Are you ready for incredibly detailed CGI in a story about a strong female warrior battle an alien? You get that, but Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus,” is a wild tangle of problematic plotting and themes, ranging from bad science to lazy writing to the suggestion of the African Atlantis myth.
The very name Prometheus raises our expectations far more than the series to which this seems to serve as a prequel, Aliens. When I first saw “Alien” it was likely at awkward attempt by my date to fast-forward our relationship to a more physical level using the fear factor. It didn’t work. I found fault with the lack of biological logic behind the creature. What purpose could those double jaws pose except for creating cavities and locking jaws around bones that got caught in the wrong places.
Prometheus is a figure from Greek mythology. He was a Titan, a member of a race of deities who pre-dated the Olympians such as Zeus and Hera. Prometheus was the second generation sprung from Iapetus, who was one of the original 12 Titans and Oceanid Clymene. The Oceanids were so numerous they didn’t all have names; they were the daughters of Titans Oceanus and Tethys and they were the gods of particular bodies of water.
In the battle between the Titans and the Olympians, Prometheus sided with Zeus and helped defeat the Titans.
Prometheus created men, but not women. Prometheus fooled Zeus into agreeing to accept tributes of bones wrapped in fat over beef inside an ox stomach from men, setting a precedence for future sacrifices. In anger, Zeus took away fire from humans (although some versions of the myth have men without the knowledge of fire) and sent the first woman, Pandora, to men bringing with her plagues and diseases in a box that she opened. Woman was part of the punishment for mankind.
Prometheus was also punished, chained to a rock in the Caucasus with an eagle eating his liver for eternity because it would regenerate overnight. Heracles would set Prometheus free, killing the eagle and unchaining him.
Prometheus also appears as two different fictional characters in the Marvel Comic universe: as a member of the Titans and an Olympian (as in the council of the Greek gods and not the sports event) and as a member of the super hero family the Pantheon which is led by Agamemnon.
Prometheus isn’t the kind of name you’d want to give a mission, because Prometheus ultimately represents tragedy, a lone genius who attempts to help the human race, but whose efforts only bring disaster as in the case of the fictional Victor Frankenstein who creation is now the stuff of horror movies. Mary Shelley titled her 1818 book, “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.”
Take note of that: Don’t call anything modern because if it endures it will eventually be anything but. In 2012, the modern Prometheus is this Ridley Scott movie that begins with a chalk white man with exaggerated sculpturally crisp features. Talk about six-pack. His abs look like they were carved from marble. He appears to be naked and standing at the edge of a picturesque waterfall. To the movie goer, it’s not clear where he is (see discussion). He drinks, and there is some debate over what he drinks. In the background a saucer-shaped silver craft looms and departs. The poison acts quickly and he disintegrates with his remains falling into the water, mixing and we see his very DNA unraveling and then mysteriously reforming as cells that divide. Is this mitosis (cell division into two identical sets) or meiosis (sexual reproduction where chromosomes recombine)?
Fast forward past our time and into 2089 and there’s a discovery in Scotland (Isle of Skye) of a cave painting that is determined to be a star map or what one of the scientists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) will eventually call an invitation. Archeologists Shaw and her colleague/lover Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) will in 2093 be part of a small crew who are awakened from their cryogenic sleep by the android David (Michael Fassbender) who is infatuated with Peter O’Toole as “Lawrence of Arabia.”
The crew has traveled to different galaxy to the only star system that matches the cave drawing maps left in several locations including, Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt and oddly enough Hawaii (a volcanic mass too young) and not, to my recall, the Indus Valley (South Asia).
It’s not a planet, but a moon that they land on and what do they find? “God does not build in straight lines,” Holloway declares, as he sees long straight roads that lead to what appear to be large mounds of rock and dirt–sort of a bad DIY pyramid. That’s actually not true if you’re thinking about geodesics or mineral crystals. Oddly, it was Gertrude Stein who famously declared “there are no straight lines in nature” and she wasn’t a scientist.
Women figure prominently in the Alien series and as you’d expect they will figure prominently here. Dr. Shaw perhaps is named after another science fiction doctor, Dr. Elizabeth “Liz” Shaw in the British TV series, “Doctor Who.” So spoiler alert…I think she’s going to survive.
Shaw believes in God while the leader of this crew, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) believes in the company that sponsored this venture, Weyland Corporation and her boss Peter Weyland. “It is my job to make sure you do yours,” she tells the crew. She is, as is necessary in this science fiction movie, much smarter than the scientists when she intones, “If you find any alien beings down there do not engage them, do not talk to them, do not do anything but report back to me.”
The landing party (Shaw, David, Holloway, biologist Millburn and geologist Fifield) rushes out and into the structures. There’s no delay to test the ground or the water. Their instruments tell them that outside they can’t breathe the air, but inside the structures the oxygen level will allow them to breathe without their headgear so they all quickly take them off. Have these scientists not heard of bacteria (Staphylococcus and Pseudomonas found in ancient Egyptian tombs), mold (Aspergillus niger and Aspergillus flavus also found in ancient Egyptian tombs), the curse of the pharaohs or the War of the Worlds?
David seems to be able to read the writings and operate the machinery. The crew sees holograms which suggest that the aliens they seek, the people they call the engineers, were running from something and one was decapitated by a closing door. They find the head of the engineer and a crudely hewn stone larger stone head surrounded by urns that begin to ooze what one writer has dubbed black goo. We see, but the scientists do not, that there are life forms there–curiously looking like our own earthworms. The scientists’ instruments can’t detect these as life forms and the scientists are too interested in the decapitated head to notice. They take it back, hurrying as a sandstorm threatens their ability to return to the ship. David takes back one of the oozing urns.
