First off, let’s just all stop being coy. This is a prequel to Alien. Please, everyone, stop saying it’s not. I’ve seen the movie (not to mention the advertising), and there’s simply no way around it. That said, there’s more to this film than chest bursting xenomorphs.There’s some great 3D, good performances from Michael Fassbender as a creepy android, and Idris Elba as a gruff ship captain. And there’s one intense and original sequence of body horror that left me shivering. But, all in all, this thing was a disappointment. For me, that’s mostly about the story, so, starting in the next paragraph, I’ll be spoiling the heck out of this movie.
You were warned.
A quick synopsis to start. Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green find a cave in Scotland that’s 35,000 years old, and has a star map that matches other star maps they’ve found all over the planet, in the ruins of multiple, non-interacting civilizations. They name the tall humanoids in the paintings “Engineers”, and use the map to find a single M-class planet where the Engineers must want them to come for a visit. A trillion dollars later, a motley collection of ship’s crew and scientists land on the planet (which is named LV-223). There’s a ship there with a million canisters of creepy black liquid. The liquid gets out, and hijinks ensue.
Let’s start with a minor annoyance: the casting of Guy Pearce as Peter Weyland, the bankroller of the mission, and head of what will soon be Weyland-Yutani, the corporation which is prominently featured in Alien, Aliens and Alien3. There’s really no reason to expect that the Engineers, the super-tall, hairless ur-humans who Weyland is looking for, will grant him some kind of immortality. And, of course, they don’t. So why tease us with a young guy in latex? The film Death Becomes Her did that very well, by putting Bruce Willis in makeup, because there really was a plot point of would he or wouldn’t he drink the same Kool-Aid that Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn drank, and become young again (and undying). That worked. Here, it was a waste of old-guy makeup. They should have hired Anthony Hopkins or Tom Wilkinson for the role instead.
So, that brings us to the Engineers. In the opening sequence, we see one of these super-buff guys on a pristine, pre-life world. He drinks something nasty, then his body disintegrates, and his DNA seeds the world with new life in his image. We’re led to believe it’s Earth, so that’s about 3.5 billion years ago. (Before life appeared on our planet, and since our DNA is definitely tied to the rest of the ecosystem, it couldn’t have been more recently.) Even if you want to believe that scene is just an example, on some other world than Earth, and maybe happened ten minutes before the rest of the film, it doesn’t matter. They tested the head of an Engineer they found in the “deserted” ship, and it matched human DNA. Which means two things. One, the process with the nasty drink must have directed a couple of billion years of evolution, leaving behind no trace of the original DNA, and ending with the result that modern humans have the same genetic code as the Engineers. That’s a nifty trick, but it’s sci-fi, so maybe I’ll believe it. But have the Engineers themselves never evolved in the past 3.5 billion years? Really? Did they decide, “Hey, we’re perfect. We’re going to force evolution to stop happening for ourselves.” Remarkable to have the wherewithal to keep to that for 3.5 billion years. These guys have an iron will, I guess.
So, the Engineers seed our planet, then come back a few dozen times to play god, and give the locals a map to come for a visit. Seems odd that they would stop doing that after modern history got into high gear. Maybe they have their own version of the Prime Directive, that says once the locals figure out how to forge metal, they have to stop interfering. Okay. But at some point, they decide to kill humanity. Let’s put aside why they would change their minds about two thousand years ago. (Maybe they were frightened by Christianity?) It’s a remarkable coincidence that the Engineers were about to leave to destroy Earth when their bioweapons turned on them and killed them. (More on the bioweapons below.) You’ve got to assume that if they have this huge stockpile of weapons, they must do this civilization purging thing with some regularity. And you’ve got to also assume that they’ve seeded a million planets with their DNA. (We can’t be that special.) And if so, they would have left behind similar star maps. So, what are the odds that the species they were just about to kill are the first ones on the scene after they get their asses handed to them by mutated nasties? I’ll accept a few coincidences in fiction, but man, that’s a doozy!
And it also brings to mind another question. Why did they leave Earth with all these star maps that lead us to their planet wiping base? If they wanted to kill us, and this was simply a trap… why not just kill us 35,000 years ago while you’re playing god? Why wait another 33,000 years to put the mission together to zap us? On the other hand, if back then you were feeling all warm and fuzzy about us cute humans, why give us the coordinates to your death base? It makes no sense!
Now, the creepy black goo. What does it do? Well, we see it do a variety of things:
- It turns unassuming little worms into horrifying snakes with acid blood.
- It makes one human go all Rambo and start killing people.
- It makes another human have a weird eye tentacle thing, makes him start to fall apart (much like the seeding Engineer at the beginning of the film), and gives him some truly spectacular sperm. Somehow, he manages to impregnate Noomi with a fast-growing, nightmarish mini-Cthulu creature.
I guess that black goo, if you dropped it on Earth, would be pretty devastating. Every living thing would be transformed into something terrible and destructive… but also powerful and dangerous, right? If I wanted to kill off a planet-bound civilization, I can think of ten better ways to do it than making 6 billion people super-strong, and turning their progeny into giant tentacled creatures. These Engineers are pretty stupid. It’s hard to believe they survived for 3.5 billion years.
Now, how well did the movie tie into the Alien franchise? What’s confusing is that the planet they’re on in this movie is LV-223, and the planet in Alien (and Aliens) is LV-426. Now, I would hope that they didn’t simply get the names of the planets wrong. (Star Trek II got away with that gag. It wouldn’t work here.) So, the ship that crashes at the end of Prometheus can’t be the same ship that figures in Alien. But the unholy spawn of Noomi’s “child” and the last remaining Engineer is clearly the first xenomorph. How does that xenomorph make it into yet another hold of yet another Engineer ship that is sitting on the surface of another planet? I suppose I could buy that the new alien (seeded with human DNA!) snuck onto the Engineer ship that Noomi and Michael stole at the end of the film… but the sequence of shots implies that the xenomorph wasn’t born until after Noomi took off.
Alien is one of the most important an influential sci-fi film series in history, and if this is the best that the writers could come up with for a prequel, they should have left the “space jockey” a mystery for the ages.
One more interesting thought about Prometheus. (Or, at least I think it’s interesting.) It’s the crazy number of parallels with Mission to Mars. Remember that one? No? I’ll refresh your memory.
A mission to mars (hey, that’s the title!) finds a mountain that looks too regular to be natural. After dealing with a deadly dust storm, they go in and find a super light show that reveals that the Martians seeded our planet, thus creating us in their own image. At the end, the main character takes the ship (the weird mountain had a ship under it) and travels off to meet our creators.
So, Prometheus is basically Mission to Mars, with less Dr Pepper and more tentacles.