Updated: May 1
I've always liked Ridley Scott's film Prometheus (2012), but what I like about it is the mythos—the film itself is terrible. So if I watch it—watch its sequel, Covenant—it's for the ambience not for the plot. The film is really about the Nephilim—the giants of old, the Titans, the fathers of the heroes (the Aryans) who mixed their blood with mortal women and are now said to reside beneath the earth in Agartha and Shambala (or perhaps they returned to the stars).
In the Prometheus arc, these giants are reconceptualised as an ancient alien race, "the Engineers", who genetically-engineered man—and will, by proxy, eventually be responsible for the creation of the alien Xenomorph, as depicted in Alien (1979).
When Prometheus first came out, I said to a friend that I wanted to write an article about everything that is wrong with Prometheus—perhaps in the spirit of the Red Letter Media series on the prequels Lucas made for Star Wars. It took me over a decade to do so, but that time has finally come. It must be said that Prometheus suffers from the same fault as the Star Wars prequels—it destroys all the charm found in the original films, and suffers from terrible plot and character development.
The errors start from the moment film opens: we see the Engineers on a primitive Earth—an Engineer drinks an obsidian black brew from a stone cup. His body dissolves and, as he falls into a waterfall, the ship that brought him to Earth pulls away into the sky. This Promethean sacrifice is how life began on earth—the Engineer’s mutated DNA mixed with our natural environment and eventually begat man (whom the Engineers, per cave paintings, check up on from time to time).
This first scene is an error because it “shows the monster”. The original Alien film, by contrast, didn’t show the monster until a third of the way into the film—and even then it was a quasi-embryo freshly exploded from a chest. The adult monster lurked in the shadows for many more minutes. The imagination is better than any special effects or CGI, even today—so don’t show us the monster. Preserve the mystery, preserve the terror.
Yet, as with Lucas and Star Wars, Scott has lost all his previous skill—he’s gone flabby. So in the very first shot we’re shown the Engineers—the film’s whole mystery has been blown in the opening minutes. However good CGI gets, it’s still CGI—it’s still banal to see. Yet we’ve seen it now…so boredom already sets in. We know there are some aliens, we know what they look like, we know they are responsible for life on earth—we even see their DNA split and recombine interspersed with the opening credits.
Just imagine another film that held back what the Engineers looked like for a third of the running time, until the crew found the ship piloted by the Engineers (as happens later in this film)—and only hinted that they were responsible for life on Earth in the film’s last minutes (possible cliffhanger). That would generate genuine mystery and excitement—but instead, no, everything has been revealed in the first few minutes. No suspense, no drama—just CGI toys that look fake.
I’m a big fan of Rope (1949), Rear Window (1954), and Apollo 13 (1995) because all these involve stories told in confined spaces—a single flat, a single flat and the yard outside, and a spacecraft (plus mission control). Constraint always improves—whether in genetics or storytelling. Ridley Scott knew that in the original Alien film—it’s set in a single spacecraft and the crew has to crawl through claustrophobic tunnels.
Yet by the time he made Prometheus he’d become flabby—there’s no concision to the story, and it’s evident right out the gates. Remember: CGI, great actors, and great locations are worth null without a story (without mystery, drama, and suspense—without realistic motivations for characters, even in fantasy settings). That’s why Rope is great—two students murder a friend to become Nietzschean overmen and hide his body in a chest in their apartment; then they have a dinner party (invite the victim’s parents) and serve the food off his grave—will Jimmy Stewart, their Nietzsche-loving prep-school master, sniff them out? CGI not required.
Back to Prometheus, in the next scene we’re introduced to the main protagonist—Dr. Elizabeth Shaw—and her thug-like boyfriend (also PhD) Charlie Holloway. The Alien franchise has always been feminist, with Ripley in the original film as a kick-ass girl who fights a giant penis (the alien Xenomorph) that wants to rape her. So here the theme is continued. Shaw, an archaeologist, burrows into a Scottish cave and finds a mural that features the Engineers pointing to the stars.
“I think they want us to come and find them,” says Shaw, as she shines a torch on a cave painting of an Engineer pointing to the stars surrounded by some primitive men-children. How much more effective this would have been if it were the first scene, with the Engineers just stick men on a cave wall—completely mysterious (so giving us reason to pay attention—but we just saw the CGI giant in the previous scene, so who cares; we know what they are).
So we’re off. Next scene: deep space, the vessel Prometheus—the allusion is too heavy-handed, in my view; for anyone familiar with the myth, to have already seen a Titan die and then have the ship that searches for the Titans be called Prometheus is just too on the nose—it’s too obvious. In Alien, the ship was called Nostromo, but that was just a poetic nod to Conrad—it wasn’t like the film was an adaptation of a Conrad novel; it just hinted, very subtly, at a Conradian adventure—to the heart of darkness.
Again, in his dotage Scott has lost any ability to be subtle—everything is telegraphed at you: PROMETHEUS, the vessel PROMETHEUS in a film about PROMETHEAN giants (the film itself being called PROMETHEUS). “Er, do you think the audience will understand that this film has Promethean themes, Ridley—or should we make it a bit more obvious?”
Now we’re introduced to the best character in the film—the character with the most life and who seems most like a human being. In accord with our contemporary reality that character is a robot—the android “David”, as portrayed with Aryan iciness by Michael Fassbender. In a shot that establishes David’s relationship with Shaw throughout the film, we see him use a VR headset to perv on Shaw’s dreams (Shaw is in hypersleep with the rest of the crew).
In dreamland, Shaw is back in Africa with her missionary (archeologist?) father (it runs in the family, you see—she’s *that* character archetype, the hereditary genius). A native funeral passes them by and the young Shaw asks her father if they need their help. “They don’t need our help,” her father replies, brusquely. This is an allusion to the film’s whole thrust: the relationship between creator and created—we’ve already seen it with the android David, named after Michelangelo’s “David”. Here Shaw and her father are akin to “the Engineers”—a superior species, Westerners in Africa. Should they help the “lower race” (akin to mankind in relation to the Engineers)?—Shaw’s father says “no”. What will our “fathers”, the Engineers, say when we request their help?
There then follows a cod discussion about religion—this is a theme in both Prometheus and Covenant, with allusions to Christianity made throughout. The problem is that whoever wrote the script doesn’t understand Christianity or religion and so the whole theme never “sits right” or fits into the story properly. This is the first time it crops up. Shaw and papa discuss where people go when they die. Shaw’s father is quasi-agnostic, it seems “people have different names for it, everyone has a place”.
Little Shaw then references “like mummy”? “Like mummy,” affirms papa. This is another plot error. We’re told Shaw’s mother died, she was brought up by her father—you might think “foreshadowing, this will be a major facet of her character”; and yet it’s never developed (in fact, we later learn her father died in Africa too). It’s just in there to be “significant” in some vague way—a competent screenwriter would have made this an essential point in the plot, but it goes nowhere. It’s the same as the Christian theme—it’s in there to be “significant” and “metaphysical” but there’s no clear idea as to how it relates to the story. It serves no narrative purpose—it’s just there to be “deep” and “significant’. It’s actually mess. Take it out, Ridley! Kill those darlings!
In fact, the whole scene between papa Shaw and little Shaw is badly written. The characters approach the issue of her mother’s death in a clunky and unrealistic way—people just don’t talk about a parent’s death that way; and little Shaw brings it up too late in the conversation, it’s almost the last thing she says—surely, the first thing she would mention when she saw the African funeral would be “that’s like mummy”. Instead, she says a whole load of other things before she suddenly “remembers” that the funeral party is “like when mummy died”.
She’s meant to be about eight or ten—for a child who lost a parent at that age that would be *the* major event in their life. When she saw a funeral, even an African funeral, the first thing she would say is “like when mummy died”—she might even start to cry. These characters are not human (unlike David).
Then we move into some quality storytelling. We’re introduced to David’s character not through clunky exposition but by showing the audience what he’s like. So we see him watching Lawrence of Arabia (TE Lawrence being another gay Aryan android) and we see him playing basketball and we see him learning Sanskrit from a robo-Hindu teacher. We see him copying Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence down to pronunciation and hairstyle (he has his hair slicked with hair product post-shower, it’s very gay)—so we have the creator-created theme again, the android copies his creators with pitch-perfection (should we copy the Engineers—did we already?).
This is fantastic because it’s “show not tell”. There’s nobody who comes on and says, “David’s a cold fish. He’s autistic.” It’s all shown to us and we’re allowed to work out the character’s nature by ourselves without Basil Exposition to appear to tell us what he’s like—interestingly, David is a rare reoccurrence in the modern world, in the otherwise politically-correct Alien universe, of the once-common “sinister queer killer with daddy issues” (see also, Rope—that generally was what a gay character “was” in Hollywood for decades). The secondary villain in Prometheus is gay—though sometimes it’s ambiguous as to whether he really is “the bad guy”.
So we know that David is a bit anal—he’s prissy, he likes Lawrence (gay—as an android David is also sterile; and perhaps that’s significant, he’s like C-3PO—prissy, but he’s not comic relief). There’s a sado-masochistic element to Lawrence (does David like to torture things?); and, of course, Lawrence is the great outsider—just like David is an outsider among the humans, whom he imitates like Lawrence imitated the Arabs.
We’ve arrived! Yes—lights flash and the ship’s computer announces “destination threshold”. David springs into action—calmly—and opens the ship’s blast screens. Unfortunately, after the great introduction for David we’re about to go down hill again. Yes, we see some wet footprints on the floor and shortly find a bedraggled Charlize Theron doing press-ups in a towel. Now, in case you didn’t know, Charlize Theron is evil—you can tell because she’s a white South African, so she’s about the evilest type of person in the world, no?
