The characters in Prometheus, we’re constantly reminded, are supposed to be scientists. This is odd because none of them seem to know anything at all about science. They also tend to act in ways that most would characterize as “stupid.” The plot follows the crew of the Prometheus, a spaceship sent to the moon LV-223 to explore an alien catacomb, but no one on board seems even remotely qualified for the job. When the ship enters the atmosphere, one of the characters announces that the atmosphere is composed mainly of carbon dioxide. She notes that human beings are incapable of breathing carbon dioxide and that they’ll need to bring an oxygen supply with them when they venture outside. Evidently, in the year 2093 it’s possible to have a PhD and not know this sort of thing.
When the characters enter the catacomb, they take an atmospheric reading and are surprised to discover that the air beneath the surface is composed mainly of oxygen. One character (Logan Marshall-Green, who looks more like an underwear model than a scientist) responds to this news by removing his helmet. When the Apollo 11 astronauts returned from the moon, they were immediately sprayed down and held in quarantine for 21 days—a precaution which was largely informed by the smallpox epidemic that decimated the native population following first contact. But it seems that protocols regarding interplanetary disease control have grown a bit lax since then. The man’s girlfriend (Noomi Rapace, the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) is understandably upset by this and starts yelling at him. He responds by saying (and I quote), “Don’t be so skeptical.” Because if there’s one thing that scientists hate, it’s a healthy sense of skepticism. The other scientists find this persuasive and remove their helmets also.
The next day, Marshall-Green’s character looks at himself in the mirror and notices that an alien worm has found a new home in his left eyeball. Rather than tell the other scientists about this noteworthy development, he decides to keep it a secret. But on the second excursion to the catacombs, his symptoms become impossible to hide, and he spills the beans. By this point, however, the crew has other things to deal with: Rapace’s character suddenly finds herself pregnant with an alien fetus, another crew member has a snake-like creature slither down his throat, and David (Michael Fassbender), the ship’s android, is about to revive the Space Jockey from the first Alien movie.
If Prometheus is supposed to be a satirical portrait of the state of science education in America, it succeeds brilliantly. But as a horror movie, Prometheus is an utter failure. By making the characters so aggressively stupid, writers Damon Lindelof (Lost) and Jon Spaihts, not only make it impossible to care about which characters survive, they also strain credulity. Consider, for example, the following exchange (which I quote from memory):
ANDROID: If your thesis proves to be correct, then I should be able to communicate with them.
HANDSOME UNDERWEAR MODEL: If my thesis proves to be correct? (laughs)
ANDROID: That’s what a thesis is.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo starts laughing.
HANDSOME UNDERWEAR MODEL: What are you smiling at? (starts laughing also)
At first glance, this seems to be a failed attempt at witty banter. But upon further inspection, it seems that Lindelof and Spaihts are seriously implying that Marshall-Green’s character doesn’t know what the word “thesis” means. Again, the character supposedly hold a PhD, a degree which partly obtained by writing a thesis. Sympathizing with a man who needs a refresher on the difference between oxygen and carbon dioxide is one thing, but sympathizing with a man who has no idea why people keep calling him “doctor” is quite another. By the time he meets his gruesome end, your thoughts aren’t, “What a terrible way to go” but rather, “Haha, that’s one less moron in the world.”
But even if the characters were relatable/believable, the movie would still have problems. For one, the monster that chases Rapace’s character around at the end (very briefly) isn’t the terrifying xenomorph from the first Alien movie, but rather a comical-looking 7-foot-tall pasty bald humanoid. Also, the soundtrack blares constantly from beginning to end, killing whatever suspense director Ridley Scott manages to generate. (The tagline for the original Alien was, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” The tagline for Prometheus should have been, “In space, everyone can hear a rip-off of the Inception soundtrack.”) There are also at least three subplots that seem to only exist so that the movie can qualify as “feature-length.”
That said, the movie has a few things going for it. A scene in which Rapace’s character performs an abortion on herself in a surgery booth is very effective, Michael Fassbender gives yet another charismatic performance (at least his tenth in a row by now), and the alien landscapes are pretty to look at. But none of this can disguise the fact that Prometheus is by far the worst Alien movie to date. That’s not counting the Alien vs. Predator movies, which I haven’t seen…but really, how much worse can they be?
Bottom Line: The idea of an Alien prequel by the director of the original movie and the writer of Lost sounded like a tantalizing prospect. But what we get with Prometheus is an Alien prequel by the director of Robin Hood and the writer of season six of Lost.