Sigh. Prometheus is, at first blush, a fairly standard sci-fi thriller (with superior visual effects) that only seems to disappoint perhaps because of the outsized expectations attached to it. But then the more you think about it, the less it disappoints for not being very scary, and the more it disappoints because it’s filled with a lot of nonsense. Alien and Aliens were gripping, thrilling, scary, and engrossing in large part because they were so simple and focused. They were about escaping with your life. Everyone in the movie wanted to do it, and everyone in the audience was on board. We would do (or at least we hope we would) everything that Ellen Ripley and her shipmates did to kill the monsters and get back home. This makes us emotionally invested in the characters and makes all the camera tricks, scary music, and terrifying alien beasties really, really – well – scary. One thing I learned from Prometheus is that when the heroes in a scary movie do really dumb things I don’t care as much when they get eviscerated. If I had a nickel for every time one scientist told another scientist (quite sensibly) “don’t touch that” in this movie and the guy went ahead and touched it anyway I’d have close to a quarter. Guess what happens when they touch the thing they oh-so-obviously shouldn’t be touching. Sigh.
Okay, so what is really going on in this movie? Well first the stuff that doesn’t require a spoiler alert. A giant bald albino disintegrates himself into a waterfall somewhere, releasing his DNA into a river. Then two young archaeologists in love discover a cave painting of a giant pointing at six dots in the sky and a trillionaire finances a deep-space mission with the young archaeologists on board to go see what’s up on one of those six dots. Their theory, as well as that of the trillionaire who paid for the Prometheus expedition, is that this race of ancient astronauts are the genetic engineers of humans. One character, at least, is as astonished by this claim as I was. He asks Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (the archaeologists) if they have any evidence to support throwing out “two hundred years of Darwinism”. Let’s put aside for the moment that it’s not 200 years of “Darwinism” (which makes the theory of evolution sound like a cult) but rather 3.8 billion years of accumulated detailed forensic evidence showing that all life on Earth is related to each other and is 3.8 billion years old, not 40,000 years old (the posited time that the alien “Engineers” created humans). Putting that aside, Shaw’s answer to this question is even more disturbing. She has no evidence. “It is what I choose to believe,” she says. The last time I checked the only place where belief trumps reality is Fox News.
How does this all fit in with killer aliens? It doesn’t, really. The screenplay by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof (who cut his nonsense-writing chops on Lost and wrote the upcoming Star Trek sequel, sigh) makes a connection, but it is forced. In one brief bit of exposition the captain of Prometheus (who, along with almost everyone else on the ship apparently signed up to go on a deep-space mission for many years without having any idea what the mission was) explains why they are being attacked by aliens instead of having deep philosophical discussions with our genetic engineers. It’s an alien movie that has been shoe-horned into a sappy story about human origins that cloaks hokey pseudo-science (Erich Von Däniken, anyone?) with the trappings of science. It’s a poor fit. While there are some nasty-looking aliens and one excellent sequence in which Shaw has to operate on herself, most of the time we’re distracted from being scared by wondering why there are killer aliens on the planet of our creators, why everyone keeps touching the oozing black goo, and why anyone thought it would be a good idea to turn a space monster thriller into whatever it is this is.