Movie Review: Prometheus

[Spoiler Alert]

Do not read this review if you have not seen the movie.

If you have seen the movie you still may not want to read my review. I found the movie trite, ridiculous at times, insulting, superficial, poorly written, and a good example of using media to promote an interesting idea albeit in a very ham-fisted and incompetently designed way.

[End of Alert]

My favorite part of Prometheus was the opening sequence. The panoramic vistas were reminiscent of many of the IMAX shows I have seen. Having never been to the Isle of Skye the terrain might be of the island. I also thought of the many images of northern Pakistan, the Karakoram Mountains, and the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan. The upland meadows of the Lake Baykal region in eastern Russia. Very nice opening cinematography, maybe award-winning.

And then the movie turns in a stinking “pile of crap” as one posted on GetGlue.

Prometheus has so many problems I don’t know where to begin. I guess I’ll start near the beginning. After the opening sequence, the action moves us to the year 2089. A small group of archaeologists are examining a site on the Isle of Skye. Archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) discovers cave art dating to 30,000 years ago. The art seems to suggest a race of giant people from a distant star system influenced the local cultures. Later, we learn the cave art was merely one clue in a series of ancient art which all describe the same star system. The star system is so distant as to be unviewable with the human eye, thus the knowledge of the star system must have been communicated by some other means. Enter the idea of Prometheus, a giant from Greek mythology who tried to elevate humans to be equal to the gods.

With very little exposition, or research, or analysis, the idea humans were “engineered” by space aliens is thrust upon us. I didn’t appreciate the rapidity of the notion of humans being “engineered” being established so soon without any real conversation, facts, or evidence being established. Later, the audience is treated to a brief soliloquy by the scientific team on paintings and carvings found around the world, and somehow we are supposed to glean from the art humans were not only engineered but also these artifacts are in essence an invitation to come for a visit.

Because a character tells me some detail is important does not make it so. In what should initially be a scientific detective story, the uncovering of facts and substantive evidence based on research and study and analysis and interpretation, we are forced down the path of “this is important because I feel this is important” illustrated in tiresome fashion throughout the movie by Dr. Shaw. She often fondles her pendant cross as she pleads for her boyfriend, another archaeologist, Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) to understand her “faith.”

Having known several archaeologists and anthropologists over the last 15 years or so, I have to say neither Holloway and Shaw are representative of archaeologists. Archaeologists are far more studious, skeptical, and discerning than either Holloway or Shaw conveyed. The media may sensationalize archaeological finds and embellish comments by scientists. In my experience archaeologists don’t assert their personal faith as a hypothesis in the explanation of archaeological finds. Utterly ridiculous and shameful for the writers to even connote such a travesty.

Prometheus offers no gradual reveal of information, no suspenseful build-up to the disclosure of a human-Engineer connection. In contrast, Blade Runner was a fascinating exploration of what makes a human, human. As Deckard questions Rachael we are left to wonder if an artificial lifeform indistinguishable from a human is then human. One of the greatest scenes in all of science fiction cinema is the conversation between Roy Batty and Deckard as Roy sees his life waning.

None of those moments even exist in Prometheus. Not one whit. Prometheus lacks intelligence. The burden of the movie’s lack of wit falls upon the writers. Hollywood writers must believe the U.S. population collectively dropped out of school about the 7th grade, 8th tops.

Don’t expect any interesting discussions such as those found in Blade Runner or Contact, nor any of the philosophical thoughtfulness of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The later is lambasted by people born in the decades beyond the 1980’s. No laser beams, explosions in space, no aliens – sort of. One man versus an IBM mainframe in space, ending in some fantastic dreamlike sequence which results in the rebirth of Man.

Blade Runner, Contact, and 2001: A Space Odyssey all have a single commonality. Each movie was based on phenomenal literature. Philip K Dick, Carl Sagan, and Arthur C Clarke were inspirational writers of science fiction, and in the case of Sagan, a well-respected scientist in his own right. The writers of Prometheus were  lazy, uninspired, and guilty of following their own hubris. The anemic story alone proves my point but I have some other points which support my criticisms.

The spacecraft, Prometheus, decelerates on approach to a moon suspected of being home to the Engineers. We are treated to some information, unfortunately. The moon, LV-223, is 2.67 x 10^14 km away from Earth. No reason to tell the audience the distance because first, the knowledge does not advance the story, and second, people like me will take the information and do something with it, like figure out how far away the moon is.

2.67 x 10^14 km is a little over 28 light-years away.

In the movie, we are told the stars are too far away to be seen with the human eye. My vision sucks but even I can see the stars on Orion’s Belt, in the constellation of Orion. The closest of these three stars is a little over 730 light years away. 28 light-years is so close as to be next door, in cosmological terms.

The Constellation Orion.

Whoever wrote the screenplay must think the audience is stupid. I can almost hear the inner voice, “No one knows how to read scientific notation. I’ll just throw some numbers together and no one will really be paying attention.”

