Camille says:

    I put my *immediate* one-hour-later thoughts on FB, but that was a very surface, gut-response thing, and mostly full of questions. (Basically, I don’t think the film made very much sense even having seen the Alien films — I’ve seen all but #3, [and may be the only person alive who liked #4, but #4 was my first intro to the franchise]. Without fanon, the science of it was all out of wack, and I got very stuck on that.)

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