I went to see Prometheus on Saturday. It was my first cinema trip in three years and the results were… not pretty. Prometheus is a film about space scientists and their space mission to a space planet to be killed by space aliens, except the scientists in question are pretty much the worst scientists in the history of science. Even by film scientist standards they’re absolutely terrible. The following laundry list of complaints is going to spoil the movie fairly comprehensively, so if you have any intention of watching this awful film at some point in the future I’d avoid reading the rest of this post if I were you.
The command structure and job roles of this two-year mission to outer space are incredibly vague. There’s Charlize Theron, who represents the company funding it and who is supposedly in charge, but the people she’s nominally in command of apparently don’t care. The captain certainly doesn’t. Noomi Rapace and her boyfriend don’t. The geologist and the biologist don’t. Throughout the entire movie everyone does their own thing; having invested two years of their lives travelling out to this planet, once they get there everyone just makes it up as they go along. According to what we see in the film some of them have never even met prior to coming out of stasis! Wasn’t there, you know, any training involved in this hazardous deep space mission? Or did the company just hire bums off the street to crew its top of the line science vessel because the bottom line was cheaper? You have to do training before going to Antarctica, and even Svalbard requires a three-day course in how to shoot polar bears, but an unexplored alien world? Let’s just wing it, it’ll be fine.
(Perhaps I’ve got this all wrong, though. Maybe they’re workfare placements who don’t really want to be there. That would explain why nobody in this movie gives a fuck about their jobs and why they don’t have the first clue about space travel or exploring alien worlds.)
They get to the planet and they descend through the atmosphere, and they just happen to come down right next to some alien igloos. Like, out of the entire planet, they picked the landing site that was next to the alien buildings. If you picked a random landing site on Earth your chances of landing next to human habitation wouldn’t be very good because two thirds of the surface is fucking water. I understand that it would be even less entertaining for them to spend two months surveying the planet, but my problem here is that they don’t even deal with this issue with a throwaway line. It’s not like Alien where they were homing in on a distress beacon that provided a plausible narrative reason as to why they find the ship so quickly.
They go out to explore the alien igloos. With people. In flimsy-looking environment suits. Don’t these guys have robots they can send in first to see if it’s a hazardous environment? I suppose there’s David, but he doesn’t exactly go first, and there’s the laser balls, but all they do is make a very detailed map that nobody bothers to use and by the time they’re deployed the away team is already inside. We survey many hostile environments on Earth using drones and robots because it’s safer than sending in squishy humans. In the future, nobody gives a shit.
Upon finding the structure they’re in has a breathable atmosphere, the entire exploratory team removes their helmets and starts sucking in great big lungfuls of air that is very probably contaminated by a shitload of alien radiation/bacteria/whatever. If you are in an environment suit on an alien world you do not take it off. Like, ever. Even if the world is apparently completely Earth-like and you’re standing in a lush garden with flowers and daffodils watching cats gambol through the grass. Those cats likely have thousands of years of evolutionary experience in dealing with the native bacteria. You don’t. Inhaling one would have an effect on your body much like what happened when twelve rabbits were introduced to Australia, a continent which had never even seen a rabbit before and which had no natural predators to keep their population in check. I mean, it’s not like it even looks benign. The inside of that ruin looks like a stag beetle’s colon1. I wouldn’t want to inhale beetle colon air no matter how harmless it was.
After exposing themselves to god-knows-what alien diseases the away team wanders around just poking at shit without bothering to take any samples for study in a lab environment save a severed alien head grabbed at the last minute. They are also incredibly unprofessional in their personal behaviour; the beardy guy is apparently a geologist yet his primary contribution to the mission is to throw his laser balls around and act like a moron. At no point does he do anything indicating he possesses any kind of useful skills whatsoever and just whines and whines until he decides to leave with his equally-useless biologist buddy. Wouldn’t this giant corporation financing the trip have, you know, scientists trained in archaeology/xenoarchaeology/insert field here who would have worked out procedures for studying this alien environment in advance rather than hiring this complete bunch of no-hopers who just make it up as they go along?
Despite having a computer back on the Prometheus that tracks the movements of everyone exploring the alien ruin in real-time, and despite this particular special effect being shown in excruciating detail several times during the film, the captain, crew, exploratory team and literally every other human on the planet fail to notice that the beardy guy and his biologist friend have gotten lost inside rather than returning to the ship. Shouldn’t there be like, an entire support team monitoring the movements and video feeds of the scientists? The Prometheus has other crew members besides the captain who could be doing this stuff, right? We send robot subs down to look at marine trenches (which are mostly inky blackness) and there’s a whole bunch of people crowded around the television screen back on the boat, yet here they find the remains of a hitherto undiscovered alien race3 and it’s apparently so boring that nobody can be bothered to keep an eye on things. Even the marine team in Aliens got Gorman and Ripley looking over their shoulders.
(Also, wasn’t laser ball dude in charge of the mapping process? Shouldn’t he have access to a pretty good map of the ruin now? Doesn’t he have a feed back to the very accurate map on the Prometheus? How did they even get lost in the first place? Shit, we have Google maps on our smartphones now, are you telling me that nearly a century of technological progress doesn’t stop these two bozos from wandering in circles the entire time?)
