by Scott Creighton
I saw Riddley Scott’s new film Prometheus this weekend. I was a big fan of his film Alien of which this is the prequel. There are many reviews out there, most of which are pleasantly negative at best and I have to ask myself “why?”
Metacritic gives it 3 stars while their readers overwhelmingly seemed to enjoy it and Rotten Tomatoes gives it only 3.5 while their readers liked it even more.
What is it about this film that makes so many would be critics wish to jump on the disparaging band wagon as if it were the next Battlefield Earth or Starship Troopers? Personally, I liked the film and found what it had to say to be rather interesting for a number of reasons which I will get to later. But first, let’s look at why many didn’t like the film and maybe from that we can figure out what is really pretty good about it.
Critics toss around words like “inorganic” and “pretentious” with reckless abandon in Prometheus’ reviews. But what does all that really mean? Sci-fi has been addressing the heady subject matter since the beginning of the genre. That’s the point of sci-fi for those of you who understand it’s more than just laser beams and rocket cars.
Think back to Blade Runner. That film wasn’t well received by the critics at the time either, but it’s developed a massive fan base not because of the stilted writing or that chick with the blonde hair, it’s developed a fan base because of what it said. The accuracy of what it said about where we were going. What the world and humanity would look like if we continued on the corporatist path were are on. It said a lot about what it means to be human and what it means to be labeled as subhuman. That’s pretentious.
How about Logan’s Run or The Stepford Wives or Hunger Games for that matter? Pretentious? Of course.Successful? Not at first except for Hunger Games.
What about George Orwell’s 1984 or Children of Men? Most people couldn’t even tell you what Children of Men is about yet it stands as one of the best films made in the last 10 years that deals with the dystopic post Global War on Terror world we are about to find ourselves living in.
Creating an appearance of distinction is the point of sci-fi. Good science fiction can expand upon a foible in our society by exaggerating it over the years as would naturally happen if left unchecked. A fine example is the Weyland corporation in Prometheus. We have seen Citizens United grant almost limitless power to the corporate entity and naturally, if left unchecked, by 2094 (time Prometheus is set) the CEO would easily envision himself as a king which they probably already do (his daughter makes a reference to him as “king” in the film)
So why don’t people like Prometheus? (If you don’t want spoilers, I would suggest you stop reading now. The film is worth seeing so go see it and come back to the discussion)
Where to start? Let’s start at the beginning.
On a planet not too unlike ours, we see a creature that resembles us, but in the way we resemble the statues of Atlas holding up the world. The creature drinks a black liquid (more on that in a minute) and his body starts to break down on a cellular level. He falls into a running stream and breaks up into the ecosystem. That was a depiction of the moment of seeding the planet with DNA that ends up being ours.
That was creation.
That could be one possible reason for so many to dislike the film immediately and start looking for reasons to call it pretentious even as they were sitting there. I’m sure that accounts for some of it… some of the far right “film critics” if there really is such a thing… but that can’t be all of it.
I think the ending was probably more offensive to most than the beginning. In the end, the glorious meeting we have all dreamed of, the moment where we meet the higher life form from which we were spawned stands before us and answers our insightful questions, tells us the meaning of it all as it were.
Ridley didn’t go there to say the least.
In Ridley’s world we are not made in the image of a kind and just God. We are crafted from clay in the mold of a murderous belligerent monster who kills first and never asks questions. We are made in the form of a creature who is transporting weapons of mass destruction back to our home planet, that famous “black liquid” we see over and over again in various movies.
There was no glorious meeting like the one in Contact between Jodie Foster and that stupid alien Jesus thingy.
In this one, Atlas rips someone’s head off and then kills the king without so much as a “how do you do”
Prometheus wasn’t JUST the Titan who was punished for giving us fire. He created us from clay and water and then Athena gave us reason. THAT is the reference of relevance. Remember the opening sequence? Atlas looking alien drank the black liquid then jumped into a stream… water. He was the clay, the stream the water. Prometheus.
In the end of the film, the question “Why?” is asked by the main character as she readies herself to go off on yet another adventure with her slightly damaged android. Why would these creatures do this? Why would they seed out planet with their own DNA and then return a few thousand years later to wipe us out? This bothers her, though it doesn’t really bother me much.
