Prometheus: a mess of clichés with sick jokes, wooden characters, bad plotting and B-grade sci-fi tentacle bondage

Ridley Scott, “Prometheus” (2012)

Originally conceived as a predecessor to “Alien” and its successor films, “Prometheus” is Ridley Scott’s attempt to answer questions left by his original slasher-in-space flick and ignored by James Cameron, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet; questions such as who or what the space jockey in the crashed space-ship found on Acheron was and whether the message that ship sent that was intercepted by the cargo ship Nostromo really was an SOS message or a warning. In making the film Scott attempts to explore the nature of human existence, why we have been created and what is our purpose in the universe, and for good measure throws in messages about scientific and intellectual hubris and free will, and yet another stab at portraying a dysfunctional family with an Oedipal complex of the sort seen in “Blade Runner” and “Gladiator”.

Although beautiful to watch, the film is a mess of clichés from “Alien”, “Blade Runner”, even some of the successor “Alien” films and a bit of James Cameron’s “Avatar”.  Archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover prehistoric paintings in a cave on Skye in Scotland; comparing their discovery with previous finds made by  other scientists, they realise that people in different places and time-periods had the same star-maps as detailed in their art and religious worship and must have worshipped the same or similar deities. Years later, inspired by their research, eccentric zillionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation funds  a space expedition headed by Shaw and Holloway to a far distant moon around a planet in an exo-solar system identified from the various star-maps. (You can hear Cameron shouting, “Where’s my cut?!”) While the crew of seventeen slumber in the Land of Nod aboard the Prometheus vessel, android assistant David (Michael Fassbender) monitors the voyage and in his spare time studies enough linguistics to earn several doctorates ten times over, watches the entire Earth’s output of old celluloid movies and reads the US Federal, State and county taxation guides during the boring bits of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: a Space Odyssey”. The ship arrives on the moon, the crew is woken up by David and mission director Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), and subjected to a lecture as to what they are all supposed to do.

Dutifully they trek out to what looks like an artificial landscape feature and explore the labyrinth within. A couple of scientists, Fifield and Milburn, get fed up and try to go back to the ship (and get lost). The rest of the crew find several stone cylinders, a giant humanoid stone head (which Shaw and Holloway assume represent the appearance of those ancient deities, whom they call Engineers) and the corpse of a giant alien. They take the alien’s head and David picks up one of the cylinders. An approaching storm forces the crew to leave the landscape feature and return to the Prometheus, leaving Fifield and Milburn lost in the labyrinth. Back at the ranch, David discovers some icky ichor stuff in one of the cylinders and drops a bit of it in Holloway’s drink. Holloway and Shaw later have sex together. In the meantime, Fifield and Milburn, stumbling around in circles (geez, you’d think their helmets might feature in-built GPS systems), chance upon the cylinders which are now leaking the ichor. A slimy amphibian critter kills Milburn and its blood corrodes Fifield’s helmet, exposing the man to the black liquid.

In the morning, the crew return to the hidden labyrinth and find Milburn’s corpse. David ventures alone and discovers the aliens’ navigation control room (thus proving the artificial landscape feature is a spaceship overgrown with vegetation), an Engineer in suspended animation and a star-map showing Earth as the Engineers’ preferred holiday destination. Holloway sickens and the crew must hurriedly return to the ship with him. Vickers sensibly won’t allow Holloway back on board and to show she means business, blasts him away with a portable flame-thrower; he’s begging to be killed anyway so at least her conscience is clear. Shaw faints at Holloway’s death; later, when she revives, David helpfully informs her that she is three months pregnant in spite of Shaw being unable to have children.

After performing a hilariously bonkers DIY emergency Caesarean section in a machine not cut out for the job (it was made only for surgery on men!), Shaw discovers that Peter Weyland has been on board the Prometheus all along; the old guy explains that he wants to meet the Engineers in person so that he can ask them how he can avoid dying. Meanwhile Fifield, hideously transformed, returns to the ship and starts attacking everyone before being killed by Janek (Idris Elba) in a scene reminiscent of the one in Cameron’s “Aliens” in which Ripley drives a tank over an overgrown bug. Janek later theorises to Shaw that the labyrinth they have visited is in fact a military base in which the Engineers were engaged in a nefarious genetic experiment and produced a dangerous bio-weapon in the ichor.