After shenanigans they get the alien head back to the Prometheus where they proceed to handle it without any kind of isolation apparatus whatsoever. It is just sitting out in the open air of their lab area2. Not content with exposing the away team to whatever alien bacteria were present in the ruin, they’ve now exposed everyone else on board the Prometheus to it too thanks to their shitty scientific procedure. They don’t even put their face masks on when handling it!
The brilliant scientist Noomi Rapace, upon being confronted with this perfectly preserved specimen of an alien lifeform, does what any self-respecting archaeologist would do in this situation: instead of photographing it, imaging it using the super-duper awesome medical imaging equipment they’ve got right there (X-rays and ultrasound, anyone?), measuring its dimensions and generally gathering as much data about it as she possibly can while taking great pains to preserve it in its original state, she sticks a giant needle in its ear and runs twenty thousand volts through it. Why? It’s never really explained. The head promptly and predictably explodes, preventing any further analysis. Bravo, Noomi Rapace. Bravo.
Noted cowards beardy guy and his biologist friend, after getting lost, decide to spend the night in the safest part of the alien ship: the room with the happy, not-at-all ominous stone face and the completely benign set of containers oozing friendly space goo onto the floor. Nothing bad could possibly happen to them here. At least they’ve got their helmets on, I guess – not that it helps them, because as soon as the alien snake pops its head out of the goo the biologist (who up until this point has been nothing but a massive coward) sidles towards it making idiotic cooing noises like it’s a basket full of cute kittens rather than an alien lifeform whose capabilities and potential threat is completely unknown. What exactly is he trying to achieve here? If it was a fucking bear, would he be sidling towards it making idiotic cooing noises? How does he know it isn’t the alien equivalent of a bear? In a film full of morons, these two are the worst of the lot.
Michael Fassbender spikes whatshisface’s drink with space goo. This is never explained either, although in this case I’m inclined to let it slide because Michael Fassbender is the sort of asshole who’d do this just for shits and giggles. Fassbender does a lot of inexplicable stuff during the movie, but it can nearly all be excused with “Michael Fassbender is a dick”.
Whatshisface develops Space Ebola while on a second trip to the alien ruin. Charlize Theron refuses to let him back on board the Prometheus, citing a quarantine regulation that nobody has given a flying fuck about up until this point. Hey, Charlize! You know Noomi decided to explode an alien head down in medbay, right? You know you’re probably breathing in alien brain matter right now? If it’s contamination by alien diseases you’re worried about then I’m afraid the boat done sailed on that one.
Charlize then sets whatshisface on fire using one of the flamethrowers the security team brought with them just in case they found some Japanese holdovers from WW2 and needed to clear some bunkers. What was the rationale for including those on the cargo manifest, again? If the guys who funded, planned and launched this particular voyage of the damned had the foresight to predict the possibility of space zombies and take appropriate precautions, why is every single member of the crew they picked so incompetent? Even Idris Elba spends more time on-screen playing an accordion with his comfort blanket draped over his shoulders than he does running the ship.
There’s like a zillion more plot holes in the film but they’re all conventional stupidity instead of this rather special brand of science abuse. Alien isn’t particularly concerned with proper scientific procedure – indeed, I wouldn’t really want to watch it if it was – but it was still a film I respected because from what little we did see the crew on board the Nostromo (mostly) came across as competent professionals who knew how to do their jobs and were shown doing their jobs properly, and any blips in their behaviour could be explained by them being the space equivalent of truck drivers, not scientists. On the Prometheus we’re constantly told how brilliant Noomi Rapace is and what these other redshirt characters are here for, but when we see them doing their jobs (if at all) they’re shown doing it in the most haphazard slipshod fashion possible. This isn’t the way to tell a convincing story, and it certainly isn’t the way to present the Engineers and their creations as a viable threat because these guys are so dumb they’d happily follow lemmings over a cliff just to see what all the fuss was about. Pretty much every single person in this film dies because of their own stupidity and the stupidity of others — if the two Ronnies hadn’t gotten lost on the ship there wouldn’t have been a problem, if Fassbender hadn’t infected whatshisface with Space Ebola there wouldn’t have been a problem, etc etc. — not because the alien ship they’re exploring is actually deadly in any way. As a result Prometheus isn’t compelling, it isn’t scary and it most definitely isn’t Alien. Ridley Scott needs to stop making films; after this and Robin Hood he’s just embarrassing himself now.
1. I am aware that beetles do not have colons. However, if beetles did have colons then I imagine the inside of a beetle’s colon would look much like the inside of the alien ship.
2. Health and safety rules must be really relaxed in the future. I had to wear a full-on gas mask when dealing with inert ice samples because of the danger of breathing in particulate matter left over from the gun firing process that would fuck up my lungs. Fast forward one century and we’re handling two-thousand year-old alien heads with no precautions whatsoever.
3. It’s unclear as to whether humanity has encountered aliens before in this particular fictional universe, but judging by the crew’s utterly bored reactions to what they find and their refusal to document anything I’m guessing that it isn’t the first evidence of extraterrestrial life they’ve seen because, I don’t know, there’s one on every street corner back on Earth and it’s just so passé.