Life in Plastic: Analyzing Prometheus

The Space Jockey

So, Prometheus came out last year. Ridley Scott’s new sci-fi epic, which promised to be a deep, intellectual experience, a visual masterpiece, and a worthy followup to Alien. Only it wasn’t related to Alien at all. Yes it was. No it wasn’t. Yes it was. No it absolutely was not. Oh wait, it totally was.

And it’s loved… and hated… and stuff in-between. NECA produced a couple of pretty good toys based on the movie last year, and they have a few more lined up, so why not talk about it? Let’s begin with the basic thing on everybody’s mind: How does Prometheus compare to Alien?

The films Alien and Prometheus represent a clash of two people’s very different philosophies – Dan O’Bannon (who wrote Alien) and Ridley Scott (who directed Alien, but also wrote Prometheus).

Alien is a Lovecraftian movie.

Dan O’Bannon said:

“One especially insightful critic – I wish I remembered who – wrote that Alien evoked the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, but where Lovecraft told of an ancient race of hideous beings menacing the Earth, Alien went to where the Old Ones lived, to their very world of origin. He was right, that was my very thought while writing. That baneful little storm-lashed planetoid planetoid halfway across the galaxy was a fragment of the Old Ones’ homeworld, and the Alien a blood relative of Yog-Sothoth.”

The Space Jockey was part of this – of the Unknown in Alien. Sure, we get the general gist of what happened (it got facehugged), but beyond that? Unanswerable questions. Who were they? What were they doing? What kind of creature is this? you can’t even see how close it is to humanoid – is it fossilized? cocooned? growing out of the chair? The scene was fantastic.

And then Prometheus went and said, “They’re just humans in suits.”

Dan O’Bannon wanted to give us a foreign universe filled with the unimaginable unknown. Ridley Scott wanted to present the universe as a mirror, and say that no matter how far we go, all we find are reflections of ourselves.

Engineer

So, because Prometheus came from a totally different philosophy than Alien, does this mean that I hated it?

Dunno. There were things about the movie that I loved, and things I hated. The scientists acted dumber than slasher movie teens. The plot was inconsistent. The ancient Engineer aliens were kind of silly. It tries waaaaaay too hard to attack and affirm religion at the same time. It totally wrecks the philosophy of the original Alien.

But it was visually gorgeous, intriguing, visceral, scary when it meant to be, and there were a lot of things ot like about it. As a standalone “Ancient Aliens” movie, Prometheus was pretty good (discounting the idiot scientists). As part of the Aliens franchise…. ehhh, dunno.

Alien Vs. Prometheus

So, which movie was better? There’s no denying that Alien and Prometheus share many things between them, from body horror to a strong female survivor. Alien has an emphasis on horrific motherhood, from alien impregnation to the computer called “MOTHER.” Prometheus focuses on fathers – the neglectful, abusive alien father race as well as Weyland himself, the jerk. Both are also freudian, though I have to admit that Alien, with its face-raping spider and phallic-headed monster is LESS overt than Prometheus. Really, that squid-thing. The underside is Freud’s dream. Prometheus has enough specific callbacks to Alien (even in the closing narration) that it can’t be an accident (it isn’t), but it really is its own film – one about ancient alien origins and the nature of belief.

As much as I consider Prometheus to be an interesting movie, it falters when compared to Alien. But is that a bad thing? If you watch them in “chronological” order, you are building up to Alien in its own way… maybe. Sorta.

So, the Xenomorphs are bioweapons created by proto-human engineers. People suspected this, but… that does kind of ruin the mystique. The idea of the Space Jockey ship as a “bomber” did long pre-exist Prometheus, however, as an unsaid part of Alien’s background – so Ridley Scott didn’t TOTALLY throw everything out from his old movie!

Ancient Engineer

Now that we’ve compared Prometheus to Alien, let’s look at the movie on its own merits.

The scientists were all idiots. I know, I know, it’s the first thing everybody harps on, so let’s get this out of the way. They behave like morons – petting dangerous acid-snakes, getting lost in straight tunnels, getting infected and telling no one, breathing possibly-bad air without a thought, asking the big violent alien dudes for more life, staying on to die with the ship even though there is no reason to do so, not rolling three feet to the side to avoid being squished, and being the hero. Sometimes the bad stuff happens in a movie regardless of how the characters act. other times, it’s because they’re idiots. This movie was an idiot plot. Let’s move on.

