Prometheus Unsound: In Space, No One Can Hear You Facepalm

This is more of a vivisection than a review. It assumes you have seen the film, and spoilers abound. Be warned.

And here I thought Battleship was supposed to be the dumbest movie of the summer. Let me say this as plainly as I can: Prometheus may well be the dumbest movie I have ever seen. Yes, movies like Battleship and Transformers are plenty dumb, but they’re supposed to be dumb. Prometheus takes its dumbness to a much higher level; it is profoundly dumb. Sound harsh? Over at Digital Digging, Henry Rothwell, an archeologist and therefore an official Smart Person, hilariously attempts to catalogue some of this movie’s copious scientific errors and oversights:

Archaeologist Noomi Rapace is excavating a crevice in a cave with a paintbrush. Shining a small torch into the crevice, she smiles, and tells her assistant to shout to Dr. Holloway, who is excavating a fair distance away down the hill. You can tell he’s an archaeologist, as opposed to another kind of doctor, because he is sieving soil. When his name is called, he instantly throws the sieve to the ground, and pounds up the hill to the cave. Because, as we all know, archaeology can be extraordinarily hard to catch.

Speed is of the essence. He is too slow however, as in the time it takes him to cover the distance, the crevice is now a large cavern, replete with cave paintings, which Noomi has already dated. They’re 35,000 years old. Possibly older. One bit shows a human figure pointing at some dots. It’s significant. They hold hands. Archaeologists are hot. Archaeology is cool.

He goes on for several hundred more words and yet he doesn’t come close to exhausting the dumbness that is Prometheus. But here’s the thing: I’m not even talking about nitpicky scientific errors such as how in the hell the ship could get to another star system in two years even though the nearest star is 4.2 light years away. I’m not talking about any of that. I’ll let the braniacs and eggheads take care of that (as I’m sure they will). I’m talking about shit like this: at one point in this film a dude encounters a creature that rears up out of some primordial ooze on a distant, hostile planet. The thing looks like a tapeworm and has the size and demeanor of a rattlesnake in full display.

And he tries to pet it. (It ends badly.)

It is no exaggeration to say that every major plot point in Prometheus rests upon one of the characters — and the cast, remember, consists entirely of highly trained scientists who’ve been hand-selected for a trillion dollar multi-year space mission — doing something boneheadedly stupid. These people can fly a trillion dollar spacecraft to another solar system, but they don’t seem to understand that you shouldn’t let your crew wander off willy-nilly in the huge alien complex you’ve just now discovered.

My realization that perhaps Prometheus was not an Alien-level effort came early, when the newly-awakened-from-hypersleep crew (and have we seen this scene enough times yet?) is getting a tour of their trillion-dollar spaceship (yes, that’s right, this is the first time the team is seeing the ship they’re on, WHEN THEY”RE ALREADY AT THEIR FUCKING DESTINATION MILLIONS OF MILES FROM EARTH), and the Charlize Theron character gives the two archeologists a walkthrough of her plushly furnished escape pod (complete with fully stocked bar and grand piano), which happens to include an advanced surgical robot that can perform any surgical procedure simply by saying it. Hmmm, is it me or have we just written the entire third act?

Only here’s the thing. When it finally comes time late in the film for our plucky lady archeologist to use the surgical robot to remove the alien fetus she is gestating, the robot informs her that it is only programmed to operate on males (hence no abortion for her, not even with a mandatory waiting period and signed consent). Huh? What? So let me get this straight. Some engineers back on Earth went to the trouble of building a state-of-the-art surgical robot (“Only six were ever made,” we learn), but they never bothered to download the schematics for the female anatomy? We’ve known about the existence of lady parts since at least the 1970s, and this movie takes place in 2093. But still, the super-advanced fancy schmancy surgical robot only works on men. Even though one-third of the crew is female? Even though the robot is installed in the escape pod occupied by Charlize Theron (who, to the best of my knowledge, is female)? Oh well, maybe the surgical robot had a small hard drive and no one wanted to delete Minesweeper.

Let’s see, what else? Oh yes. After they land on the planet and part of their crew goes missing in the alien complex and they are hit by a monster wind-storm and they bring the head of an alien into the ship without observing any kind of protocol against contagion, everyone on the ship decides to do the only logical thing in this sort of situation: they all begin drinking heavily and shagging each other. Because that’s what highly trained scientists do hours after they discover incontrovertible proof of an alien civilization. It is at this point that Charlize Theron, who in her role as the head of this mission would need to spend three hours in a hot tub just to qualify as an ice queen, shags Stringer Bell (I’m sorry but Idris Elba will always be Stringer Bell to me) just to prove that she has no intention of shagging Stringer Bell. Take that, Stringer Bell! (I wish I were making this up.) This hookup, I should note, bears no relation to the plot and is never mentioned again. It’s almost as though the invisible hand of some producer were at work: “You’ve got Charlize Theron and you’ve Idris Elba in the same picture and they don’t shag?! Get me rewrites!” I’m only partly joking; the entire script feels slipshod and hastily rewritten.

And let me just try to wrap my mind around the “idea” that drives the entire film. In the film’s first scene, life on Earth is seeded by an alien species (which the archeologists call the “engineers”). The scene suggests that this act seeds all life, not just humans. So far, so good. Interesting concept. Interesting quest, to meet our makers (also a major theme of Blade Runner). But later in the film, one of the scientists discovers that our DNA matches that of the engineers exactly (as in 100% match). So then why don’t we look exactly like them? Are why are they all alabaster white? (Yes, this is yet another science fiction movie that seems to suggest that there are no black people in space.) And how can our DNA match theirs exactly if the engineers only began the process? Were they here whole time, intelligently designing the hell out of us? In other words, the evolutionary process on Earth was/is specific to Earth’s conditions. Once the engineers introduced the seed, random mutation based on the host planet’s specific ecology would result in an infinite number of variations. Which would mean that, hundreds of millions of years later, our DNA would not be identical to the engineers. Or am I missing something here? Smart people, please weigh in.

And also. And also. In a particularly boneheaded presentation, the archeologists explain how they deduced the location of the alien planet through some commonalities in the pictographs and carvings of various ancient cultures such as the Egyptians and Sumerians (why is it always the goddamn Sumerians?!; hey Sumerians, stop leaving so many tantalizing clues laying around for hack screenwriters!). And later in the film, the requisite evil cyborg (Michael Fassbender, who’s actually quite good), learns to speak the alien’s language by studying the commonalities between various ancient Earth languages. So this alien race not only seeded life on Earth but also has played an ongoing role in our development to the point that our languages derive from theirs? And they also were handing out star maps to these early civilizations? Like one per fill up? If this is the case, um, where did they go?

Then there’s the bizarre scene late in the film where Stringer Bell explains the “secret” of the engineers to the lady archeologist: he tells her that the engineers were developing biological weapons of mass destruction (which include H.R. Giger’s alien and many others), and that they were planning to bring a load of these critters to Earth to wipe us out (why? We never find out) when something went wrong and the facility was wiped out by their own creations. But here’s the thing: nothing he says is backed up by anything we’ve seen in the film. And he himself has scarcely left to ship to observe anything. So how can he possibly know any of this? This entire plot point reeks screenwriter info dump. And if the alien vessel is a cargo ship and all of the canisters are filled with incredibly toxic biological weapons, then why in the hell are they all lined up like bowling pins that would topple and spill at their first jostling?

Then there’s the movie’s most lamentable scene. If you’ve seen the movie, I think you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, allow me to apologize in advance. Now H.R. Giger’s original alien is one of the most genuinely terrifying monsters ever envisioned, a psychosexual rape machine straight from humanity’s collective id. But Prometheus takes this idea and makes it horrifyingly literal so that the final creature now consists of little more than a huge white phallus that orally rapes its victim before climbing on top and pumping away until it is well and fully sated. I’m totally serious. There were audible groans in the audience as this long and regrettable tableau unfolded before our horrified eyes. I actually felt bad for the poor techs who had to operate the creatures during this scene. I know it’s a job but, really, there are places no puppeteer should ever have to go. But here’s an idea for a sequel: dress up the monster in garters and stockings, lay down a soft jazz soundtrack, and then Ridley Scott can show this shit on Cinemax after hours.

Final verdict: I waited six months to see this?! FML.

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6 Responses to Prometheus Unsound: In Space, No One Can Hear You Facepalm

  1. pt dismal says:

    as i understand it, the script was written by the dude who wrote lost. i know people thought that was a great show and all, and i’ve never seen even a clip from it, but everything i heard about it sounded supremely dumb. so, badness explained, no? picking of nits unnecessary.

    thanks for confirming my lack of interest in all summer blockbusters, kamper. you remain ever vigilant.

    ptd

  2. Pingback: Prometheus: All the Questions | Happy Valley News Hour

  3. 3D says:

    > When it finally comes time late in the film for our plucky lady archeologist to use the
    > surgical robot to remove the alien fetus she is gestating, the robot informs her that it
    > is only programmed to operate on males (hence no abortion for her, not even with a
    > mandatory waiting period and signed consent). Huh? What? So let me get this straight.
    > Some engineers back on Earth went to the trouble of building a state-of-the-art surgical
    > robot (“Only six were ever made,” we learn), but they never bothered to download the
    > schematics for the female anatomy? We’ve known about the existence of lady parts since
    > at least the 1970s, and this movie takes place in 2093. But still, the super-advanced
    > fancy schmancy surgical robot only works on men. Even though one-third of the crew
    > is female? Even though the robot is installed in the escape pod occupied by Charlize
    > Theron (who, to the best of my knowledge, is female)? Oh well, maybe the surgical
    > robot had a small hard drive and no one wanted to delete Minesweeper.

    This is Lindelof Screenwriting 101. You get a cool idea for a cool scene, then write it without worrying about whether it makes sense or not. Lost is riddled with this from about the third season onward.

  4. kamper says:

    Thanks. I guess Cowboys & Aliens should have been a clue.

  5. Pingback: Honest Trailers – Prometheus | Happy Valley News Hour

  6. But the final alien (muscular, white, and apparently able to thrive and grow to enormous size on air alone, since it in the med pod with no food for a couple of days) also had about a dozen little vagina dentatas on it, remember? It’s an all-in-one!

    You forgot the “run forward in the path of the narrow falling thing to get out of the way of the narrow falling thing, rather than in any other direction” dumbness. That is the most stupidly pervasive dumbness in all of movies.

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