Clearly we aren’t the finished product as the saying goes. There seems to be at least one more step in our designed evolutionary process. At least that is what I gathered from the film.
It couldn’t be that they didn’t like what we had become because according to the film, the outpost on which they find the ship (the same LV planet from the first and second Alien movies) had fallen into disrepair thanks to their own leaking WMD over two thousand years ago, and we had hardly begun to debase ourselves by that time.
No. Seems to me the film maker was saying it was all part of the plan which probably makes the super religious types even angrier. God never intended us. We are an abortion, the clay itself, an incomplete mold yielding an imperfect unfinished product. We are the blank, glues up and ready to be transformed into the finished product on a galactic lathe.
The idea is that the “ancient aliens” only seeded this planet in order to engineer it to better suit their needs.
Which reminds me of David Icke I hate to say. Some of what he writes and talks about are life forms that need a higher CO2 content rich atmosphere to breathe and so here we are polluting the world with carbon dioxide (from our “black liquid”?) making ready for their arrival.
This film also deals with a number of similar aspects found in films like The X-Files film (first one): black liquid radically reshaping our DNA, global elites trying to strike deals with intergalactic oligarchs… that kind of thing. Also plays right into David Icke. Take what you will of that.
I tend to think what angers most critics who don’t self-identify as deeply or even moderately religious, is the fact that the film takes a rather different approach to the question of what are we at the core? Are we benevolent or malevolent in nature?
If we are made in the image of a creature that cares no more for us than the farmer does his egg-laying hens, what does that say about the things we hold as universal truths? Are we better than that? Can we BE better than that? Are the “better angels of our nature” simply vanity or are the real simply because we say they are?
In the end the woman, the star of the film, the protagonist talks to the android and explains to him her reason for wanting to go the home planet of this Atlas Prometheus thing to get answers to her question. She says he can’t understand it because he isn’t “human”
Prometheus was a thinker, a planner. He didn’t simply react and except what was told of him. He looked beyond the rules to understand their meaning and their results. And then he chose.
He was known as a trickster which is what got him in trouble with Zeus. He gave us fire because he had empathy and so he defied Zeus and thus paid the price.
In the end the star of the film has to know “why?” when it is clearly easier and safer to simply return home with her broken robot so she becomes Prometheus. Mohawk boy just cared about a paycheck… he’s dead. She want’s to understand… she’s in the sequel.
Only the sequel will tell if she’s chained to a rock for her troubles. Things could be worse though. Look what Sigorney had to go through over the years after Aliens.
There are lots of things to like about the film, a few not to like. Though much is being made of the actor’s work who played the android, I didn’t find his efforts to be worth acclaim.
Too many characters, too little interaction with the entities themselves.
Characters are introduced only to offer some stupid one dimensional quip at some plot-line dependent point so they can meet their inevitable end in a contrived manner (Mohawk Boy – notice he is the ONLY one in the film who says he’s just there to make money and he turns into some kind of super-powered alien zombie?).
Other characters are introduced as main characters then killed off with little to no fanfare or even a seeming point (other lead doctor and romantic lead with protagonist)
The alien birth (C-Section to be exact) was a bit contrived, though in the end, it did make sense to have the thing on the ship. That alien, a precursor to the face huger, did nothing for me, though it was a bit odd looking.
The sets were alright, nothing remarkable like Alien or Blade Runner.
I guess in the end I liked what this film had to say more than how they said it. Prometheus gave us our bodies while Athena gave us reason. Then Jesus comes along as says “thou mayest”… free will. It doesn’t matter what your Gods gave you or didn’t.
We are humans now and we have to make the best of it. Part of the human condition is reason and determination, and curiosity. We aren’t androids and we aren’t made of clay. Sometimes you have to pack up your android head and fly off into the sunset and go kick the Gods square in the ass because like it or not, they don’t have your best interests at heart. They never did, they never will. And if 3.5 years of Obama hasn’t taught you that, this film won’t either I imagine.
Leave it to me to stick an Obama jab in there, huh?
It’s a good enough film. I’m sure Icke is frothing about it at this time. If anyone runs across a link to that I would be interested in hearing his reptilian take on it.