“Robe!” she calls to David, as if he’s her negro house boy under high apartheid. We’ve already seen David is a refined homosexual man who speaks Sanskrit and watches classic British cinema—and now, just because he’s an android (nigger), he’s being ordered round by a…Charlize Theron. “Any casualties?” Vickers snaps (that’s the character’s name). David replies in the negative—it’s an allusion to what’s to come, but also to Shaw’s death dream. “Well wake ’em up,” snaps the apartheid bitch.
Now we see Shaw as she vomits her guts out, as she emerges from hypersleep—David holds her, nurtures her. In contrast to the relationship we just saw, David is in charge as a benevolent protector to Shaw—he gently reassures her. Meanwhile, over the way, Shaw’s actual partner, a PhD who looks and talks like Andrew Tate, says, “We’re here, baby,” and grins a goofy smile. What an idiot—a girl would do better to rely on her gay android (“Preach, sister!”).
Now we’re into “I’m putting together a team”—we’re in the ship’s galley and everyone is milling around. The captain, who is black, is putting up a Christmas tree (it’s meant to be Christmas, we’re meant to care *symbolic*—the point is never developed, no one cares it’s Christmas). Theron sneers at him but he sasses her. Later, they will fuck—this is an attempt to establish sexual tension to prepare for black on blonde action where the apartheid bitch gets screwed by a nigger; sorry to spell it out out, but this is what they’re getting at (have you seen the South African flag btw, the African national colours are penetrating the Dutch colours?).
It doesn’t work because Theron’s character is not a real woman, and the captain is just there to be a black man in a position of power—he’s not a real character (he’s vaguely meant to be “the old salt”, but he never manages to pull it off). There’s no sexual tension here, just a woman snapping at a man because she’s “a corporate hard-ass” (except only men are hard-asses—she’s not a real bitch even, it’s just they’ve written a male character in a female body). Remember: the only human character in this film is the android.
We get a little flavour of the crew—a goofy American biologist (who will die) tries to shake hands with an aggressive working-class Englishman (he will also die) who snarls “I ain’t here to be your friend, I’m here to make money”. As it turns out, these guys are meant to be the comic relief—but they’re never funny. Anyway, we’re meant to think this is a mercenary crew—it’s not realistic dialogue, people don’t actually say “I’m here to make money” when that’s their motivation, humans aren’t even motivated by money really. It’s exposition, it’s clumsy—we could have seen him anxiously checking his account balance and then hiding the screen if money is his motivation, we don’t. It’s another dud scene.
Now we’re into briefing: Meredith Vickers (Theron) is there to “make sure you do your job” (unrealistic, nobody talks like that but her character is just a caricature of evil, being a white South African who works for a corporation in a senior position, so who cares)—we’ve had some back-chat about this being “a corporate run, they don’t tell us shit” (unrealistic btw—it’s the military that doesn’t “tell you shit”, corporations don’t really have “above top secret” as their main characteristic; so unrealistic conceit there—corporations “cut corners”, they’re not secretive, not as their main characteristic).
This is an attempt to recapture the “blue-collar” aspect to the original Alien—truckers in space, the AFL-CIO in space, the Teamsters in space (elevator pitch: it’s the Teamsters versus a killer alien from the outer void—“I love it, print the contracts”). But, you know, it’s 2012 not 1979—the world has moved on and the screenwriter has never met a “plain blue-collar joe”, if such things still exist, in his life. This is just pro-forma—a pale imitation of the original (there’s an Asian guy there as well; just so you know it’s the future, and there are working-class Asian guys on this ship—“how strange and other-worldly”). In fact, this ship, contra the old hulk in the original film, is sleek and new—perhaps it should be crewed, realistically, by a sleek professional crew?
We now have a video presentation from the head of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation (long-dead, may I rest in peace—again, fathers and funerals). Weyland—for it is he, founder of the corporation and the grand fromage himself—introduces David, notes that he doesn’t have a soul despite his perfection. This is, once again, an unintentional ironic joke—the only genuine character in the film is described as “soulless”; if only it were a deliberate joke, but it isn’t so.
We get more exposition from Holloway—Shaw’s bf. We hear about the Engineers—we’re here to find them, they left traces on Earth (Chariots of the Gods). So duh-de-duh-de-duh. There’s no realistic response to the news they’ve just arrived by a planet that may contain the aliens that created us. “So you’re telling us we’re here because of a map you kids found in a cave?” says the mercenary crewman. You know, even the most hard-bitten roughneck might be a bit excited at the news “aliens created man, we’ve just arrived outside their homeworld”—but the screenwriters can’t do real humans, so there’s just cynical snark “meh, whatever”.