Were the Engineers’ motives confusing and impossible to figure out? Not really, the movie makes it pretty clear. The planet in Prometheus was a weapons development installation. The weird mutation-tar was their weapon. They bred humans, and were about to wipe them out with the tar. My assumption was that humans were bred to be test subjects for the tar. That’s it. Nothing noble about it.

The movie also attempts to speak on religion, by “disproving” both Christianity (standing in for all religions) and Darwinism (directly refuted), but then turns around and tries to affirm them both with vague statements about having faith. That doesn’t work. You can’t have both. To be honest, it would have been better if they hadn’t addressed the sticky issue at all.

Aside from all that, it’s a pretty good Ancient Aliens movie. The visuals and soundtrack are fantastic, and if you ignore the deal with the main characters being morons, the plot works very well. It’s just that Prometheus keeps trying to be deep, but falters in the end, and it suffers tremendously when compared to the Alien franchise… except Alien 3 or Resurrection. Or AvP. Or most of the video games. Okay, maybe I look at Alien with rose-tinted glasses just a little.

So, that’s Prometheus for you. Both a failure and a success in every way, but at least it’s interesting to talk about!

Alien Vs. Predator Vs. Engineer

Too bad we can’t have this.

10 responses to “Life in Plastic: Analyzing Prometheus

  1. All the points you noted seem valid to me. However, if not for the appalling bad script and logic holes this could have been a very interesting twist to renew the Alien universe.

    The idea of a father race, which we glimpse to be neither benign nor malevolent, speaks to the current grasp of the human conception of “God”. The fact that the “God”‘s plan did not consider that his own creations would take a life of their own (or his own demise as well) demonstrates an interesting view of how humans perceive “God” and his seemingly erratic behaviour. It also lends credence to the idea of needing faith in “God”‘s plan and how we may not understand the why’s or wherefores. This is only hinted at in the movie but I think it is a theme that will be or should be explored in the next instalments.

    One of the areas where the movie disappointed for me was in the evolution of the Alien species now that they were able to take a “God” as a host. If you remember the AVPR series of how the Aliens changed and took on the characteristics of the Predator species, it would stand to reason that taking over a “God” like species would enable the Alien species to make a quantum leap in their evolution. Perhaps explaining how they are spreading across the universe in such an insidious fashion.

    Perhaps this is where Darwin’s theory would have been actually reinforced as it may hold up a mirror to a theory in the evolution of the human race. How did we evolve from the apes who are still with us today ? Is the forbidden fruit really a metaphor for consumption of a God Like food that made humans evolve to the the extent we have evolved today ? Am I still talking about the movie, lol ? Interesting thread as it certainly has prompted some interesting questions in this reader……….

    • It’s a hard thing to pull off in sci-fi, since science fiction has been “tackling” religion for decades now. In a way, it would almost be refreshing to see a movie take the more difficult tack of “proving” a religion in the context of its film universe (Really. it’s almost lazy to say “See? No god, just Darwin,” because everybody has made that point. Why not take a risk with your story?). Prometheus genuinely tried to discuss the issues you mentioned, but it faltered because it wanted to disprove everyone AND make them happy.

      And concerning the proto-Xenomorph at the end of the movie, I just assumed that it was a prototype, and not the final version. So it’s not an Engineer-Alien, it’s something different. The ones we see in the Alien movies are clearly a more advanced version developed in the thousands of years since the Prometheus installation died out, and probably the final production model (that doesn’t require black goo).

      • I agree it WOULD be hard to pull off a believable story “proving” religion (in the sense that it is more than a device used to control a population, think Stranger in a Strange Land) as I think the nature of Sci-Fi is actually to dispute the need FOR religion.

        The reason I believe this way is frankly that religion is based primarily on the idea of ‘faith’ which does not require any proof to require it’s followers to analyze before accepting. While Sci-Fi which is an extension of actual science or methodology to explain phenomena which is the polar opposite of religion for all intents and purposes.

