Prometheus – A Monster Review

As a confirmed sci-fi nut and fan or Ridley Scott’s iconic Alien, the expectation of his revisit to the genre with Prometheus has been almost unbearable. Finally, the dire sequels of Alien 3 (hamstrung by directorial and budget squabbles), Alien Resurrection (competent but bland) and the nonsense Alien vs Predator tie-ins could be expunged.
Prometheus sees the original director revisit one of the big questions left unanswered by the first film: who or what is the mysterious “space jockey” whose crashed ship and deadly cargo sets the horrific events of Alien into motion?
Sadly, it would have been nice had Ridley Scott managed to answer this in the film, instead of helming a confused, nonsensical mess that resorts to the usual cinematic tropes and clichés that made the various sequels so pedestrian. Prometheus is a film that promises much but fails to deliver on every level.

Prometheus Summary

To summarise (spoilers ahead), archaeological experts Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway uncover a series of paintings through earth’s cultural history, all depicting giant humanoid beings they call “Engineers” pointing at a star system that isn’t visible to the human eye. They shortly find themselves aboard a science vessel flying out to the identified system, spending two years in stasis guarded by David, an android with a voyeuristic interest in the passenger's hypersleep dreams and a fixation with T.E Lawrence.

Prometheus Glitches

Here are the first few glitches; despite occurring three decades before the events in Alien, privately-funded or not, the research vessel Prometheus is decades ahead of all the other tech we’ve seen in the films, with lots of CGI holographic interfaces (which presumably were included as they look good in 3D). It’s also crewed by idiots . . . aside from the company presence afforded by David and Weyland-Yutani’s daughter Meredith, none but the archaeologists know why they’ve agreed to sign up for a two year hazardous mission into deep space. Cue the briefing and a quick bit of character exposition into two more of the team, the rest of the crew remain faceless expendables for later in the film.

Prometheus Story

Arriving at the system, Prometheus lands on one of the planets (although not the one indicated by the first two films. It seems that although this one has an atmosphere, the company decided to terraform a different planet in Aliens). Despite picking up no signals, they wheel around for a bit and – hey presto – there’s a big artificial structure over on the left. That was easy!

Investigating the structure, the team finds holographic records of the large, humanoid engineers running along a corridor, and the decapitated body of a two-thousand-year-old specimen by a pressure door. Opening the door thanks to David’s knowledge of ancient linguistics, they retrieve the head – clearly that of the original “space jockey” species and find a room with murals and a humanoid statue, filled with metallic cylinders that look ominously like alien eggs. They also fail to detect meal worms wriggling on the floor (you’d think that all the high-tech sensor apparatus might detect what compromises about 80% of known life on earth, but apparently not). For no obvious reason, the murals and cylinders start dissolving into black goo, and the team makes a run for the ship ahead of a big storm. David freezes and secretes a cylinder for himself, two of the team get lost and things go downhill from here.
Given the prospect that the Engineers are dead and gone, David decides to dismantle the cylinder and extracts a drop of black liquid – the same material we see in the prologue disintegrating an Engineer to seed a planet with DNA and presumably the same stuff that’s forming a large puddle in the structure. He puts a drop in the android-hating Holloway’s drink and the rest of the team go to bed, after clumsily blowing up the alien head they recovered which is probably the find of the millennium. Like any self-respecting scientist would, of course.

Meanwhile, the black liquid mutates the worms seen earlier into large snake-like organisms, which their “biology expert” decides to pet, even though one is displaying threat behavior like a cobra. His compatriot finds out the hard way that alien beasties bleed acid (of course) and ends up face-down in a pool of the goo. No-one is aware of this as they’re all off having romantic encounters with each other, leaving no-one on the watch . . . the heresy on any ship, spacecraft or otherwise.

The following morning the two crew in the structure are found dead, Holloway starts to change and Shaw finds herself pregnant. David finds out more about the Engineers and discovers one still alive, one of the dead crew comes back to life and kills lots of others (but no-one we actually met in the film so far), and Shaw is forced to give herself a cesarean to rid herself of the mutant fetus fathered by the infected Holloway. David and Meredith take the aging Weyland-Yutani to meet the surviving Engineer, who wakes up and tries to kill everybody, before deciding to carry out his initial mission two thousand years previously and destroy/infect earth with the DNA-reconfiguring cylinders.
The ship (hidden in the structure) crashes after being rammed by the Prometheus, Meredith ejects in a pod only to be flattened by the crashing alien craft because she can’t run sideways and the Engineer emerges to kill Shaw, only to get nobbled by her mutated baby that eventually hatches into something that’s vaguely recognizable as the original alien. Shaw flies off in another alien ship with the remains of the android David to the home of the Engineers . . . possibly to ask what the hell the script was supposed to be about.

What This All Means

That’s rather a glib summary, but if you are after some deeper meaning of the film, there’s really none to be had. Despite lots of potential, Scott falls back onto the desperately tired convention of a slasher flick, with Engineers and mutants running around killing everyone with really no explanation why, or what on earth happened to make them all hideaway in the first place. There’s still enormous inconsistencies with the original which, as Scott directed both, he can hardly claim doesn’t fit with his original vision. The 3-D element adds nothing to the overall experience and the casting misfires – Noomi Rapace as Shaw may be a popular choice, but her lack of English forces some over-acting and the only character who really gets any quality screen time is Michael Fassbender as David. Everyone else is painted in very sketchy strokes, if at all.

Despite the original being over 30 years old, it retains an 18-certificate compared to Prometheus’ audience-friendly 15. There’s a similar amount of blood and gore in both (Shaw’s emergency cesarean being the nastiest moment) but Prometheus lacks the nerve-shredding tension and drama of the original.  It’s unpleasant in places but never scary. The original is also subtle, whereas Prometheus has such clumsy foreshadowing it’s a wonder flashing subtitles don’t appear: HERE IS AN AUTOMATIC SURGERY UNIT> PLEASE NOTE THIS FOR FUTURE REFERENCE.

From such an accomplished director, with so much expectation to fulfill, the real shock of Prometheus isn’t in any revelation or exposition of the themes, but how such a shoddy script ever got green-lit to shoot.
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