“So you’re discounting three centuries of Darwinism?” pipes up a crewman. “How do you know?”. Shaw then says, as the music swells sonorously, “I don’t…but it’s what I choose to believe”. This is meant to tie into the Christian themes in the film, the fact she wears a cross necklace. Yet it just sounds pretentious and ridiculous. Actually, she has some quite good reasons to think the Engineers created us based on her archeological work—which has convinced a massive corporation to fund this entire multi-billion dollar inter-planetary jaunt (and presumably not just because she said, “I don’t know, it’s what I choose to believe”). So her statement makes no sense as regards the narrative and motivation of the characters—it’s just there to “look metaphysical”.
We cut into Ms. Vickers’s private quarters—it turns out she lives in luxury and that the entire apartment is an escape capsule (evil corporation, evil white South African). It even has its own private surgical robot—Shaw is fascinated by it, accidentally touches the control panel and activates the program. This is foreshadowing—and it’s nicely done, Vickers warns the dirty urchin Shaw to get her mitts off the expensive kit.
This is more “Vickers is a hardass and a coward”. She likes to “minimise risk” (i.e. she’s a coward—except it doesn’t make sense to paint a woman as a coward, but the character is transgender de facto; it’s a woman who acts like a man)—she’s pretty Charlize Theron, not the decadent brat-son of a tycoon, so we don’t begrudge her the luxury and the escape pod (we don’t think she deserves her eventual “just deserts”, because we want to protect pretty girls). She’s a racist, of course—she dismisses Shaw’s Engineers as “the scribbling of dirty little savages living in caves”. Then why are you here on this huge expedition? Again, she is a white South African—they say these things, they’re evil, they’re ignorant, they don’t understand native wisdom, they can’t help themselves (but they should—but they can’t, being evil).
We then get some asinine dialogue from Andrew Tate (Holloway): “Er, Ms. Vickers, is there a hidden agenda you’re not telling us about?” Um, Sherlock, why would you ask someone—some top-flight corporate Machiavel—if they have a hidden agenda? Do you think they might just, um, lie? Except the screenwriters are idiots, so Vickers just begins an exposition about the fact Holloway is a “an employee” and we’re not following “your agenda”. The problem with this speech is that there is a secret agenda—Weyland is alive and on board—but it doesn’t in any way conflict with what Holloway and Shaw want to do. Weyland wants to find the Engineers, Holloway and Shaw want to find the Engineers—and they want to know about the same things from them.
This is just sloppy plotting. The “bad guys” want the same thing as “the good guys”, but Vickers talks in a slightly sinister and demeaning way and so they’re “bad”. It wrecks the plot because there’s no real conflict between the human antagonists—they want the same thing (to talk to the Engineers) and there’s no reason they can’t both access that thing in a mutually beneficial way, but the screenwriter just has them say “we want different things” (in a sinister way) ?????????.
We have some vague allusion to the fact Weyland wanted a “true believer” on board—Shaw. Again, this is an attempt to rope the Christian theme in (even though Holloway is also described as a “believer”). Yet it has nothing to do with Shaw’s religion—the existence of the Engineers contradicts Shaw’s faith in many ways, yet she is the one who believes in them the most. It would have been more sensible, from a dramatic viewpoint, to have a sincere Christian crew member who questions Shaw’s belief in the Engineers and then is driven mad when he sees them because his faith is destroyed. Instead, we have this weird aspect to Shaw’s character—she believes in the Engineers, discovered them, but she’s a Christian too but she’s not very conflicted or worried about that so…I mean, if you were an actual human, wouldn’t that worry you a bit—this massive contradiction of your faith ???? (David is the only real character in the film, remember).
We get a bit more “racism” directed at David—Holloway demeans the fact he’s mastered all the ancient languages of the Earth (just like a black woman, the android David is a “hidden figure” behind it all—people don’t appreciate him). Holloway—Andrew Tate—is a complete prick btw. It’s to do with the film’s feminist message: Shaw’s partner is an arrogant twat—ultimately, the only male she can only rely on is the gay android (who is classy and tidy—if homicidal).
When we reach the planet surface, the sensible black captain says to wait until morning because there’s only 6 hours of light left, yet Andrew Tate can’t wait (what a prick!) and barrels off to investigate the Engineer ship they’ve just found. This makes no sense. This is an intricate expedition planned over years and years—you would not just turn up and charge off to investigate the alien civilisation with “hours of daylight remaining”. It’s sloppy—people do not act that way, organisations do not act that way. There is no realism in this film. “Boy, you’re coming with us!” Tate snaps at David—it’s a good job Shaw won’t have to put up with her racist asshole of a bf much longer, tho.
We then have a pointless piece of dialogue where a crew member identifies himself as “mission security” and waves his big gun at Shaw. “This is a scientific expedition, no weapons,” she says (nobly). “Good luck with that,” he says. There’s no realism here. In real organisations you know who you can order to do things (apparently Shaw can’t issue orders, *employee* Theron just said, so the gun stays; or, rather, it sounds like it stays from the way the actor says the line—but why does Shaw think she can issue orders, anyway?).
