With its stunning H. R. Giger designs and first-rate cast, Ridley Scott’s classic Alien (1979) is imaginative, visually striking, immensely atmospheric, and sometimes just plain terrifying. Together with its worthy but very different sequel, James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), it spawned a vast pop-culture “franchise” (which is Hollywood-speak for a mythos) including two unworthy sequels, Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection, plus two Z-grade Alien vs. Predator movies, plus scores of often excellent Aliens comics and novels (yes, I read a slew of them in the ’90s), and now Ridley Scott’s prequel Prometheus.
Prometheus is a visually dazzling movie (particularly in 3-D), but it is very disappointing on every other level.
On the most superficial level, it was so gross that I was reduced to dry heaves at one point – which I why I don’t feel any compunction about “spoiling” the plot, such as it is. So consider yourself warned.
The deepest disappointment is that Prometheus severs the tap root that has nourished the vast and ramifying Alien cosmos: mystery. In Alien, the beacon, the crashed ship, the “space jockey,” and the aliens themselves are all deeply mysterious. But it is not an unpleasant mystery, crying out for answers. Indeed, the mystery is part of the fun. It contributes to the atmosphere. This is why Alien is essentially a supernatural, haunted-house thriller, despite the sci-fi trappings.
Unfortunately, these trappings have invited the “there’s got to be a rational explanation for this” people to chime in and try to explain the mystery away. And, to make matters worse, these vulgarians are so cynical that their rational explanation is completely incoherent. But they are apparently counting on special effects to sufficiently stupefy their audience — if they are not already stupid enough — so that nobody will ask questions.
We learn in Prometheus that the space-jockeys are just giant humanoids under their mysterious exoskeleton-like suits and helmets.
We learn that they came to Earth, apparently billions of years ago, and seeded it with life when one of them drank a dark liquid which caused him to dismember and dissolve into a lake. Yet somehow, his scattered DNA became our DNA, apparently skipping a few million generations of what we know as evolution.
Yes, a dismembered giant is part of the Norse creation myth. But don’t get too excited: there are a lot of myths alluded to in this movie, but they are there merely to gild its vacuous plot, like the iridescent sheen of a soap bubble wrapped around a void.
Oddly enough, although the space jockeys’ only connection to us is DNA, ancient peoples somehow had memories of them, which they expressed in their art, giving us a map to the planet from whence they came. (But wait, it turns out to be not the planet from which they came billions of years ago, but a planet where they established a bio-weapons facility operating only a couple thousand years ago.)
I know, it is just a farrago of ancient astronaut lore, but it is put forward as post-religious, pseudo-scientific substitute for creation myths to explain how we got here. (But who created the space gods?)
In 2089, two archaeologists, Elizabeth Shaw (played by Noomi Rapace, the original Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, looking here like a young Jennifer Saunders) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), find a 35,000-year-old star map in Scotland. They convince aged and ailing trillionaire Peter Weyland to fund a space mission to the planet that appears on the star map, where they claim we will find the “Engineers” of life on Earth. Weyland funds the mission, hoping that our makers will restore his health (!).
Why did Scott cast the young and handsome Guy Pearce as Weyland, under loads of fake-looking makeup and prosthetics, rather than just hire a genuine old man? It is not like the role, which is hardly more than a bit part, required special acting abilities, or that Pearce even has such abilities. Hell, the CGI department could have whipped up a more plausible performance.
Five years later, the spaceship Prometheus arrives at a small moon orbiting a larger planet. They set down near some domed cyclopean structures that resemble the weathered stumps of immense rugose cones. The scientists enter the structures and find a decapitated space jockey. Elizabeth Shaw and one of the extras take his well-preserved head back to the ship to examine it. For no apparent reason, the head oozes and explodes just like the original space jockey who seeded Earth. DNA analysis proves that he is human.
Meanwhile, David, a rather fey, blonde, and treacherous android played by Michael Fassbender (just like the treacherous android in Alien played by Ian Holm), has spirited away one of the many cylinders found near the dead space jockey, cylinders that for no apparent reason begin to ooze a black liquid. For no apparent reason, David puts a bit of the black ooze in a drink and offers it to Charlie Holloway, who for no apparent reason is drunk and despondent after making the greatest discovery in human history. Charlie then has sex with Elizabeth, who is sterile, so there is no need of a space condom. Post coitus, Charlie starts feeling ill.
The next day, the team returns to the domed structure to find one of the members they left behind dead and the other missing. David goes off on his own and finds the bridge of a buried spaceship. He activates the navigation program. Then he finds a living space jockey in stasis. It it is the most visually stunning sequence in the film.
Charlie is now quite ill and mutating. Ice queen Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) refuses to let him back on the ship and then sets him on fire at Charlie’s urging. (In Prometheus, all the really evil characters are blonde.)