        So I can see how refreshing it would be to read a Sci-Fi novel/story that tries to prove the validity of religion in this context but I think it would be doomed to fail as religion and its reliance on faith would make the stories seem a little too contrived, IMHO. (Dune can be one example I can think of but again organized ‘religion’ is used as a tool to control the masses.)

        I agree that is a proto-Xenomorph but I wonder (partly wish) if they will try to tie both story lines together by having the Engineer-Alien Xenomorphs from Prometheus begin to resemble the Xenomorphs from the Alien series. Not sure if I explained myself well here but that would go along way, to me to explain the genesis of the Alien Xenomorphs we have all come to know and love (goo included).

        • Faith and reason usually go side-by-side in many of the older, larger religions, but I totally understand you. Science Fiction really doesn’t have a single unified purpose any more than most genres would (though some do – Horror is supposed to scare, Comedy is supposed to be funny, and Michael Bay is supposed to bore).

          An interesting challenge would be to include something science-fictiony where people find proof that their underlying beliefs are wrong. We’ve seen people have a crisis of faith and ditch religion plenty of times, and it’s almost as hackneyed as “Look out! The government is covering up all the aliens!” (that’s another one – how about having a benevolent government/ it’d be harder to write). Having somebody who holds to the currently-accepted scientific ideal, but be forced to question and possibly abandon it? It could be very interesting, though it would probably get caught up in political fights. Prometheus ALMOST tried it, but decided to only go halfway for both sides of the debate, and fell over.

          I thought the movie explained the Xenomorphs fairly well – that black goo is a mutagen designed to produce bio-weapon monsters, and the end result were the xenomorphs. it’s just a little underwhelming that it’s what they turned out to be.

          • Hmmm, I wonder about the idea that faith and reason go hand in hand in organized religion. History would not necessarily attest to that. Religion really has been used to control the masses throughout history contrary to the very tenets it is supposed to uphold (think religion controlling history/information by the simple fact that it the monks were the only ones educated to read/write and thus copy the books required to disseminate the information.) but I am not here to debate that issue, lol. I hear ya about Sci-Fi not seemingly having a single purpose in mind as you defined it except perhaps to highlight an escapist attitude through high adventure? Never thought about it in that regard. You’ve given me food for thought there………

            It is certainly an interesting premise to find a story where the setting is a universe that is at first grounded in scientific concepts but then abandons it to seemingly find ‘religion’. Actually, ever since I read your reply it has been nagging me about where I have seen such an attempt and I think I remember a made for tv movie called the Celestine Prophecies which does just that. Not a 100% sure it is what you were thinking but it has elements of it, IMHO. Check it out and tell me what you think.

            I’ll have to watch the movie again as I seem to have missed that entire explanation about the black goo. For the record, I was expecting the movie to be way better. I have higher hopes for the second installment. It’s not that I didn’t like it but like you was a little underwhelmed.

  2. Starting a nerw thread here because it’s getting so narrow. I should check out the Celestine prophecies – I hadn’t even heard about it! It does sound interesting.

    Also, remember – the monks didn’t just copy books, they also preserved a lot of knowledge and philosophy, and helped disseminate learning from the Middle-East. irish Monks pretty much saved western civilziation from the vikings for a while, and don’t forget people like Thomas Aquinas who championed reason. But religion is an insanely complicated topic with lots of pros and cons in any period of history, which is why I probably won’t bring it up too much in a toy column!

    • My apologies for highjacking your thread. I am enthusiast, as you could probably tell, about the promise of the Alien/Prometheus universe. I’ll try and remember that this thread was primarily intended for the toys. Which are cool, by the way ! As the shirt says ‘Carry On’………

      • You totally didn’t hijack anything! By “narrow,” I meant visually. T he paragraph was like two letters across. Keep up the intelligent discourse!

  3. What is this word ‘intelligent’ ? I have never heard this before ; ) Now back to our regularly scheduled review………..

  4. Pingback: Life In Plastic: TOY REVIEW: Holographic Engineer (Chair Suit) (NECA Toys) | Nerditis·

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