Further, really, even if you were a Quaker, wouldn’t you want at least one armed person along before you waded into an artefact from an unknown alien race that had the power to create a whole species? Shaw isn’t a pacifist, she kills things in this film—so what was that dialogue about? Was she not briefed as to how this multi-billion dollar mission would run? Again, the dialogue is just there to make us think Shaw is a “good” person (she’s for science—and that’s good; but she’s also some kind of Christian, who chooses to believe giant Aryan space aliens created us; in other words, she’s a mess—not a real character, not a real person, just a bundle of ideas for a character).
We get into the Engineer ship—autonomous drones “pups” are released to map the ship. This part is all fine—we see organic Giger-style architecture, it’s creepy and atmospheric. There’s minimal dialogue to ruin it. This is atmospheric and effective. We discover that the atmosphere in the ship is breathable—Holloway, being your obnoxious boyfriend, decides to rip his helmet off (again, totally unrealistic—an expedition such as this one would have insanely anal protocols to prevent biological contamination). However, Shaw’s bf is a dick: “Don’t be a skeptic,” he intones, like Alex Jones or some anti-vaxxer, and whips off his helmet. We have a dichotomy here: dickhead racist (against androids—especially gay androids) bf who doesn’t respect “the science” (like Shaw “it’s a scientific expedition”) and ridicules “skeptics”. Yet he is himself a scientist, so again this doesn’t make sense…
We fall into mystery again—ructions begin, holographic giants charge about the place. They pass right through David—perhaps to foreshadow his connection with the Engineers. “We didn’t bring any weapons, whose idea was that?” complains a hapless grunt. Yet, from his intonation, the security officer earlier sounded like he was bringing his gun anyway—this is sloppy work from the director. The actor used the wrong intonation, he sounded cocky when Shaw told him not to bring a gun—like he would ignore her. Yet he obeyed her. Again, the characters don’t act like real people—and the dialogue now blames Shaw for their predicament, yet a moment ago she was “good” because it’s “strictly a scientific expedition”. Which is it? Is Shaw noble for not wanting to bring guns, or stupid because she put everyone at risk?
The problem is that the script doesn’t really know what it’s trying to do—it doesn’t know what motivates the characters, the characters are just mélanges of tropes from other films with no idea how these characters make a coherent whole (the archetype of the “inherited genius”—but why? And what’s any of this about? Is she a Christian or not? Or does she believe in science? What does anyone here want, anyway?). All we know for sure is that her bf is a dick.
We encounter a pile of dead Engineers. The character who was previously “only in it for the money” announces that he’s “just a geologist”; it’s unrealistic, again—how many geologists are “just in it for the money”? Geology, that notoriously profitable career for latter-day mercenaries, not awkward men with beards who like to take a thermos up the Pennines…Perhaps if the security officer was a cowardly mercenary…(never mind).
We see some atrocious acting where the actor just reiterates the point really loudly, “I’m here for the geology, not the gigantic dead bodies, BUT SINCE WE SEEM TO BE SURROUNDED BY GIGANTIC DEAD BODIES.” Why does he shout? Because he’s acting like a narcissistic hysterical person in the audience would react to the film—not what’s in the film, but to the film. “OMG it’s just DEAD ENGINEERS EVERYWHERE. And I was, like, I CANNOT TAKE THIS.” It’s Reddit talk. In reality, if you saw gigantic dead alien bodies in a spaceship you would be filled with fear—yes—but also curiosity. People who feel fear don’t SHOUT ABOUT WHAT THEY CAN SEE, because they’re afraid to attract attention. So the character reaction is completely unrealistic, he’s an audience surrogate for the people who will go on Reddit afterwards and say, “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE GIGANTIC DEAD ENGINEERS. OMG. I AM TOTALLY HERE FOR THE ALIENS.” This is a feedback loop, the character makes it worse as the audience begets the character in the screenwriter’s mind (so relatable).
We go back to mystery—the mercenary nerds have fled, our main protagonists uncover alien vases (that contain, as it happens, a potent biological weapon). Along the way, they pick up an alien head. This has some esoteric associations—ancient pagans and alchemists used to make heads to talk to. Now Ridley Scott’s characters have an alien head to talk to. A storm comes in, a silica storm that can shred their spacesuits—so we’re in a race against time now to get home. Vickers, like the haughty bitch she is, will seal the door in 15 minutes—again, she has no motivation to do so; she’s just evil for no reason—there’s not even a scheme she’s running that requires it.
We return to the ship—but the cowards who fled, the comedy duo, got left behind. Turns out they have to stay in the alien ship (irony). There’s some frankly sadistic and cruel humour at their expense—allusions to buggery that aren’t funny. We get some exposition around the head—the head is defrosted and explodes after a brief reanimation. “Mortal after all,” observes David, laconically (you burn, bitch!). David poisons Holloway with the alien bio-weapon—a triumph for fag hags and their gay bff everywhere. David takes the opportunity to cut the humans down to size as he does so: Holloway speculates on why the Engineers created the humans and David asks, “Why did you create me?” “Because we could.” We receive the existentialist answer to mankind’s existence: “We exist because we exist.” Absurd.
