I saw the movie Prometheus with My Darling B and Tim last night. We were so confused when we came out that we talked about it all the way home, trying to sort out the plot holes, but they were so many that we stood around in the living room of Our Humble O’Bode for about an hour afterward hashing them out some more. We never did answer our questions. I was still thinking about them when I woke up this morning.
So here there are, or at least the ones I can remember. If you figured any of these out, I’d really appreciate it if you’d pass the information along to us, because we’re still pretty bewildered here, I can tell you. The critics raved about this movie, but as one commenter to Richard Roper’s glowing review put it, “There must be two movies. One they show to the big hitter critics and the crappy one they show to the real audience.”
Beware, me lads! There be plot spoilers ahead!
The movie opens on a gorgeously-shot scene of a volcanic waste land laced with rushing cataracts and wreathed in steam. The best feature of this movie is that almost every scene in this movies is gorgeously shot. I have to say “almost every scene” because it would be just about impossible for me to describe a scene of murderous aliens slaughtering a ship load of humans as “gorgeously shot.” Maybe a movie director or a photographer could, but it doesn’t work for me.
Into this scene of a forming world steps a diapered and cloaked human-looking bald guy. He looks up at a flying saucer that parts the clouds as it soars upwards, presumably leaving him behind. Then he looks downward at a little bowl full of black goo. He drinks the goo, dissolves into inky black goo himself, and falls into a cataract, to be swept away by the rushing water. A montage very prettily describes DNA being broken down and recombined. Cells form, divide and grow. The scene suggests that the bald guy gave his life to seed the volcanic planet with his own DNA. Very messianic.
The next scene takes place several million years later in a cave on the Isle of Skye, where a couple of archaeologists are getting very excited about a cave painting they’ve found. It depicts a tribe of people dancing around a much taller person who is gesturing upward toward a cluster of five or six black spots. The painting is thirty-five thousand years old, one of the archaeologists, Elizabeth Shaw, tells Charlie Holloway, the other archaeologist, and the spots are “in the same configuration as before. I think they want us to find them.”
We come to learn from Holloway that the configuration she’s referring to are the black spots, which coincidentally appear in carvings, paintings and pictograms made by Mayans, Egyptians, Sumerians and all the other civilizations that arose all over the planet. They all drew the same picture of a little crowd of people dancing around one big person pointing at spots in the heavens. The configuration of the spots is so unlike any other spots in any other cave painting that the archaeologists can search all the heavens and find five or six stars out there that are in exactly the same configuration.
Yeah. That seems likely.
We also learn from Holloway that the stars are so far away that no one on earth could have seen them back then. Only a spacefaring race, he says, would have known about those five or six stars.
Okay, so let me see if I’ve got this so far: The big, bald guy is just one of a race of big, bald guys from a place very, very far away. And the bald guys came to earth to seed the planet with their own DNA. And then they hung around for a while, or so the cave paintings would seem to indicate, because there’s a big, bald guy in every cave painting, and he’s pointing at the stars in the heavens that only he could have known the location and configuration of, and presumably told his monkey children about in detail so exacting that they could leave behind cave paintings that Shaw and Holloway would use thirty-five thousand years later find those same spots in deep, deep space.
I’m sorry, I have to call bullshit on that.
But let’s say they might possibly have been able to do that. Let’s say they had the technology and the time and the money and the staffing to scour all the billions of trillions of stars in the galaxy and found just one cluster of stars that looked like the spots in the cave paintings that the monkeys dabbed on the walls with charcoal using roots or whatever. Off they go to the planet where the big, bald guys come from! Why are they doing this? Because they’re searching for the meaning of life, says Shaw. They want to find out why the big, bald guy went to the trouble of starting life on earth.
Wait a minute. How do they know about the big, bald guy? Okay, they don’t. They’ve got the paintings and the carvings and so on that show all the little monkeys dancing around a big guy, and from that they inferred there’s a race of big guys out there, and from that, I guess, they figured out that the big, bald guy drank the gooey stuff and started life. Oookay.
I should point out that, of all the people on the ship crossing the galaxy on this quest, only Shaw and Holloway believe this plot line, and even Holloway’s convictions are a little iffy. When it turns out that things on the planet they find are not what they had hoped for, he does what any scientist would do: He gets drunk, and then he gets drunker, and he broods a lot and gets drunker. “Sore loser” does not begin to describe his dejection at finding out that he’s in the wrong place after crossing the galaxy.
And the other so-called scientists are even bigger losers than he is. “I came here because I’m a geologist. I love rocks,” the geologists tells Shaw, yet earlier in the film when another member of the expedition tried to strike up a friendly conversation with him, he said, “I’m here to make money. Lots of money. I’m not here to be your friend.”
And the biologist does not know a thing about animal behavior. I’ll leave it at that.