Weyland, David, Shaw and a couple of others revisit the labyrinth and wake up the Engineer who repays them for their kindness by decapitating David and killing everyone else except Shaw. Shaw escapes with her life; the Engineer promptly sets his controls for the heart of the sun … I mean, Earth actually, so Shaw radioes back to Janek to stop the alien craft. Janek figures the only way he can do that is to ram the Prometheus into the alien ship, which he does so, killing himself and his crew but not before Vickers ejects to safety. Not that this helps Vickers much: no sooner does she land than the alien ship conveniently falls on top of her. Shaw finds Vickers’s life-boat (where she had her operation earlier) and discovers the abandoned baby now grown to adult size. At the same, the Engineer shows up, justifiably upset at his sabotaged voyage and ready to pound hell out of Shaw …

Perhaps in order to justify the hype and the expensive visuals and effects, the script-writers and Scott try to wring out so much sensationalism from the thin plot that plot-holes, inconsistencies and assumptions that defy logic and assume telepathy and foresight in humans abound. Most parts of the plot stretch logic to wormhole credibility levels and even plain old common sense is absent. One would think that a DIY surgery table costing zillions would have been made for both men and women but in the interests of Hollywood sensationalism it has to be men-only, forcing Shaw to do her C-section manually for extra tension, gore and laughs; afterwards, she’s called upon to perform incredible physical acts like jumping huge gaps and abseiling despite having cut abdominal muscles that should have put her in bed for a couple of days at least. Several questions arise in this viewer’s mind: how does Janek know what really went on in that hidden labyrinth? how does David deduce that the Engineers wanted to go to Earth of all places? why do the Engineers look like they’ve stepped out of a 3-D printer? why does Scott love holographic projections so much?

Character development and motivation are so bad that the actors should be forgiven for woodenness. As scientists, Shaw and company break every rule in the book: their curiosity and stupidity override scientific method to the extent that they endanger themselves and others. Guess that supposedly passes for scientific and intellectual arrogance overriding common sense and intuition and causing destruction; the film is called “Prometheus” after all in reference to the Greek myth. Theron as Vickers is wasted as the film’s token Ice Maiden; there is a later twist in the plot that reveals her relationship to Peter Weyland and David and explains her jealousy and suspicion of the replicant … er, android, but fortunately there are no head-busting / strangulation scenes. Rapace tries hard as the wannabe Ripley but there’s too much she’s forced to do in the film – and the actress lacks Sigourney Weaver’s height and presence as well – for her to carry off the plagiarism with personality to spare. Only Fassbender impresses as the icy Roy … um, David (sheesh, I must remember I’m reviewing “Prometheus”), as the plot forces him to obey one master and then another. Poor David has to learn the hard way what the difference between being human and repli … oops, android, really means and it’s not flesh-and-blood versus metal-and-milky-stuff: it’s about overcoming your early conditioning and questioning the things, people and relationships you’ve always taken for granted and deciding to be your own person and discovering your own values. Having partly learned his lesson, David literally becomes a round object shoved into a three-dimensional square in the form of a carry-bag as he and Shaw ride off into the sunset to – guess what? – find more Engineers! Don’t they ever learn from experience?! 

Meanwhile the Engineer in Vickers’s life-boat is left to soothe a very abandoned and angry child … which leads to yet another sick joke from Scott in a movie full of sick jokes, one no doubt aimed at James Cameron who imagined the original aliens as over-sized ants and their ancestors now re-imagined by Scott as over-sized calamari wrestlers. The mind boggles at Scott’s conception of the relationship between hexapods and molluscs and I daresay more than a few flatworms, earthworms and tapeworms will complain that once again in the universe of science fiction monsters they were overlooked but hey, as acid blood, a hive mind that communicates telepathically to both pure-blood aliens and alien-human hybrids, and giant over-breeding queen hymenopterans have been done to death, it’s time for a bit of naughty tentacle rape and bondage squeeze!

“Prometheus” is a mega-disappointment which doesn’t surprise me, given that since “Alien”, “Blade Runner” and a couple of others, Scott has turned out to be just another hack Hollywood director in need of  proper script-writers and fresh vision and direction. There are some stabs at existential inquiry and the question of free will but they are so faint that viewers will miss them. I thought Cameron’s “Avatar” was silly enough but “Prometheus”, for all its visual spectacle, makes that movie look intelligent. Now all we need do is wait for Scott’s “director’s cut” version showing Shaw is also some kinda repli … android thing which would explain all those post-natal leaps and bounds.


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