Ok how to cover this film. I first even debated whether it deserved a place in an Alien franchise review series but as it was billed as a film in the same universe and directed by Ridley Scott, the director of the original Alien it has to have a mention… This movie is the strangest of the bunch as it not as tight and well written as Aliens but neither is it as poorly conceived or made as Resurrection. It is both fascinating and infuriating. So taking advice from my RevPub co-author I’ve decided to break it down into a couple of lists. The fascinating for the positive traits; the infuriating for the negative… Here we go…
- World Building: The look, atmosphere, and depth of the world of Prometheus like many other films in the franchise, is excellent. From ship and vehicle designs that look as though they owe more to function than style to the glory of alien technology, the design and execution is terrific. The overall look and feel of the film has both a grand scale that adds to the universe and a personal scale in which the characters interact.
- Acting: The acting in the film is remarkably good. Noomi Rapace plays Dr. Shaw with excellent wonder, confusion, and betrayal and Charlize Theron is wonderful as the cold, businesslike Vickers. Stealing the show however is Michael Fassbender as David the android. Everything about him in this character is subtle. He is protective, charming, innocent, and menacing all at once. Fassbender is one of the actors who recently has been consistently outstanding in all his roles and David in Prometheus is him at his best.
- Potential: This movie had the potential to answer a good number of questions about what a xenomorph was and how they first came into contact with humans. I will underline potential because as we will see in the next section…and despite Scott’s decision to continue the franchise with further installments…it added nothing of real value to the history of the Alien universe and as Resurrection did transformed what was once an unfortunate chance encounter (as often happens in history) into some kind of “over-all scheme of fate” that immediately turns it into a more cliché narrative.
Red Letter Media made an excellent recap of the film’s plot holes which you can see below. I’ll try not to hit too many of the same points but it is inevitable as any time you think too much about the plot you are destined to find more plot holes than you find answered questions.
- Unnecessary Characters: Alien and Aliens both had closed casts, a small group introduced early who we grow attached to from their well-defined roles and portrayals and feel fear for as they progress through a dangerous narrative. Other than Holloway, Shaw, and David none of the other characters really seem to serve much of a purpose. Even Theron, and I love Charlize, has no part in the narrative at all. She’s just there. The pilot and his crew who have a chance to really save the day really don’t do much either as even their kamikaze flight into the engineer’s ship was useless as it was later revealed the engineers had lots of ships. The Biologist and Geologist? They are just there to die. They don’t unwittingly unleash anything or cause anything. They’re just the first victims. Mr. Weyland’s character serves zero purpose beyond McGuffin for the mission and didn’t need to be in the film at all. Especially not in some of the worst make-up this side of a dinner theater. This could have been a very small cast, a half dozen or less, for all the roles that matter… And since Alien characters have always been the core of the story, having only three that impact the narrative was a big mistake. Especially as said narrative is tissue-thin and holds all of the film’s heavy concepts like a wet paper bag
- Highly…Illogical: There is nothing, nothing, nothing in this plot that makes the least bit of sense once you step outside of the theater and think. It isn’t helped by the absolute lack of any coherent plotline for what occurred prior to the humans’ arrival on LV-223, who the engineers are and their ultimate goals. The engineers created mankind…or something (though apparently not the rest of life on the planet? Maybe, who knows) but also created aliens. Or at least some kind of alien. Along with DNA-altering black ooze. For some reason. Weapons we think, who knows. But weapons for what? Against whom? I have to again paraphrase Yahtzee Croshaw, why would someone create a biological menace that could wipe you out as well as your enemies when, ya know a bomb has been historically effective. Why did they tell us how to get to LV-223? Especially when you find out they intended to unleash their black ooze…or aliens…or something to kill us. Why were we created in the first place? Were we weapons too or were we some kind of baby’s first engineer experiment? For more definitely watch the RLM video. The more I add to this list the more I just feel I’m repeating their points in a less-funny more rage-inducing way. But it’s cathartic…
- What was the point?: I went into this movie, as did a lot of Aliens fans expecting to see what the space jockey was and how he ended up on LV-426. I remember sitting in the theater and hearing that they were approaching LV-223 and thinking, “Wait…what?” So it isn’t the same planet. Then the engineer’s ship took off and I thought “oh that’s the one that crashed on…oh wait no it’s crashing here…so…” Other than a few items, the Weyland name, the proto-face-hugger-snake-in-the-ooze thing, the bigger proto-face-hugger-squid-thing, the proto-cone-head-xenomorph you see at the end, and a carving on the wall in the urn room (which yes was designed to look like the xenomorph egg chamber) it really doesn’t tell you anything about what a xenomorph is, what an engineer is, why either exist, or how they are really connected to the rest of the franchise. Apparently some other space jockey not in this movie also had an alien break free and crashed on a planet that humans also happened to find? I expected to see that engineer end up in LV-426 and wait for him to be found by the crew of the Nostromo. Not some other engineer interact with some other group of people on some other planet with no narrative connections to the rest of the franchise at all.
And this is the film’s greatest sin. Even though I was admittedly curious about how the franchise originator, Scott, was going to explore how events on LV-426 eventually led to his 1979 masterpiece part of me kind of shrugs at the concept. One of the great strengths of the first two films is that there is a crashed ship there, with a large pilot who died a gruesome death carrying deadly cargo…and that’s enough. Once the rest of the story starts we never ask “well what was that and where did it come from?” It’s just part of the background, so well-crafted were the narratives and characters of the first two films. Now we will explain how it all came to be, and as we learned with Anakin Skywalker and Hannibal Lecter that always adds to the power of a story, right? Shedding light on the fascinating mysteries that make a complex concept complex? No…it doesn’t, it does the opposite and removes mystique making a marvelous character or detailed world shallow and mundane. It is like pouring all the cereal out to get the prize at the bottom of the bag…you’ll never be able to re-package all that content in quite the same way again to make it fit as clean as it did before.
Scott said he was “done” with the xenomorph because there wasn’t any place else to take it and the audience had seen it enough. So the final question is: why does this movie have to be connected to them at all? The links are so tenuous it could’ve been its own franchise with no tacit mentions of anything Alien related. Hell Predator 2 (to be covered later!) has more intriguing connections to Alien than this movie. Except I probably wouldn’t have gone to see Prometheus without that connection…and more than a few are likely in the same boat which is probably why they made the attachment to the venerable Alien name.
I feel as though there is a good sci-fi movie here somewhere. The good characters are great, the design and the world are terrific, and the concept is intriguing. The execution however stands up to absolutely no scrutiny and despite its positive traits Prometheus is severely damaged by some of the most convoluted story-telling I’ve seen in a film. For that it gets an average two squid baby creatures out of five.
We’ll take a pause in the Aliens & Predator review series for October’s traditional Halloween Horror posts, but we’ll pick back up in November with my review of Predator one I’ve been dying to write.
The greatest single Prometheus plot hole analysis: