There I said it.
By now, Internet reader, you’ve read a metric butt load about Prometheus. On this site alone, there have been reviews and essays about the film and I’m sure at least five of your social media friends have linked this article sometime this week. There have been unfunny videos, back and forth discussions, theories, allegories and more, so I decided to throw in my two cents on the film for this week’s column.
I’ll start off by saying that I am a big fan of the first two Alien movies. I’m not really going to write about the second two movies or the AVP series, not because I think they’re necessarily bad movies, but I don’t think that they’re as good as either Alien or Aliens. If Prometheus had been reworked as a film separate of the Alien canon, I would be calling it Ridley’s third sci-fi masterpiece. However, when I compare the latest film to the first two, I do not think they are all alike.
I always describe Alien as a horror movie, a haunted house in space. To me, that’s the simplest way to explain the movie to someone who hasn’t seen it, and believe it or not, there are a lot of people who haven’t. The movie was about who would survive and since Sigourney Weaver was not a star when the film was made, you weren’t really sure who would live. We barely saw the titular alien, although the movie cleverly misdirected us with both the face hugger and the chest burster, showing us the first two stages of the alien’s development before it became a seven foot killing machine. The movie is horrifying, brilliant and an inarguable classic.
Aliens kicks it up a notch, by being one of the best sequels ever made, BECAUSE of how different it is from the original. James Cameron basically invents the standard sequel blueprint, by giving you more about what you loved form the first movie. More aliens, more action, more of Ripley kicking monster butt in her undies. It’s my personal favorite of all the movies, and maybe one of my favorites of all time. I have been in love with Sigourney Weaver since I was a young boy and I’ve always looked up to Hicks, Vasquez and Hudson, especially when I was in the actual Marines. I made the argument earlier this week, that while Alien might be a better technical picture, Aliens is more fun, with better characters, a faster pace and sort of a happy ending. Most people remember the chest burster from the first movie, but everybody remembers the queen alien, Bishop’s knife trick, Newt, ‘game over, man!‘ the flamethrower in the alien nest and of course, well, you know how it goes.
So what was my problem with Prometheus? Basically, that it was a movie unlike the other two. That might not always be a bad thing, but in this case, it tried to be unlike them in so many different ways. It was way too light on both action and aliens, clearly distancing itself from the Cameron film. Neither the creatures nor the engineers were stalking and murdering the characters like the first film, instead the creatures only attacked when provoked, even if it was by the slightest human contact. They kept the creatures, if not entirely off the ship, they away from most of the crew. If the first one was a horror movie, the second an action film, then this one could have been a indie film that spent all it’s budget on a green screen.
No, the movie that is most closely linked to Prometheus is probably Blade Runner. If you ever read my old blog, then you would know that I am a devotee of Blade Runner as well. By the third act of Prometheus, as I was wondering who was winning the basketball game I was missing, but before I started thinking about where to get a stiff drink later, I thought about how this movie is less about the characters or the plot than the basic ideas or themes that the film is trying to get across. Like Blade Runner, there are questions of where did we come from? What does it mean to be human? Symbolism and striking visuals abound, but the movie is more about a feel than a story. Clearly, I believe that Blade Runner expressed these thoughts much more eloquently and succinctly than Prometheus, which kind of hits you over the head with crucifix pendants, benevolent angels of life and death, self sacrifice and an odd Oedipal subplot. The story takes a backseat to these ideas that are presented, yet not really paid off in the movie, as the characters move past horrifying event after horrifying event in pursuit of their own personal agendas. And in case some of those agendas were unclear to you, don’t worry, everyone was else was just as confused too. I like to think of myself as a pretty smart guy who can see simple stories unfolding in front of him, but the motivations of these characters baffled me.
In Prometheus, most of the characters are highly intelligent people. Biologists, geologists, archeologists, so on and so forth. Where in the previous movies, the leads were relatable working class stiffs or jarhead Marine grunts, these geniuses confuse the hell out of me by taking off their helmets on an undiscovered planet and talking baby talk to an ALIEN COBRA like it’s a damn puppy! These unbelievable actions taken by the crew of the ship and the scientists onboard bothered me almost as much as anything else. Why would they stumble through this long script of idiotic and inexplicable decisions without rhyme or reason? Nobody noticed a woman had just given herself a C-section? The guy making the maps is the same guy that gets lost? The engineer murders an old man, an innocent woman and a robot and Dragon Tattoo STILL wants some answers? What answer could she find? Obviously, Patrick Wilson did not live long enough in her flashbacks to tell the sixteen year old, gothic, trouble making girl, “I brought you into this world, I can take you out.” It honestly seemed that simple to mean. It did not matter how much DNA we shared, if somebody MADE me, I’m fairly confident they would have a way to un-make me as well. For trying so hard to be unlike the first film, it falls quickly into more horror movie cliches than that stupid Sunshine.
Unfortunately, nobody could un-make this movie. But, having got the opportunity to speak with Ridley Scott once, (you need to click on the link above. Oh heck, here it is again.), I know that he made the movie that he had long been wanting to make. Perhaps it will become another Blade Runner for him. It’s got everything it needs, a commanding central performance from the non-human antagonist, amazing visual spectacle and a generously ambiguous ending that already has people dissecting it, wondering what it all means. I just hope there are five versions of it, because I could barely make it through the first one.