Last Friday, a determined crew of eight SoMoFoNauts descended into Prometheus. Not everyone came back. At least not from the medical scene. But before I get to that, I should state at the outset that this is not a review of the film. If it were, I would give it a 7 out of 10. After all the build up on this blog, you might think this is a low score. Relative to expectations, it really is a low score. There was certainly a lot to like, such as the overall look of the film, the lush moodiness, it really is a Ridley Scott science fiction film. That previously mentioned medical scene did indeed meet the bar established by Alien for one total freakout moment. But it failed the Alien bar too. First off, there is no breakout stunning alien design, that matches the genius of H.R. Giger. Instead we get some large pale worms, and a pale amorphous tentacled beast. Which are very boring and generic. But more damning was the overload of cliché twists and unanswered questions, for which I blame the film’s co-writer and Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof.
But as I said, this isn’t a review. Instead, it’s an exploration of the expectation space I had for this film. My first fear was that the film would be a rehash of Alien. In some ways it kind of was, in that there’s a creepy android that wants to preserve a gestating alien in stasis, a salt of the earth comic relief aspect to the crew, a cold corporate representative, and so on. But luckily, the plot was not a pure horror house arc. It was trying to explain a mystery. Unfortunately, it was deeply wrapped in exogenesis, the theory that life on Earth originated elsewhere. Which is something I don’t believe in. But as it turns out, the appearance of exogenesis meant that her narcissistic cousin anthropocentrism was just around the corner. And I find that really annoying and cheap.
What the hell am I talking about? Anthropocentrism is the theory that humans are the center of the universe, and it interprets reality exclusively from the perspective of human values and experiences. And Prometheus makes it all about us. But Alien was just that, alien. The crew of the Nostromo finds this gorgeous derelict spacecraft, carrying an lethal cargo of infesting creatures. Giger’s surreal design of the ship, it’s pilot, the infamous Space Jockey, and all the stages of the alien life cycle all contributed to one of the most compelling demonstrations of otherness I’ve ever seen in any film. I loved that. This ship had nothing to do with us. What was its mission? How old was it? Who was this race? Was it attacked by these creatures? Was it transporting them? Lots of great questions, but it was far beyond our petty experience, it was a glimpse of the universe getting along quite nicely without us.
SPOILER But in this Prometheus, the explanation is that the Space Jockey is actually a DNA-match to humans, he’s just a bit larger, more defined, and less hairy. That little tusk and exoskeleton is just his space suit. And it’s all about us. They started life on Earth, left us some clues to find them, and once we did, left a lone pilot to go back to Earth to wipe us out. Set aside the fact that this makes no sense. Who creates life just to wipe it out? Other than the god of the Old Testament, who is equally absurd. But that’s not even my main issue. I’m annoyed that Lindelof has tied together all these cave painting alien clichés to make it all about us. That’s not what Alien was about.
Of course I’m still getting it on Blu-ray when it comes out. And I’ll see the sequel, since I’m curious to see where the interesting last choice takes that character. But still, I can’t help but feel that we’ve lost something. An opportunity to tell a story about a race of tusked traders moving strange biomechanical eggs around, perhaps harvesting them from a planet that features a truly dazzling ecosystem that features the alien at its pinnacle. Maybe someone else will tell that story.
SF: Seriously, screw that medical scene. I was trying to man up and be strong for Jamil, but I failed pretty miserably. Sigh.