My anticipation of the Alien prequel/not-a-prequel Prometheus was tempered by a nagging doubt. Did I really want to know more about the gigantic “space jockey” briefly glimpsed at the controls of the horseshoe-shaped vessel with its cargo of alien eggs? Much of what makes the first half of Alien so effective is its unfathomable otherworldliness. And yet, after five sequels of (mostly) diminishing returns, the only aspect of the Alien universe still worth exploring is surely this mysterious third race.
As information about the secretive Prometheus project trickled out, it was clear that–despite director Ridley Scott’s protests to the contrary–it really was an Alien prequel. The space jockeys and their horseshoe ship featured prominently in the commercials. And the spectacular crash scene seemed to promise that by the end of Prometheus the tableau would be in place for the later visit of the ill-fated crew of the Nostromo.
MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD. DO YOU WISH TO SELF-DESTRUCT? (Y/N)
Except…as the Onion’s A.V. Club points out, it drives right up to the edge and then veers off. This isn’t the same planet from Alien, even though it too orbits a giant, ringed world. And this isn’t the same ship, even if it looks identical and winds up in a similar state as the original derelict. It’s frustrating. If Prometheus truly wasn’t intended to set the table for Alien, then why does so much of it play out in exactly the manner one would expect from a direct prequel?*
These defeated expectations are only part of the reason I feel a bit let down by Prometheus. Some of this film’s mysteries seem less deliberately unexplained than not thought through. If the “Engineers” (the new name of the space jockeys) really were pointing us toward a specific star cluster, why was it one of their military bases and not their home? The Earth pictographs suggested a then-harmonious relationship between humans and their creators. If it was a trap from the get-go, why bother? Why not just drop a cargo of biogenetic death on us thousands of years before we achieved interstellar travel?
The actions of the scientific expedition were equally baffling. It’s one thing for the crew of a space tug to go around foolishly poking things with a stick, another thing entirely for a group of scientific experts. It’s not just that these people had never seen an Alien film, it’s that they lacked even a sensible hesitation about touching things that are literally oozing with dark portents. Look, I am not a biologist, but I’m pretty sure that if I encountered a snake with a vagina for a head that was rearing up and hissing, my first inclination would not be to try to pet it. And folks, just because the air is breathable does NOT mean that you remove your helmet and take in a big lungful of extraterrestrial pathogens. Really, these people simply could not leave shit alone.
I’m not going to be totally down on Prometheus. It was gorgeous to look at and full of foreboding.** The callbacks to the original Alien were appreciated.*** And Michael Fassbender was fascinating to watch as David the android. I’d likely see Prometheus 2 just for more of his character. But if you’re an Alien fan, temper your expectations and be prepared for a lot of idiotic behavior.
*I believe that the ties may have been much more explicit in early drafts. An alleged synopsis, leaked to the web and quickly denied by the studio, reads suspiciously like a rejected draft, going so far as to play up the “Paradise” angle that Ridley Scott has mentioned in recent interviews.
**So full of foreboding that it plays like the first half of Alien stretched out to feature length.
***The kidney bean-shaped corridors of the so-called “pyramid” recalled set designs from the original derelict ship. The pyramid itself appeared to be based on an H.R. Giger painting of an alien “egg silo” cut from Alien before filming took place. Oddly, it also resembled one of Giger’s designs for the aborted Dune movie of the 1970s.