Prometheus Is A Bad Film.

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.

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27 thoughts on “Prometheus Is A Bad Film.

  1. Interrobang‽ says:

    I basically checked out on the science in this when a) In the opening shot they bothered to give the stars 3D depth and b) They sent a ship for 1 trillion dollars on a TWO YEAR jaunt rather than a sodding probe. Like i’d understand maybe sending people if it was 200 years to get there, because they all want to still be alive to discover this stuff, but 2 years? Chill the hell out, wait for the data and then launch a mission when you might know what on earth you need to take.

    • hentzau says:

      Re: the timescale, there’s actually a sort-of explanation in that Weyland really really doesn’t want to die so he wants to get out there as soon as possible. Although it just introduces another plot hole: if he can be frozen in stasis for a two year trip, then why doesn’t he just freeze himself indefinitely while other people find this shit out for him?

      • Smurf says:

        I think he was worried that his family would take over the company if he was out cold for too long.

  2. Adam Benton says:

    I personally really enjoyed prometheus. Whilst I’ll be one of the first to admit the characters were especially shallow and moronic I found the atmosphere, set design, story etc. so engrossing I didn’t really care. When you feel like you’re exploring a desolate world you don’t really care how deep the guy standing next to you is, you’re just excited to be there.

    Also, I got the feeling a few people in that film had an ulterior motive, which may explain some of their lack of sciencing. Robot dude clearly wanted to find an engineer, hence his dickishness infecting of others (to try and bring them back), so did archaeology lady (hence why she zapped the head, rather than try and study it).

    That would make most of the stuff you mentioned forgiveable if it weren’t for the fact that most other people appeared to have no such motive and still didn’t do that much science/whatever it was there job was. Mr black captain, for example, seemed to be providing next to no help to the people trapped in the ruin, despite the fact he was monitoring them and supposed to be keeping an eye out. He was just so darn mysterious about it I half expected him to lead them to the alien presence the probes found, rather than away from it. Yet I couldn’t fathom why he was acting like that.

    But yeah…still a very good film imo. Although I suspect it’ll loose a lot when not on the big screen and not in 3D, so maybe later these details will start to irk me.

    • hentzau says:

      The thing that gets me is that their actions are completely disconnected with their motivations. Like the head zapping. She might want to talk to an Engineer, but “We’ll trick it into thinking it’s still alive!” was the rationale, completely overlooking the whole severed heads not being able to communicate due to being *severed heads*. Everything that they do in this movie can only be explained if you accept a completely preposterous chain of causation leading on from their actions that somehow leads to the desired outcome — Weyland, David, Noomi, everyone.

      • Adam Benton says:

        Her whole point was that her excitedeness on the subject led to a degree of irrationality. She accepted the engineers were the engineers of people on faith at first (“it’s what I choose to believe”) and she lobbeyed to go to this moon (with little pre-mission studying it would seem) then she zapped a head without much concern for the scientific loss.

        To me it seemed her whole character arc (and she was one of the few who did seem to get a noticeable arc) was this excitement gradually being tempered by caution as the world went to shit around her.

        Granted this character development was kind of ruined in the end by (spoilers) jetting off to find the engineers again, so maybe that whole charactersiation was in my head.

      • hentzau says:

        I think perhaps it was, although I wouldn’t dream of telling you it’s not a valid interpretation of what was going on. It’s just that none of that stuff ever made it through to me.

    • hentzau says:

      That said some of the visuals were very nice, but it lacked the visual oomph of a Cameron movie.

      • Adam Benton says:

        Funnily enough I was about to close out my OP by going “which is kind of the same reaction I had to Avatar.” An enjoyable ride, albeit one taken with a lacklustre plot and droll characters (although I would say the plot in Prometheus is significantly better, I wanted to figure out what the engineers were up to).

        However, Prometheus did seem a lot more grounded in reality (in spite of the science cock ups) and so did feel quite a bit more enthralling because it was that much more believable.

      • hentzau says:

        Well there’s at least half a mystery in Prometheus, whereas Avatar is just “Blue people! Evils of industrialisation and land exploitation! Poorly camouflaged Pocahontas ripoff!” Of course it then had the problem common to nearly all films and TV shows based around a central mystery (Lost, Alias, Battlestar Galactica etc etc) which is that the resolution to the mystery turned out to be utter balls and retroactively rendered the preceding two hours of movie utter balls as well.

      • Adam Benton says:

        It didn’t answer any of those questions though, which prevented such an unsatisfying resolution. The only real new piece of evidence you gained was that the engineers (spoilers) now want us dead. It doesn’t really say who they were, why they created us why they wanted us dead. As such the plot didn’t self destruct, imo.

  3. Phil says:

    Thank you. I have a friend who has a nack for picking terrible films to watch at the cinema. Prometheus is one such film currently on his radar and I needed some material to explain to him why its not a film I will be watching.

    • hentzau says:

      This is all nitpicky sciency stuff, but it’s genuinely awful in nearly everything involving the characters and the plot. Fassbender’s performance is pretty much the only reason to watch it, and it’s nowhere near good enough to carry the film on its own.

