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.
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.
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!
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!
Too bad we can’t have this.