Millburn (Rafe Spall) and Fifield (Sean Harris) got creeped out by the alien head and left, but the two get lost, and as a result, are left behind to weather out the storm. What the two do next makes no sense. You think an alien head is creepy, but you’re going to approach and attempt to pet a snake-like thing that boldly accosts you? Millburn must be a molecular biologist and not one who knows enough about zoology to consider things like spitting snakes, cobras, toxic caterpillars or Barry the giant sea worm.
What the researchers do with the head isn’t particularly smart either, but what do you expect from a couple of archeologists and the medical officer? I guess Holloway and Shaw really didn’t study about mummies from Egypt or Peru. There might be some murmuring from my geek friends that archeologists (along with sociologists and linguists) aren’t real scientists, but let’s just agree on this. The medical personnel has a scientific background and that person along with Shaw and Holloway are just stupid as the script requires.
What they do discover is that the DNA from the engineer’s head is an exact match for human DNA. That means, humans came from the engineers. If you watched “Project Nim” or “Jane’s Journey” you might have learned this important DNA fact: The chimpanzee and the human genomes are more than 98 percent identical. If we’re 100 percent identical with the engineers, why do the humans look so different from the engineers?
That essentially means that humans didn’t begin in Africa as per Dr. Leakey’s discoveries or if they did, it was an older white race as opposed to the people or the ancestors of the people who currently exist there. This concept, that humans must have developed from a superior white race, seems to recall the African Atlantis theory put forth by German ethnologist Leop Frobenius (1873-1938) who in a time when social Darwinism was being put forth, felt that there must be an explanation for military power, leadership and architecture in Africa. His explanation was that African culture derived from the lost civilization of Atlantis and that white civilization left a “white residue” which made it possible for native Africans to have such social structure.
Edgar Rice Burrough’s created the fictional city of Opar where the female Oparians were beautiful women, but the male Oparians were more like apes. When Great Zimbabwe was discovered in 1871, the government of Rhodesia pressured archaeologists to conclude the site had been built by non-black people and theories generated pointed to Phoenicians or Arabs or the Queen of Sheba.
Other logic problems include why did humans decide to bypass all the planets on the way to this one or if earthlings have visited other planets, why didn’t they establish better protocols? And just where is government regulation in all this. “Prometheus” hints at what could happen if we follow Richard Garriott’s spiel of commercial space travel.
If the engineers were so advanced that they could travel from there to our earth, couldn’t they have found an easier way (say an atomic bomb or something similar) to do what that black muck can do? Would they think of an antidote?
And, back to biology or zoology, most parasites have a limited set of hosts or even a specific host they can use. Most animals need nourishment to develop and mature.The thing from the black goo does not.
And as wonderfully glorified as the 1962 made T.E. Lawrence, he figures more in the minds of Americans and the English than in the minds of Arabs. One has to wonder what writer Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof have in mind with the references to Lawrence. We see David watching a scene where Lawrence has extinguished the flame of a lit match between his thumb and forefinger. Another man tries and exclaims in pain that it hurts. Lawrence explains, “Certainly it hurts…the trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.” The flame is supposed to represent, as Weyman later explains, the gift of fire from Prometheus, the first bit of technology.
The other quotes from “Lawrence of Arabia” aren’t always spoken by Lawrence. Later, when the android David comments, “There is nothing in the desert and no man needs nothing,”it’s not Peter O’Toole’s character he is quoting. In the movie “Lawrence of Arabia,” Prince Feisal begins by stating “No Arab loves the desert” before making that comment.
David also quotes Mr. Dryden from the 1962 movie, “Big things have small beginnings” Dryden is talking to General Murray about the Arab revolt. For Murray, the revolt is “a sideshow of a sideshow” to the war against the Germans. Murray wonders if they get the Arabs to fight against the Turks, what will happen when the war is over? Mr. Dryden assures the general that the Arab Bureau is only concerned with the current situation–winning the war, and not the probably consequences. This echoes what we later learn is the real point of this expedition (which also doesn’t make sense).
Like Shaw, I believe in God, but I don’t believe in creationism. I believe in science and I like my science fiction to makes a little more sense. My husband who is a scientist and doesn’t believe in God, thought that despite the wonderful special effects and scenery and holographs, this movie didn’t make any sense particularly in regards to scientific protocol. Consider that archeologists are the people who will painstakingly use small paint brushes to take layer after layer of dirt, sand or whatever off of an artifact. Shaw and Holloway are like the gonzo glory-greedy archeologists the world of science hates presented as the voice or reason.
The odd thing is, and this is another spoiler, that if the goal of the expedition called Prometheus is really more like Juan Ponce de León and his search from the Fountain of Youth, or even more like “On Stranger Tides,” then shouldn’t the person directing this choice be looking into: 1) plastic surgery, 2) cyborg technology or 3) cryonics?
“Prometheus” is science fiction that doesn’t understand scientists even though our main characters are supposedly scientists and strays into the pseudo-science of a white master race that was the true ancestor of humankind. The recent production of “Frankenstein” who was the modern Prometheus is a better contemplation of man, nature and God.
Fun “Prometheus”-related videos.