Elizabeth apparently passes out. When she wakes up, David explains that she is quite pregnant with a rather unusual fetus. She wants an abortion, but David sedates her and tells her they will put her back in suspended animation. Elizabeth escapes and climbs into a surgery machine, cuts her stomach open, and extracts a kind of writhing cephalopod. A few abdominal staples later, she is on her feet and back in action, albeit in her underwear and covered with gore. (Eat light before viewing, and you can enjoy dry heaves like I did.)
We learn that Mr. Weyland is on board. He is awakened from suspended animation in order to meet the Engineer. In case you are wondering what these stupid and venal white people (and their white android) have gotten themselves into, the crusty but big-hearted black ship’s captain explains it all: this is not the home world of the space jockeys. This is a facility where they developed biological weapons of mass destruction. Their weapons, however, got out of hand and destroyed them (ho hum).
Later we learn from David that the weapons were meant to destroy Earth. It seems that, for no apparent reason, our creators had a change of heart and decided to destroy the planet.
Elizabeth urges the captain not to allow these weapons to get off the planet, no matter what. The captain agrees.
Still feeling the staples, Elizabeth suits up and accompanies David, Weyland, and some others to the ship to awaken the space jockey. David assures them that he has deconstructed the ancient languages of the world to a root tongue that is presumably the language of the space jockeys. How this is possible, given that their only apparent contribution to Earth is DNA, is not explained.
They awaken the space jockey. David says “kalifee” or some such. But apparently that is not an acceptable greeting, so, for no apparent reason, the space jockey rips David’s head off, then kills Weyland and some of the others. Elizabeth, despite some cramps and oozing about the staples, manages to escape.
As she runs back to the Prometheus, the space jockey activates his ship and begins to take off. Elizabeth tells the black captain to stop him, and he nobly immolates himself and his crew to save humanity by crashing the Prometheus into the departing alien craft. The ice queen Meredith Vickers has ejected her quarters (complete with surgical bay) from the Prometheus, but she is crushed by the falling alien craft. (This is probably her karmic retribution for having sex with the black captain.) David, who just keeps talking even after his head has been ripped off his shoulders, and the space jockey both survive the crash. Elizabeth takes refuge in Meredith’s quarters.
David, for no apparent reason, informs her that the space jockey, for no apparent reason, is on his way to get her. How a severed head could ascertain his destination and intent is not explained. Perhaps he read it in the script. When the space jockey attacks, Elizabeth opens the door to the surgical bay, and her unwanted fetus with the tentacles, now grown horribly large, overwhelms the space jockey and sends a tube down his throat, implanting an alien embryo.
It is a rather complex reproductive cycle.
Elizabeth rescues the now nice David (both parts of him). He tells her there are other alien craft, and he can pilot them. Elizabeth sets up a warning beacon to keep people away and then leaves in search of the space jockey home world. She wants to find out why they chose to destroy humanity, and she apparently thinks they will tell her (before they destroy her).
At this point, we expect that the space jockey with the alien inside him will trudge back to his ship, put his uniform back on, climb back into his chair, and then the alien will burst from his chest, which is how he is found in the original Alien movie. But that would make too much sense, so it doesn’t happen.
As the credits rolled, I took off my 3-D glasses and rubbed by eyes in disbelief, trying to fathom the vulgarity of spirit behind this godawful movie. It is the same vulgarity of spirit that took the mysteries of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and gave us Peter Hyam’s sequel 2010 (1984), where the monoliths work to prevent nuclear war. It is the same vulgarity of spirit that took “the Force” of the original Star Wars trilogy and explained it in terms of little measurable material widgets called “midichlorians” in The Phantom Menace (1999). It is the same vulgarity of spirit that took the mysteries of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) and gave us Rick Rosenthal’s made-for-TV sequel The Birds II: Land’s End (1994), in which we are informed that the bird attacks are due to pollution.
Heidegger tells us that this vulgarization is the essence of modernity, which seeks to abolish all mystery and transcendence, replacing them with the transparent and available, which in cultural terms boils down to the vulgar and the trite.
But some of us are more modern than others, and it all fell into place when I spied the name of screenwriter Damon Lindelof, one of the principal culprits behind Lost, the longest, most cynical Jewish jerk-job in television history. Lost was masterful in sucking people in by layering mystery upon mystery, including elements of religion, myth, and science fiction. But it was ultimately arbitrary and incoherent, revealing a bottomless contempt for its audience. All of these elements were chosen merely for effect, without concern for coherence and meaning, without the slightest suggestion that they could be taken seriously, that they mean anything important, that they are anything more than boob bait. Prometheus is the same kind of portentous swindle: just Jews making millions peddling myths for morons.
Don’t lose your money, or your lunch, at Prometheus.