Shaw, however, is a true believer, right to the very end. She’s sure the big, bald guys made us, and she’s going to keep trying to find the definitive proof. But here’s a very unsatisfying element of the movie: The movie doesn’t go there with her. It supposes the idea. It supposes that she believes the idea. It supposes that she’s motivated to believe it because she wears a crucifix around her neck, and because her mummy died and her daddy told her mummy went to heaven. And when she finds out that the big, bald guys are just another bunch of boys with chemistry sets trying to build a better weapon, the movie supposes that she loses her faith, which the movie symbolizes by having the soulless robot (there’s always a robot) take her crucifix away from her. Wow. There’s subtlety for you.
Speaking of the soulless robot, he seems to be the movie’s biggest plot hole. (Tip o’ the hat to T-Dawg for pointing out this one.) Everybody else in this movie is superfluous. There’s a word that doesn’t get used often enough, and it’s perfect for describing this situation. He’s the only character that’s necessary to the plot of the movie. He seems to know everything. He’s utterly ruthless in carrying out the mission’s objectives – sound like another robot to you, hmmm? For good measure they even named him David. It’s impossible to listen to his silky robot voice and not hear the line, “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave.” Finally, he’s ageless and indestructible, roaming the ship for years and years as it blasts through hyperspace or whatever space ships are using to cross the galaxy these days.
He’s also, unfortunately for the rest of the cast, the only character with any depth at all, showing them up in nearly every scene. As the intrigue begins to unfold, his smiling politesse is by turns comforting, banal, helpful, and menacing. And although his owner declares that David has no soul, in between performing regular maintenance on the ship and learning to speak Big Bald Guy language, he watches vintage Technicolor movies that he very obviously enjoys. He is not your typical evil killer robot. This is a character that could have been used to much better effect in a much more satisfying movie.
And now, for the ultimate spoiler: The so-called scientific expedition has crossed the galaxy at the whim of a gruff old trillionaire, Peter Weyland. But wait: describing him as “gruff” has the implication of being old but resilient, being crotchety but, in the end, intelligent, even wise. Weyland is none of that. He has one motive, as old as time: to live forever. Or wait, two motives: to learn the meaning of life, and to live forever. And to meet the big, bald guys. Okay, his three motives are … never mind. His ramblings are just that: wandering, loose ideas that never congeal into a focused desire. He is the movie cliche of the too-rich corporate boss using his money to style himself as an adventurer. He’s that boring.
And he’s utterly dispensable to the plot. (Another tip o’ the hat to Tim.) This movie would have functioned at least as well as it did without him. Shaw is already asking questions like, Who are the big, bald guys? Why did they seed earth with their DNA? And, What’s the meaning of life, then? So what’s this boring old coot doing here? Not much.
Those questions really got old after two hours of hearing them over and over without the slightest hint of an answer dawning on the horizon. The closest we ever came to hearing an answer was in a conversation between Holloway and David, when the robot asked him, “Why did you create me?” “Because we could,” Holloway answers glibly, and David’s reposte, delivered without irony and yet somehow freighted with it, was, “Can you imagine your disappointment if your creator were to say that to you?”
And that was it. The only instance of an answer to the questions they kept asking was an ironical question from the robot, who seemed to know all the answers but wouldn’t divulge them. And what the hell was with all the questions, anyway? Is this a horror movie, or is it a movie that was made to ponder the meaning of our existence? Because I have to say, if it was meant to ponder, then the pondering was really rather shallow, and that’s all it really could be, given that it’s hard to do a lot of deep thinking while also trying to revisit the horrific elements that started the franchise in the first place. There was rarely any of the tension that made the first movie such a thriller. It kept getting interrupted and dissipated by the pondering.
The final turn of the plot, which I suppose is the twist that critics are referring to, was as unsatisfying as the cliche of aliens visiting prehistoric earth: After the big, bald guys went to the trouble crossing the galaxy to seed a planet with their own DNA, they went back home rather abruptly, leaving the monkeys on their own. And then they apparently decided to wipe out all life on earth by genetically engineering biological weapons like the face-hugging alien in the first movie of the franchise. Why?
Not, Why did they want to kill us off? The answers to that question are legion. Maybe we didn’t turn out to be what they expected. Maybe they thought we were becoming too dangerous. Maybe they just got tired of us. Whatever the reason, why would they go to the time and expense of crossing the galaxy, engineering biological weapons, then building a fleet of ships to bring the weapons all the way back? While they were here, why wouldn’t they just hit earth with a big rock? When you’ve got the horsepower to move a ship across the galaxy at high velocity, I would think it would be fairly easy to alter the speed of an asteroid a few feet per second so its orbit intersects earth’s, and that’s the end of the monkeys. Crossing galactic space to engineer a malevolent life form that’s only reason for existence is murder and chaos makes you look like you’ve got way too much time on your hands.
Too much time. This movie took too much time to ask one question after another without delivering any of the answers it seemed to promise.