  4. candis Gillett says:

    I am no scientist; rather, I’m an English teacher from Southern California, but I couldn’t have written a better review of Prometheus. The slack organization of the mission and behavior of the crew would have been more acceptable had it all been a dream sequence. Visuals notwithstanding, I had a tough time ”suspending my disbelief” throughout the film, from the time the away team strolled in Death’s maw and removed their freakin’ helmets, to the big silica storm when no one had the foresight, ovaries, or protocol to shut the cargo bay door, to Noomi Rapace’s Dr. Shaw having the deftness to roll out from under a scuttled spacecraft. I love Alien and Aliens. Sad face.

    • hentzau says:

      Thankyou for reminding me about the rolling spacecraft and Noomi avoiding it by rolling two metres to her left, while Charlize did a five-hundred metre dash and still got crushed.

  5. […] and even controversy. The opinions on its quality range from something like this to something like this, and there is precious little middle ground. And since everyone at Filmophilia is an undisputed […]

  6. johngl says:

    Strip away the visual candy, and you have a farce of a film, it just amazes me how direction and production of a film can run so stupidly rampant, but alas, they will make a ton of money. Is it really that hard to develop a real believable plot and characters within a suspended reality. It seems that a strong plot, script and characters cannot occupy the same space with visual effects–one of them had to lose, but what about “Pan’s Labyrinth”? They had me a ‘Alien’, but this will be one of the most disappointing films of 2012.

  7. Jenny says:

    As much as I enjoyed this movie, I can’t disagree with anything on here and was wondering about some of those items myself as I was watching the film. Great post.

  8. hentzau says:

    Thanks for the comments, everyone; it’s very affirming when something I write gets some sort of visible circulation beyond my small circle of friends, even when it’s something kind of ranty like this.

  9. Ged says:

    I could not agree more. Feel cheated and insulted.

    This pat on the back for an accurate review is probably as useless as a super-awesome-medical-machine that sits in the quarters-cum-lifeboat of a woman but is only configured to operate on men. Unless the patient is a women who needs an emergency hysterectomy/abortion/caesarean no more complex than removing a foreign body from a man’s torso. Oh god, I’ve confused myself. I should probably go ask a ‘scientist.’

    Sorry. Well done you. Poor us. $130m to make. Go figure. Then forget about it in case you realise how much good that money could have done when there are 18.4m people dying of hunger in West Africa right now.

    I’d better stop.

  10. tanam67 says:

    Prometheus was a terrible, aweful movie. Just one part out of it, at the end when the guys threw their hands up like they were on a roller coaster, crashing to their deaths into the alien ship. It was incredibly cheezy, had absolutely no flow to the plot, it was very disapointing. I expected more. Ridley Scott should stick with historic films like Gladiator. Great movies have a central theme which is driving the entire movie and puts you on the edge of your seat, wondering what will happen next. Revenge was that theme in Gladiator, one word. Very simple. Sorry Ridley Scott but you got way off focus with this movie.

  11. Ericthehalfabee says:

    Superb review, except that it only deals with about 5% of what’s wrong with this film. I realize you have other things to do though.


  12. Steven says:

    Amen to all you said. Saw it last night and it is one of the worst films I have ever seen!

  13. Anonymous says:

    The reviewer is spot on in so many ways…this was undeniably the WORST movie I’ve ever seen…

    I dont even possess the patience to write a compelte review because I simply dont have enough time in the day to capture all that was wrong with this flick.

    I couldnt have been more disappointed in anything. Why would anyone sit thru this and accept the intellectual torture being served up..?? Please all those folks who are thinkers yet forgive movies ’cause they’re supposed to be fun and take us away…avoid this unless you enjoy talking back to the screen.

  14. Steven says:

    Your review of Prometheus is genius and really made my week. Thank you very much!
    I saw the film sadly “before” I read your review.
    This is one of the work films I have seen in recent memory.
    It is like a big budget version of one of those cheapo Sci-Fi channel monster films starring has been actors.
    Here is one more example of the inanity of the film:
    At the end of the film the remaining idiots decide to wake the last living Engineer (Space Jockey) out of his 2000 year hibernation. They try to talk to him and he goes postal on them and immediately lifts off and heads a course for earth to destroy it. Huh?
    “Hey you big pale dumb ass, you have been asleep for 2000 years, don’t you think you better take a moment to figure out what the fuck is going on here? What if there is no more earth? What if the humans blew it up? What if your leaders completed your mission 2000 years ago? What if the humans are now super advanced and way, way more dangerous than you asshole? Don’t you think a little Intel is in order here? Don’t you think you ought to taste your food before you salt it dick head?”
    And one other tidbit, after the huge ship crashes to the planet and rolls all over the damn place the head and body of the android are still in the exact same place on the ship they were before the crash, they didn’t even move in the slightest!

  15. Pete says:

    It’s gratifying to know that screw-on lids are used by even advanced Engineers to contain black goo powerful enough to cascade a biogenetic reaction on a global scale.

    I also tip my hat to the Engineer in the opening scene who had enough modesty to wear a loincloth while shaping this world’s biology – forever….

  16. Leon Spencer says:

    I too didn’t not care too much for this film because of the ambiguity and religious tones. The film basically repeated the same mistakes made by the the other sequels with the exception of Aliens. They got away from the formula that drew people to the film and introduce puzzles and a whole bunch of drama that made the film less about aliens and more about a soap opera.

    Folks would have settled for the same formula with better CGI and tech.

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