In today’s age, such laziness is inexcusable. Writers must have access to even a local community college in order to ask questions. Even James Cameron, who helped produce this fiasco, could have been a source of information. The writers made no attempt to bring any kind of cosmological spatial sense to the story.

How long did the Prometheus journey to LV-223? Two years, according the story. Two years to travel 28 light-years? In other words,

the Prometheus traveled at 14x’s the speed-of-light.

The spaceship arrives at LV-223 in the year 2093. 2093 is only 71 years in the future. I’m expected to believe the human race has achieved either faster-than-light (FTL) travel methods or some other type of conveyance inside the next 7 decades?

Deceleration in space is also tricky business. If one builds up considerable velocity over distance, when one reaches the destination, the velocity has to be shed. The Prometheus slowed so fast I’m pretty sure even the android would have been converted to mush.

The ship is cool but is more suitable for an orbital craft, not an lander. I found the double-duty implausible, even in the Alien milieu.

The spaceship is too small. I liked the spaceship design. I liked the Prometheus as a science fiction ship. But, the ship is far too small for interstellar travel. I saw no evidence of any source of fuel or propulsion energy. Ion Engines were mentioned. Ion engines are very efficient. Ion engines take a really long time to achieve any type of decent velocity.

In the first movie, Alien, the Nostromo was the parent ship. The crew picked up a distress signal and opted to journey down to the planet’s surface to investigate. Their dispatch ship was not the most aerodynamic of craft but I could buy its flight and descent. The Prometheus cannot be both an interstellar spacecraft and an atmospheric craft, not in 2093. To have enough fuel mass to reach LV-223, Prometheus would have be prohibitively heavy to dive into and navigate an atmosphere. Prometheus should have stayed in orbit, the crew descending in a more suitable landing craft.

Also, by 2093, that pesky force known commonly as “gravity” must be completely understood. None of the characters seemed to be bothered by weightlessness.

After the android, David (Michael Fassbender) activates a sort of holographic projection system, the exploratory team finds decapitated body of an Engineer. Exploring further, a door is opened and the head is found. Upon initial observation, the alien form appears to be exoskeleton. Almost immediately, Shaw states, “oh, this is a helmet.” Again, I would have preferred a more close-up scrutiny of her analysis, rather than a group shot with her crouching and proclaiming “oh, its a helmet! Let’s take it off.” Lame.

Her cavalier approach to “science” is then aped by the other scientists on her team.

If the science team of archaeologists, biologist, and geologist are as incompetent in the real future as Prometheus makes them out to be in the movie, the human race is literally doomed.

The team’s biologist and geologist become separated from the main group during exploration of the underground alien installation. The geologist is literally freaking out – unlike any geologist I have ever known, and I have known many. In the meantime, the biologist notes some things swimming in the icky oily fluid leaking from some containers. He becomes entranced by these little worm-like things squirming in the fluid when a very large worm-like thing rises mere feet from a runnel of goo in front of him. I have known and do know many biologists and while I am putting words in their collective mouths, I feel confident when I say,

Any self-respecting biologist would have tripped their own grandmother to escape something which looks like the love-child of a cobra and a lamprey eel.

See? Have we not learned anything since Elf? You don’t mess with the wildlife!

Instead, the Prometheus biologist gets closer, “oh, aren’t you pretty?” I felt like I was watching Elf, when Buddy the Elf tried to hug the raccoon in Central Park. How dumb do Hollywood writers think the American movie audience is? Animals that seem sweet generally aren’t. We learned that lesson in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Seriously, outside of the fact no ship like the Prometheus could ever exist in 2093, no ship like the Prometheus could have ever been built within the context of the movie’s setting because apparently scientists are all dumb as a bag of hammers. In fact, the android wouldn’t exist, either. According to the writers, in the future no Education Reform ever takes place. Either that or scientists are a dime per dozen in the future and even nitwits can find a role on a science expedition. I don’t buy that, either. The economist in me abhors such a notion. In terms of writing, the writers must have decided to insult as many science disciplines as possible in the making of Prometheus.

And, physicists, astrophysicists, astronomers, chemists, and cosmologists take note: you were not deemed important enough to denigrate. Or, I might also believe the writers simply were not smart enough to figure out a means to insult you, so they simply opted to leave you out.

Why does the captain of a gazillion dollar spacecraft always dress like a homeless person, act like a truck driver, and speak as if they were yanked out of rural Missouri two days ago? The answer to that one is beyond me.

I also wonder why the only weapon in the future is a flame-thrower. I don’t get that. Again, just because Ripley used a flame-thrower doesn’t mean the prequel has to set the stage for all flame-throwers. Why are flame-throwers even on a scientific expedition? And its the first handy weapon? Why not an arc welder, or a laser welder? I can see much more utility in a laser welder as a weapon, or a plasma welder, especially on a spaceship. Of course, the movie would be watching the crew turn the Container Room into a bunch of briquettes – The End, no sequel to the pre-sequel because we just turned the Queen Alien and her hatchlings into alien jerky and pot roast.