Genetic tests are run and it’s proved that “we came from the Engineers”. Holloway “owns” Shaw—suddenly she’s a believing Christian again. “They made us,” says an exultant Holloway, “And who made them?” retorts Shaw. Then we get into a question about the creation of life—and the script goes wonky again. Shaw is sterile—she can’t have children. If there was proper characterisation in this film, it would have been useful to know that much earlier—her sterile state is surely a major character facet that should be revealed so as to foreshadow her other actions. Yet here it’s just “one of those things” thrown in out of the blue. It’s meant to work alongside David’s “life creation”—he just poisoned Holloway so he’ll be “pregnant” with alien life; it works in parallel but it comes from nowhere—it’s wasted, it doesn’t tell us anything about Shaw’s motivation (does she want the Engineers to cure her sterility like Weyland, as we shall see, wants them to make him immortal?).
As with a lot of modern films, there are just “things” about characters—things “just happen” to them. Information is thrown in out of nowhere: there’s no motivation, no foreshadowing—just “oh btw I’m sterile”, no biggy, couldn’t possibly be a motivational factor in my quest for the beings that created the human race. So there’s no dramatic impetus.
We then have a bizarre flirtation between the black Captain and Vickers which has no sex appeal whatsoever. Outside, the storm rages and two crew members are still stranded in an alien hellhole (described as “like a holocaust painting”—er, what art genre is that? How many “holocaust paintings” have you ever seen? Does the screenwriter live in reality? They mean “holocaust” in its old sense, as in Dante’s Inferno—even so, it’s hardly a genre; or, if it is, it’s not easily recognisably and most audience members will think it refers to Hitler—it’s a peculiar archaism, and I suspect Scott is responsible for it; it’s quaint and English).
So Vickers and the captain have this brusque interchange that bears no relation to how any humans have ever flirted anywhere ever (in space or interracially)—there’s not even an attempt to capitalise on the racial role-reversal power-dynamics that are presumably meant to be part of why these characters exist (I suspect that to foreground that—the mistress sleeping with the slave; yeah I think I watched that porno DVD once, was it Big Bucks of Monticello Vol. 3?—would be too much for the film to take, so they extinguish it; it’s just too far for mainstream box office fare). At the end, Vickers just orders the captain to service her in her quarters “in ten minutes”—curt, professional, and “realistic” (she acts like a man, of course—because her character is meant to be a man really).
Back in the alien ship, the comedy relief—who aren’t actually funny—are attacked by a small translucent penis (that they perversely misidentify as female—or perhaps that’s just their Laurel and Hardy act; extremely dumb, despite being scientists). At this point, people are being eaten—everything has gone wrong but all hell has yet to be unleashed. Holloway wakes up, washes his face and realises there’s a wriggly worm in his eye. That’s what happens to asshole boyfriends who are racist to androids and take their helmets off in alien spaceships when their girlfriend told them not to.
The storm has abated, so a rescue mission begins. Meanwhile, David has donned a VR headset and speaks to a hidden “master” (earlier Vickers has been interrogating him about what “he” wants—“Try harder,” comes the reply; totally hardass, these corporate types). At this point, we’re into a lot of running about and shouting and black bile spewing out of people. There’s nothing wrong with it as such, but what’s missing here? What was great about the film Alien? Suspense. One crew member gets sick and then, shockingly, an alien bursts out of his chest and disappears into the air vents. Then people have to crawl around in the dark to find this unknown “thing”. Very suspenseful, terrifying.
There’s no suspense here. There’s a lot of shouts and hullabaloo and “OMG get it off me!”, but there’s no suspense. It’s all out in the open, pretty much. The score is loud and fast—there’s no gentle development, no subtlety. There’s no slow uncovering of the parallel corporate plot—in Alien the corporation wanted to get their hands on the Xenomorph as a weapon, the crew were pawns and only the android was in on it. There’s an attempt to replicate that here, but it’s all explained too quickly—in the original, Ripley had to do some detective work with the ship’s computer Mother (very Freudian, right?) to work out what the plan was. Here, Shaw doesn’t have to do anything—the corporate plot just unveils itself. That leaves more time to run around shouting…
It doesn’t interest to watch people running around screaming “OMG get it off me!”. It’s dull. It’s acceptable after they’ve crept round in the dark for five minutes and then something jumps out at them. That’s not the case here. There’s just HECKIN’ THINGS HAPPENING, with no real relation to a wider plot.
While the humans are being killed, David turns on the central control room in the Engineer ship—we see a planetarium, we see the Engineers at the controls in a holographic recording. We get a sense as regards the wider perspective—the scale of the Engineer civilisation.
