Prometheus Gets Bogged Down by Bad Creationism

I guess I should have know what I was in for after seeing the movie posters with a head reminiscent of the statues from Easter Island, but I had seen the trailers for Prometheus a couple of months before the movie debuted. The music from Alien was used, along with a similar chase scene, making me think I was in for another hunter-hunted story like Alien delivered. But no, I was duped once again.

What did I want from Prometheus? I wanted an explanation for how the aliens came to be and why those pods were hanging out in a spaceship, like Venus flytraps, waiting for willing victims to dock. A simple explanation would have sufficed, but instead Prometheus delivers a heavy-handed origin story that references world mythologies, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Christianity. The movie creaked with all the symbolism and religious overtones loaded into it, and all I really wanted to see was a good sci-fi/horror story. I didn’t need everything else about where we come from. I look to Joseph Campbell for that, or simple stories that hit the right points.

Prometheus opens with a humanoid character drinking something coffeelike that causes him to disintegrate—he falls down a waterfall into a stream and his blood and specifically his DNA and chromosomes start to corrode and morph. I’m guessing this is an allusion to the original Prometheus, which is never completely followed up. Flash-forward to a similar environment several thousands of years later, where a team of archaeologists have uncovered an artwork that corresponds with that of four other ancient civilizations, who could have had no contact with one another. The two archaeologists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Halloway (Logan Marshall-Green), puzzle over what the message means; they interpret it as an invitation.

The two are then shown in stasis aboard a ship as an android, David (Michael Fassbender), tends to them. David acts like a kid left home alone with complete access to the ship for years while the others sleep. He plays basketball in the large, arenalike spaces. He taps into the dreams of the crewmembers in stasis. He watches a movie over and over again, mimicking the speech patterns; studies a language that seems vaguely Arabic; and cuts, dyes, and styles his hair so as to appear as one of the characters that he likes to watch.

Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) is the first human to wake from sleep and informs the android David to wake the others. I appreciate how the chronological time order of the Alien series is considered at this point, and the humans coming out of sleep have a rough time of it, spewing all over. In movies that are supposed to have come later in the time line (though they were filmed earlier), the human subjects rise from years-long sleep easily, seeming only to crave some food and coffee.

The crew is summoned and realize that they are chasing the dreams of a very rich and old man, who says he will be dead before they come back to Earth. Their ship is docked outside of a large, unnatural structure, and they go exploring. Inside, they find holograms depicting what happened thousands of years ago, some nonorganic “pods,” and fossils of these humanoids (called Engineers by the archaeologists), who turn out to have the same DNA as humans. A storm comes up, artifacts are brought back to the ship, and the crew is split up. Some cross-contamination occurs, and then the real purpose behind the mission is revealed, which seems to cancel out the first three-fourths of the story.

There are some good things in Prometheus. There’s some great acting by Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace, Idris Elba, and Michael Fassbender, but the motivations for these actors’ characters all fall a little short by the end. Some nice, gory parts crop up in the film, one in particular with Noomi Rapace in an impossible situation, hanging on with pure grit. However, these good bits get lost when the screenwriters, director, whoever, try and weight this movie with more importance than it can support. Allusions are made to great works, but their meanings are lost because they’re not used effectively. It all seems like so much great material thrown to the wall and what happened to stick is Prometheus, which comes off as flimsy considering its origins.

2011 The Thing Is Just Meh

Last week we experienced our first summerlike days and nights with temperatures in the high eighties and lots of humidity. It was too early to turn on the air conditioner, so I kept cool another way: by opening a can of frosty beer and popping in a DVD of an Antarctica-based horror movie. You can think yourself cold this way.

The 2011 version of The Thing is billed as a prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing, and I think that’s where the movie goes wrong. It starts out so sincerely, trying to root the movie in the early 1980s. Grad student Kate Lloyd, a paleontologist, who ends up being the lead in this movie, gets a little tired while working in the lab so she slips on large, wonky headphones and pushes a button on her Walkman to listen to Men at Work. I thought, Aw, how cute.

Later, she’s recruited by a scientist and his American assistant, and the illusion is ruined for me. The grad student and assistant end up looking like kids from my neighborhood. It made me think, Did they do the casting call at my local bar?

These scientists are transported to the Norwegian base in Antarctica where an unnamable “Thing” has been found, and I tried to line up the similarities that fit with the opening of J.C.’s The Thing. There are a few characters who could physically pass for the living and videotaped Norwegians from J.C.’s The Thing, and they’ve got a husky. Okay. I tried to will myself back to a certain time in 1982, a few months before the Thing bursts into the American camp, but I found it impossible.

The sets are too shiny and new. The equipment is streamlined and compact. Don’t these people know anything about the ’80s? Everything was big and clunky and buzzed with electricity. As I followed these characters, I had a very hard time believing that they are functioning in a world, a time, without palm-held devices that tell them everything.

I can see that the filmmakers are being respectful to J.C.’s The Thing, trying not to step on any toes. Instead, they make many homages to the 1982 version, replicating many scenes with just a little twist. But nothing new is brought to the table in this 2011 version. I found myself just not caring anymore, especially when the tenuous links to the opening scenes of J.C.’s The Thing are destroyed. I thought I had been watching the prequel here. Now, it turns out there’s a pre-prequel?

Later, in the very ending credits, after the Norwegian/American team is killed off, a new crew comes in, and now things start lining up with the beginning of J.C.’s The Thing. These scenes are shown in eyeblinks, and it turns out that this is the “prequel” I was duped into watching.

I have to say I felt cheated, but looking at all the ice did make me feel a little bit cooler on this early summer night. Next time, though, I’m going to be cooling off using John Carpenter’s The Thing or maybe the X-Files episode “Ice” that brings a different take to the Thing story line.

This prequel to a classic horror movie also has me a little worried about the upcoming Alien prequel that’s coming out this week, Prometheus. Am I going to get a satisfying backstory to one of the scariest creatures of all time, or is Ridley Scott going to do me wrong?