I was not amazed at the scene where Dr. Shaw “proves” human lineage to the Engineers via common DNA samples. I need more than “see their DNA predates our DNA” and then a little screen shows the overlap. Scott and the screenwriters never used any nuance, merely “here, aliens visited Earth; here, they live in this 5-planet system; here, they are related to us.”

Prometheus is no science fiction detective story trying to feel out humans relationship with the stars, or our own humanity, or how we came to be who we are. No events unfold in which the characters discover as the audience does how these pieces come together. The movie is almost like a set of video flash cards, arranged in order, which push the plot at the audience. Yuck.

And somehow, Dr. Shaw figures out the Engineer site on the moon isn’t really their homeworld, but a military installation. And, somehow she is able to figure out something went wrong at the installation. How she came to understand these details is unclear to me. No facts are laid out, no observations made, no analysis, no interpretation.

“Oh, this is not their homeworld”

“Oh, this is a military installation.”

“Oh, something bad happened here and something got out.”

“Oh, they had their own weapons of mass destruction, too.”

Yes, I saw the piles of Engineer bodies. Yet, nothing suggested to me the Engineers installation was military. No military weapons, no military equipment or hardware, the holographic Engineers did not appear to defer to anyone. Nothing David was able to interpret could have led anyone to that conclusion. In fact, of all the characters, David’s was hardly useful. The wall were covered in glyphs which he could understand to some degree. He was able to operate the Planetarium Room (which was cool, I admit). Of all the characters, David’s character could have contributed significantly to the understanding of the installation and the Engineers, yet the writers must not have thought his use towards exposition appropriate.

The character of Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) was pointless. Her character rightly died at the end, as any character who runs with the danger should. I’ll never understand why directors, writers, whoever, has characters run in the same path as the danger. Dumb. I’m tired of seeing characters behave this way. If a giant rock rolls down a mountain and heads toward you, you deserve to be crushed and killed by said rock if you run downhill along the same vector as the rock. A smart person would dodge to the left of right allowing the rock to pass harmlessly. Hell, a reasonable intelligent person would dodge. In fact, any person beyond 4th grade would dodge, as we have been taught in games of Tag and Dodge Ball and Football and Basketball and in any other activity where getting away from an opponent is necessary. Except in the movies, where

everyone either runs to the danger or momentarily runs in front of the danger until the danger catches them and crushes them like a bug.

Finally, the movie insults James Cameron, Richard Branson, Elon Musk and any other wealthy entrepreneur who might want to finance a space expedition. Scott has the penchant for using really old men as maleficent benefactors. Consider Tyrell from Blade Runner. Old. In Prometheus, Weyland looks like he is 150 years old. Again, I argue, we will never be able to live as long in the context of the Prometheus universe simply because the scientists as created by the screenwriters are morons. Though, who built Prometheus? Probably the Japanese or Chinese or Indians or Germans, as the Prometheus expedition was obviously crewed by Americans. No international folks on-board. Well, except for the crazy Scottish geologist. But, he was probably educated in the U.S. so my argument still stands.

In the future, China, Germany, Japan, and India build spacecraft for the U.S. to crew. According to R. Scott and his staff of writers, American scientists will be too stupid to build one for ourselves. The aforementioned countries will be all too happy to build the US as many spaceships as we need so we can ship ourselves into deep space, where we will end up as part of an alien version of Iron Chef as the secret ingredient.

Why do the scientific benefactors have to be crazy old guys? Why not a Richard Branson-type, or a Mark Zuckerberg-type, or a Elon Musk-type? Young, adventuresome, wealthy and with other wealthy friends. The crazy old coot played by John Hurt in Contact is another fine example of a wealthy benefactor who has lost all his grapes. How come the mission to LV-223 wasn’t sponsored by Apple? Now, that would have been a sexy spaceship and undeniably simply to navigate as long as you didn’t need to tweak anything.

I’m at the end of my rant. I think I am perhaps one of 5-6 people who found Prometheus insulting and insipid and boring. I also admit that after all of the science reading I have enjoyed over the last couple of years any science-based movie is going to have to work extremely hard to overcome my personal distaste for playing fast-and-loose with science. Also, as I also read philosophies of science and stellar creation I find any superficial smattering of ideas appalling.

I fully wanted and expected Prometheus to be thought-provoking, curious, challenging, and of the depth I’m accustomed to from Ridley Scott. He has done some great work; Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, American Gangster to name a few, besides Blade Runner. As director and co-producer, Scott has to be blamed despite the fact he did not write the screenplay. But, the writing, dialogue, action was wretched.

One thought on “Movie Review: Prometheus

  1. Prometheus was not a science fiction movie, and it was not a science fiction horror movie. it was a shit written slasher flick and an insult to anyone hoping for an intelligent movie. ughh, just thinking about that steaming pile of crap makes me want to cry. Mr. Scott, this could have been so incredible! it had so much potential! why did you have to add this piece of warm crunchy cat vomit to the Alien family?

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