The great writers, they all say it’s man, but in my experience expectations are the most dangerous game. Prometheus is a victim of expectation more than any other, not only did is suffer the horrors of hype but it also made the mistake of initially listing itself as a prequel to Alien and even though they latter changed their mind – but why did they change their mind? – and made out that the connection was all made up in rumor, the damage was too deeply done. Everyone that walked in to the theatre to see the film this week did so expecting one thing -which is not to say wanting or needing, but the three are inherently connected – aliens. And SPOILER they won’t get them. On top of that everyone would have entered the theatre expecting to see a good movie – one as good as Alien, an all-time classic – and SUMMARY they won’t get that either. Though that doesn’t mean that the film is not worth seeing, in fact I would heartily recommend seeing it at least twice. Expectations you see, are so often incorrect.
So if this isn’t Alien again then what is it? Telling you that it is a unique organism all of it’s own may be the most correct answer, but it’s not very helpful so here a some similarly reductive but at least accurate comparisons. Prometheus is Scott’s attempt to return the favourite and create a sequel to one of James Cameron’s films, it’s The Abysss… Or maybe just The Abyss 2; heavy philosophy in an action sci-fi form, the exact inverse of Alien. Another way to think about it is as a re-make of The Tree of Life just with a different kind of dinosaur; hell, it even has a prologue of stunningly shot scenescapes and asks much the same basic questions at its core, just with more space and less minotaur.
Like both of those movies Prometheus is technically a mess: it doesn’t work well as an adventure, as a haunted house, as an exercise of world building, a character study or an actual story because it is trying too hard to be all of these at once and a thesis on top of that. Of the fifty-seven plots prodded into the script there are many that would make for fun movies, for two hours of emotional reactions that you can leave at the door but none of them are done any kind of justice here, he’ll even the basic story beats are mostly mangled; the few genuinely exciting scenes that we do get like the storm are contrived beyond belief. But I guess the whole film is constructed with this kind of obviousness; it’s a clear creation and one made with messy hands, the worst of both worlds but there is still a purpose to it’s shape, no matter how sloppy it may seem.
The people of Prometheus – and it is people that have the focus, mankind that plays both the role of hunter and hunted here – came to this planet with some powerful expectations: they expected answers ( as, perhaps, we did when we walked in to the theatre) about their very existence, answers about the universe, answers that go beyond “42” and so it Is only fitting that they would leave as disappointed as many audience members did their screenings. Those are expectations that simply cannot be met as that is knowledge that cannot simply be spoken. Though the film doesn’t then answer them for us either it does still give some sort of guide to these issues, a philosophical What to Expect When You’re Expecting that gives you what answers it can by asking some specific questions. ( Thematic Spoilers to follow)
Alien ( I know, still bringing it up) has a surprisingly potent metaphor weaves throughout it; Motherhood is in the picture so much more than you realize, but you don’t realize because it’s kept in the background. Prometheus however foregrounds its message in most of its scenes; it’s about life, both the making and the meaning of it. The film opens with a big bang in miniature – the spreading of the first seeds and the splitting of the first cells; the introduction of life to what we see is a lifeless world – and then we jump ahead, after some exposition, to the second births of the films cast as they emerge from stasis sticky and screaming. The film progresses and we slowly find out where they are, what kind of place it is an what is going to happen there and these are where the film falters because its real focus is on who they are, the answer to which is in every case a father, son, daughter or mother; it is their relatives that render them whole.
Again as in Alien this theme of procreation is made evident through the ship designs: there we got Fallopian hatches that opened onto egg chambers, a mechanical umbilical and an AI called Mother whereas here the symbolism is a little more subtle. The ship they find is an incomplete circle, it has both a beginning and an end, it is not infinite. These Engineers, they created us and in turn we created robots and they then created the infamous aliens. This then is the true circle of life; it’s not a cycle, it’s just so big that it looks that way from where we stand within it. While this mightn’t seem applicable to our own experiences this kind of creation is actually the same as our own, though what most of us do through sex is simply shown here in extreme fast forward thanks to that evolutionary catalyst in the cans. Is it literally stating that we will eventually evolve into squids? No, just that each successive generation is different, that we’re not simply maintaining life but moving it forward, always handing the crown over to a hopefully mo competent king.
That at least is what i took from it, though because of the way that the script is structured, or not structured as it were, a lot of it is interpretation. Though some are seemingly not meant to be answered; for there are as many answers locked away for future films as there are hidden in this one for those who pay attention, films that I for one have very high expectations for. Is this an inconsistency? Well i’ll answer that by saying this, Nietzsche really wasn’t all that good a writer. When he did try and tell stories they rarely had very cohesive plots or compelling characters, yet it is still Zathsura that we think of during the opening shot of Prometheus when we see a planet sitting in the eclipse of its own shadow. Sometimes life is messy, sometimes questions can be answers and sometimes ideas are enough; for me, this is one of those times.