So, Prometheus. Well worth the evening out. Well acted and beautifully produced. Noomi Rapace has a great future: a Swedish Sigourney Weaver for the present day, who one day will get an international role that doesn't require wearing skin-tight suits. The ship Prometheus itself is a thing of beauty, to be added to the canon of all-time great starships. It doesn’t do much more than provide a vehicle and a habitable environment for the humans to have their adventure, but it still dominates its screen time like an extra character. The effects are astonishingly good: by which I mean CGI, where it happens, is made to look like superlatively good model work. I can think of no higher praise.
I was also very pleased to see the movie in 2D. 3D would have been entirely superfluous. Some shots would have looked impressive but added nothing to the story and would certainly not be worth the extra expense.
Yes, there were things wrong with it but not enough to negate the experience of having gone. Even so, the criticism will take a disproportionate amount of this blog up. Don’t take it personally.
Movies dealing with matters of faith really should get a consultant in who actually has some, rather than someone who has just been told about it. Credit to the writers, they at least are aware that people with faith don’t just chuck the faith in when faced with Science and Reason and apparent contradictions. What they don’t quite get is why this is so. Thus the plot keeps stumbling over Z-level theological conundra of mind-numbing inconsequentiality, which is as irritating as a driver inexplicably dropping into third gear from time to time when he could just cruise in fourth all the way.
Many reviews I’ve seen devote time to the plot holes. I actually think these were script holes, which I’ll come to. Mostly these alleged plot holes revolve around the apparent illogic of the Engineers’ actions. This didn’t bother me for a number of reasons.
1. All we have to judge their actions against is Noomi’s drawn-from-thin-air assertion that they are our progenitors and have invited us. She might be wrong. In fact, I think she was. The engineers that we saw could sculpt a monument the size of Australia, giving a star map that could only be read from space, or at least leave a signature in a glacier somewhere. Rock scribblings of a consistent star map that are separated by thousands of miles and centuries are impressive, sure, but they do not constitute an invitation. (Oh yes, and deduct a further 10 points from the script writers for equating "galactic configuration", whatever one of those is, with what we lesser beings prefer to call "a solar system".)
2. Okay, assume it was invitation. Whatever the Engineers set up was done thousands of years ago. LV-233 might have been a paradise planet back then. Meanwhile factions rise and fall, policies change. Demanding consistency on that timescale would require a monolithic Star Trek-type civilisation where everyone thinks and acts in exactly the same way, for millennia. This is known technically as “bad science fiction (example of)”.
3. All we are seeing is a tiny slice of the Engineers' world. You couldn’t extrapolate 21st century global politics by excavating the Great Pyramid.
4. Maybe the invitation was misunderstood? I’m put in mind of a short story I read years ago, “Dark benediction” by Walter M. Miller, which dates from 1951 and must be one of the earliest zombie apocalypse tales. In this case the apocalypse is wrought by a meteorite that was cut open by scientists, revealing a kind of parasitic goo which starts to infect people. What they didn’t notice was that the meteorite contained many layers. It was in fact intended as a gift. The donors assumed Earth scientists would think as they did and cut the thing open layer by layer, releasing ever increasing levels of technology, each one helping them to understand the next, so that by the time they reached the core they would know exactly what they were handling.
Anyway. Noomi herself excuses any illogicality in the story by noticing it and resolving to resolve it. So there.
The more geeky reviews wonder why, as this is a prequel to Alien, the crew of Nostromo didn’t pick up traces of the earlier expedition or the Engineers’ artefacts? My answer is twofold. Geeky: Nostromo landed in the middle of a storm with visibility reduced to tens of metres, and all sensor data was being handled by Ash the Evil Android and the ship’s computer, which had been programmed to consider the crew expendable. Less geekily: Alien was made over 30 years ago and Ridley Scott had no idea he would one day be revisiting the story.
So that’s the plot holes. Now the script holes …
The actors were good, and could all convince me as being specialists in one area who were out of their depths in another: again, like the Nostromo crew. They get a heck of a lot more sympathy than the frankly incompetent marines of Aliens who deserved everything they got. Most of the time the characters act as they do because that is what normal people would do and they have no idea they’re in the prequel to Alien.
But then their characters are made to do silly things. The biologist doesn’t notice alien life forms literally manifesting beneath his feet. They establish that air is breathable, but don’t check what else might be in it before breathing it. Sans helmets, they open a door which might have unbreathable air behind it. Even the archaeologist acts surprised that their entry seems to have disturbed the equilibrium of somewhere that has lain undisturbed for millennia.
Oddest of all was when time seemed to stand still, or flow backwards, or something, onboard Prometheus. Violence occurs between characters, the ship’s procedures for preventing alien infiltration are blown to hell, and a woman is found wandering the corridors in her undies and covered in blood. No one even gives her a “‘Zup?” - they just carry on with the plot, including the people she has just beaten up who might at least cast her a dark glance.
Meanwhile, for no reason other than an additional 5 seconds of tension, an expensive item of medical equipment that has previously been firmly established to be the sole property and for the sole use of a female character is revealed to be configured for male bodies only.
Why get a relatively young actor to play an older man when it entails swaddling him in layers of Star Trek latex? Why not save on at least a couple of layers by getting an older actor?
Why are axes standard issue in lifepods (apparently)?
And Ridley Scott’s sense of plausible timescales still irritates. It irritated me in Blade Runner, when I was expected to believe that a mere 40 years hence - 7 years hence, from where I’m now sitting - flying cars would be the norm and a character could plausibly bang on about attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. Now I’m expected to believe we’ll have viable interstellar travel, albeit requiring two years in hibernation, by the 2090s.
Quibbles, quibbles. It's fun. Enjoy it.
And now some links.
Prometheus: an archaeological perspective (sort of) skewers it far more enjoyably than I can. Prometheus Unbound: What The Movie Was Actually About offers an alarmingly well thought out alternative reason for why everything went wrong, which is almost certainly not what Ridley Scott had in mind but makes perfect plot sense.