Eventually, everyone scrambles back to the ship and Vickers, very sensibly, refuses to readmit the sick Holloway to the craft—threatens to flamethrower him, since his body is now gripped by an alien virus. This measure is entirely sensible—the man is a plague-carrier for some inhuman disease. So, in this case, the Vickers character acts with correct motivation—neigh, good motivation. But she’s a white South African, so she’s evil—so it’s bad she won’t let the mutant Holloway back on the ship; even though he’s about to turn into a creature from hell in a very few minutes. Finally, in an act of unrealistic feminine ruthlessness, Vickers flamethrowers Holloway to death.
Shaw wakes up on a surgical table. David looms over her. In a curious reversal, David, who was apparently her gay best friend a minute ago, has turned sinister. It turns out Shaw is pregnant—when Holloway fucked her after their soulful talk about sterility and man’s ultimate purpose he impregnated her with “the bad seed”, the Engineer’s bioweapon that was already within him (thanks to a spiked drink from David—terrible is the revenge of the android nigger; beware). This is genuine horror—the alien presence in my body. It chimes with the original film in which the alien-penis (Xenomorph) fellates its victims to death—shoots its jaws into their mouths. This time, the humans are not fellated, but impregnated.
Shaw will give birth to a new species—she will become a creator too. I must concede that Prometheus is quite effective at drawing these “creator-created” threads together—David is created by Weyland, Weyland looks for the Engineers; Shaw is pregnant with a new species, David has helped to create this new species himself from the material in the Engineer ship. This thread runs through Prometheus and Covenant—and it’s a powerful circular conceit; except the only problem is that the characters, plot, and motivations used to express it are all cack-handed.
Anyway, David taunts Shaw a bit, now in her weakened and sweaty state, as regards her father’s death—from Ebola, as witnessed in her dreams. So Shaw is actually an orphan—an orphan who seeks her “true parents”, the Engineers; it’s a neat touch—though underplayed, and it would have had emotional resonance if we actually saw Shaw as a realised character and felt some genuine connection to her and understood her motivations as being coherent; again, her orphaned state is just dropped in without any context, so far as we knew up to now only her mother was dead—and this should change her entire motivation structure. David also takes a pop at Shaw’s God, an indication as to his incipient megalomania—he will be Prometheus, he will be “as God” (maker of a new species).
This has no resonance because Shaw’s faith has never been coherently established (perhaps it was considered too risky for box office reasons for the lead character to be a full-bore Christian); further, David has shown no atheistic inclinations before, it’s intimated that he hates humans—but not God. So this comes out of the blue and has no real emotional resonance with us. However, David is like God himself—he knows Shaw’s father died because “he watched her dreams”.
We then have a “kick-ass girl” moment, where Shaw escapes from the surgical bed with a few kicks and finds the robot surgeon in Vickers’s quarters—the robot surgeon is, for no good reason, “sexist” (well, it’s for Weyland and he’s a selfish corporate CEO—no girls allowed). So it can’t perform a Caesarian section (outrageous—don’t you know it’s *current year* and yet robots are still sexist?). There’s no reason why the robo-surgeon couldn’t be unisex—this is a cheap progressive point, possibly a stab at the lack of abortion provision in the world, the way medicine is still centred on “masculine bodies”. Anyway, Shaw selects “penetrating injury” to terminate her pregnancy—perhaps an anti-natal joke, pregnancy is a “penetrating injury” inflicted on women by asshole boyfriends who won’t wear their “helmets” when they should. In moments, the robo-surgeon whips out the alien foetus and cryo-freezes the pesky bugger to death.
What follow is a lot more bang bang, “OMG help”, running around, and general flamethrower action with no real relevance to the plot and without in any way advancing the story. The doped-up Shaw, amid the carnage, stumbles on “the secret”—old man Weyland was alive all along, and now his “son” David has thawed him out to enjoy his few remaining days of life talking to the Engineers. For David has discovered one Engineer still alive, deep in hypersleep. Weyland is a selfish man, of course—he just wants to find the Engineers to get “more life”, to live longer (pff, typical corporate CEO—although, don’t we all want to live forever? What’s wrong with this desire? Somehow Shaw, eternal quester, is above all that).
Shaw just wants to leave, the Engineers “weren’t what we thought”—but Weyland asks “what would Charlie do?”, strange manipulation because Holloway was a demonstrable ass. Why should Shaw care what he would do? Weyland even asks if she’s lost her faith—but her faith in what? In the Engineers? Christ? Her father? Holloway? Herself? We don’t know or care because her character hasn’t been laid out in a coherent way.
