Prometheus Dumbs Down the Earth

9 Jun

"They are doing what? Oh, well, let's have sex!" This might be the best way to take Prometheus – in very condensed, accelerated doses:

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Admittedly, like Robert Koehler at The Marmot’s Hole, I found Ridley Scott’s “prequel…of sorts” sufficiently entertaining. I even thought, that the 3-D version did not undermine the tale – because the tale undermines itself all too well. I still don’t understand what 3-D is supposed to bring to movies, though. About the only gimmick I ever enjoy is how characters seem to walk past me, thus blocking my view of the rest of the characters and vistas on the screen. I can imagine a very scary scenario like that – or, just the jerk in the seat in front of me standing up. Unfortunately, the non-digital world is already 3-D enough to include screen-blocking jerks, and the former thrilling prospect is still such a longed for fantasy in my horror-engrossed brain that I doubt any movie could satisfy me. (Actually, this one did – without 3-D).

(Spoilers, beware!)

What it comes down to is this – Prometheus is a dumb action flick where the adrenaline rush gets dulled by bad science, ham-fisted suspense, and pathetic characters.

Before I get to the letdown, though, I should vent some spleen on three points I’ve complained about or addressed on this blog before. Sequels dressed up as prequels, that are anyway just the same plots, or warmed-over corpses of old plots, is the most recent assault on my optimistic, still child-like imagination. And then, there’s the glaring affront, that characters who are supposedly professionals would jettison evolution for some muddled version of “directed panspermia” or “Chariots of the Gods?“. And, finally, since this is a blog written by an expat living in Busan, can I mention how, in all the archaeological sites cursorily depicted where those seemingly identical cave paintings of star charts were independently discovered, not one is located in East Asia? As a matter of fact, most of them are from the usual sites, like Sumer, smack dab in the middle of the Eurasian landmass, that always get used for these troubled pseudoscientific narratives. I guess the Denisovans were just not “Engineer” material – although descendants, like Australia’s Aborigines, claim they can traverse space and time.

But, that’s politics, right? I’m just planting a seed I hope will mature into a better movie. Because, when it comes down to it, Prometheus‘ plot is ridiculous. First of all, a trillion dollars? How about two quadrillion dollars, or ten super-duper gazillion dollars – or loonies? Euros? Gene Roddenberry’s utopian socialist fantasies refuse to die in Hollywood. A trillion dollars for the Nostromo to mine minerals is much more plausible, except that that crew was laboring under contracts so onerous, decisions affecting life and death were constrained by a commander with the moral horizon of a very bad accountant. For this latest mogul’s investment, this is what we have to endure:

The Prometheus, a well-equipped research vessel, is sent to the planet, transmitting a Voyager golden record-style message ahead of itself. The ship is traveling faster than the speed of light, so it’s probably not a surprise that they don’t receive a response before they arrive.

When they reach the planet, they immediately enter the atmosphere at a randomly-chosen point and fly around for a few minutes until they discover the alien base and land on top of it. I’ll go through the issues in this short sequence one at a time:

1) it strains credulity that they would choose exactly the right place to start searching, a problem that could have been solved by following the standard xenoarchaeological procedure of:
2) beginning with orbital reconnaissance of the planet and using pattern recognition (again!) to look for evidence of artificial structures, and then moving on to a landed mission. This is Xenoarchaeology 101, people!
3) Landing a ship with ‘nuclear powered plasma engines’ on top of an archaeological site is not best practice. Even if you are landing on what appears to be merely roads. There’s plenty of room to land to one side without damaging any structures at all!

Even though there are only hours until the sun goes down, the archaeologists want to investigate the main structure immediately. This is human nature and understandable. Unfortunately, the Prometheus is a ship of fools, and everyone who goes with them is an irredeemable idiot. Here is a list of things they do right:

1) deploy awesome autonomous mapping probes. These are the best things in the movie.

Here are some things they do wrong:

1) Reject the assistance of armed security personnel.
2) Immediately take off their helmets when they detect a breathable atmosphere inside the structure, without scanning even for biohazards.
3) Touch unidentified alien technology and objects.
4) Open sealed pressure doors without considering the climatic impact on artefacts within.
5) Try and carbon date something! We only know how to do this for material on earth! To carbon date alien material you would need to know the proportion of the carbon 14 isotope in the atmosphere of its planet of origin, and that’s just the beginning of the process!

I should mention here that the expedition planners kept the mission details a secret until after everyone awoke from cryogenic suspension. Probably because that’s what they did in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The planners also seemed to lack the ability to choose competent scientists, particularly the geologist, who is devoid of sense of wonder, intellectual curiosity and social skills, and only came along to make money. The biologist has a sense of wonder, but no instinct for self-preservation. They wander off for a stupid reason and come to bad ends.

And, that’s not all – but why bother at this point. There’s the pregnancy, which leads to the spectacle of a woman with staples across her belly performing physical feats that, instead of inspiring me to chase my wife up and down mountains, make me happy neither my wife nor I have to give birth. And, really, I just don’t understand the relationship between the dark-eyed humanoid gray Titans and the multi-staged bioweapons that start like cute octopus and become scimitar-headed monsters with four jaws. I guess that important detail is left for another sequel – or, is that prequel…of sorts?

What about that pendant around Shaw’s neck she so cherishes? It’s the bridge she maintains between herself and her deceased father, we learn. But, is it the source of her “faith” in the next crackpot idea she will espouse, to advance the movie’s/series’ plot? Does she believe all those terrestrial religions were founded by aliens, or at least inspired them? Or, perhaps, God is a scimitar-headed monster? Is the pendant responsible for her kickass physical strength and endurance? The pendant is a sop for intelligent design crackpots, and another indication of a muddled plot jerry-rigged to appeal to everyone, as long as one only watches a scene at a time.

Prometheus is a marketing gumbo, chock full of gadgets, redoubtable females, multiple monsters, and pseudoscience in a suspension that just doesn’t cohere. There are just too many crew members, with potentially fascinating personalities, but with no time to develop into a real group of human beings. It’s entirely fitting, that the two adults in the film, the Captain (Idris Elba) and Vickers (Charlize Theron), are having sex when they should be babysitting their crew. Both are sacrificed, so that the dreamer Shaw can escape the planet, with the only character – the android, David/Lawrence of Arabia – who doesn’t act like a moron, but yet in the end is a disembodied head in a duffel bag. But, yes, the flick sure looks amazing!

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