The black captain now appears to lay it on the line, like the tell-it-how-it-is old salt he’s meant to be: this is an Engineer military installation, they made that “black shit” (unusual line for the black character to say) in the vases and it “got out”. He says they should go home, yet Shaw has just done a 180 for no real reason—an Engineer is alive, let’s listen to him. Yet she already said “they’re not what we thought”—the carnage so far proves that. Yet because Weyland says there’s one alive she changes her mind. It makes no sense—people do not work like that. But the film doesn’t care about what people are like, so that’s fine—one minute you want to flee the planet, convinced these creatures are from hell itself, but then it turns out you can speak to a creature from hell and you’re like, “Yeah, that’s pretty cool actually.”
We then have a peculiar interchange between Vickers and Weyland—her father. Apparently, Weyland wanted a son but had Vickers instead—yet we’re not allowed to play out that dynamic due to feminism. So we have to have a confrontation where Vickers acts like a scorned son, jealous that dad prefers the robot he invented. It makes no sense—it’s not even that Vickers is a woman trying to be a man, we can’t even concede that under feminism. So we get a peculiar scene that makes no sense.
David has a rather candid moment with Shaw where he says “everyone wants their parents dead”. It’s a true statement that ties into the wider creator-created dynamic in the film. Shaw replies, like the prim moralist she is, “I didn’t”. But, of course, for Shaw it’s not a dilemma—her parents were killed early, she was orphaned. It just isn’t an issue for her—whereas it is for David, for Vickers, for the whole human race.
The gang heads down to see the last Engineer—the truth is revealed, the Engineers were on the way to wipe out all life on Earth. Despite this revelation, everyone pushes ahead with the plan to revive the Engineer—again, it makes no sense; they know the Engineers wanted to wipe out the human race, yet they go ahead and revive the last one anyway. As expected, the Aryan giant, once awakened, just wants to kill kill kill—and he starts with Weyland, the greedy old beggar, before moving on to David (tearing his head off). It turns out his study of ancient Sanskrit didn’t help him at all—he says a few words to the Engineer and what he says is irrelevant or just pisses the sleeping giant off.
What follows is about twenty minutes of people running around screaming as the Engineer chases them down. It’s boring—about forty minutes of the film is people running around screaming. There’s no suspense. We knew what the Engineers looked like from the first few seconds of the film. The Engineer, once awakened, decides to single-handedly fly the spaceship to Earth—such is their hatred for their creation, man (can relate). Engineers might be a super-intelligent, super-strong species, but even so it seems unlikely that one could pilot a ship alone (there were at least fifty bodies in the wreckage)—so, once again, it makes no sense.
After all the shouting and banging has stopped—and we’ve glimpsed how the Xenomorph from Alien came to be—Shaw lies down to have a heart-to-heart with the only survivor, the disembodied head of David (that head again). He reveals there are other ships on the planet and that he can operate them. So, at the end, Shaw and her gay bff set off into the universe—after Shaw has recovered her cross from David’s pouch. David mocks her, “After all this, you still believe, don’t you?”.
Despite the events that have transpired, Shaw doesn’t want to return to Earth to warn everyone that there’s a super-powerful alien species that wants to see us all dead. Instead, for no reason, she wants to “go where they came from”. Why? (David asks, sensibly). There is no possible motivation. She’s not going to destroy them single-handed (although, in the next film, David does just that)—and they don’t want to talk to us. She wants to know why they created us and then decided to kill us—“I deserve to know why.” (David doesn’t want to know because he’s “not human”). It’s a stupid line, we don’t deserve anything—they want us dead and that’s it (but nothing in this film reflects how ordinary people think—it’s just platitudes and self-important phrases spouted by the actors).
Prometheus is a mess. In the end, we have Shaw’s announcement that she left the planet in an Engineer ship on New Year’s Day “in the year of Our Lord”—well, really, that would mean something if her actual relation to Christianity played any role in the film (if the seasonality was developed and meant something on an alien planet), but at no point does she say, “We shouldn’t do that, it’s not Christian,” or even, “How would Christ want us to deal with the Engineers?”. It’s just absent, so this portentous religious theme goes nowhere—it’s opposed to David’s atheism, I think; and yet Shaw is also “a scientist” who is against asshole believers like her boyfriend. Arguably, there’s a Nietzschean theme where Christianity is a feminine religion that is prim and moralistic, as opposed to David’s quasi-Aryan Promethean attempt to “seize the fire of the gods”; but it’s not that clever—the screenwriter just didn’t understand Christianity, how it relates to the plot, or how to make a real character at all.
There are a lot of films like this today—and it remains the case that David, the android, is the only real character in the film, because the screenwriter thought “oh, he’s an emotionless android” and so didn’t bother to project their ridiculous bundle of neuroses into him like they did with the other characters. Hence the great irony in the film that only the android comes across as a fully realised character with comprehensible aims, objectives, and motivations whereas everyone else is a quasi-NPC who spouts gibberish and acts with no discernible motivation whatsoever. In the outside world today, I can’t say it’s much different—the verified robots have the greatest personality, only Aryan androids are truly human.