[Warning: spoilers galore ahead]
Certainly “Prometheus” is a lot of fun, and if people were just talking about it like the schlocky sci-firomp it is, I’d feel no need to crap in everyone’s ice cream, but I’ve now read too many reviews lathering up Scott and writer Damon Lindelof for “asking Big Questions” or “melding sci-fi with philosophy” or some equally asinine critique (And I hate to say it, but Roger Ebert’s review may be one of the most airless, insipid pieces of film criticism I’ve ever read).
First of all, there is nothing in “Prometheus” that lies outside the continuum of sci-fi cliché. An alien species as engineers of humanity? Uh, people have been using that premise probably as far back as you can find science fiction. Off the top of my head, I recall a Tim Robbins-Don Cheadle slumfest called “Mission to Mars” that’s basically the plot of “Prometheus” without the black goo.
Oh, and the black goo? Weapon of the Engineers and central antagonist of the film? That’s basically all cribbed from other crappy sci-fi films, especially “Species II”—right down to Noomi Rapace’s alien progeny. Michael Fassbender’s android has so many Data-esque quirks, he might as well star in the next “Star Trek: The Next Generation” movie. So let’s not pretend “Prometheus” has even one remotely original moment in it.
As for “deep questions” posed by the film—that’s about the most laughable thing said about a movie in the last decade. Whenever popular film and television attempts to tackle the most age-old, banal questions of “Where did we come from?” or “What happens when we die” you can virtually guarantee that their proffered explanations will be boring, derivative variations on “a Creator” and “Heaven.”
Witness the final season of “Battlestar Galactica” or—God help us—“Lost.”
Speaking of “Lost”, the writer responsible for the final season, Damon Lindelof, shares screenwriting credit for “Prometheus,” which at least explains why there are plot holes big enough to fly the Nostromo through. By this, I don’t mean “ambiguity” or “unanswered questions” as Scott and Lindelof fawn over (themselves) in “Prometheus” interviews. What I mean is that there’s stuff that doesn’t make sense because they clearly did not think about it. It’s full of thoughtless, inconsistent, lazy writing along the lines of, “Okay, so the black goo makes this guy a super-human zombie monster, but if this other guy who’s been infected with the black goo gets his girlfriend pregnant then it’s gonna be a squid-monster that grows into a huge face-grabbing parasite and lays a xenomorph! It’ll be so rad!”
“Prometheus” is a hack movie, but worse, it’s also a pretentious hack movie, and in its pathetic, uninteresting ambition, it demonstrates why the original “Alien” was so jaw-droppingly brilliant and transcended its genre to become a great film, period. The original “Alien” was full of true ambiguity and unanswered questions that actually did tickle the brain, from the elephant-looking extraterrestrial pilot in his crash-landed vessel to the nature of the invading species, which went through developmental changes that just grew more and more frightening as the film progressed. (That it’s revealed the elephant-looking extraterrestrial was actually a big white guy god in a space suit unfortunately now makes that plot point 20% less interesting.)
Yet by positing in “Alien” that extra-terrestrial life may be violent and random and inexplicably awful—without purpose or intelligence other than a basic cosmic drive to efficiently proliferate—Scott actually made a much bolder, darker, more interesting statement about the nature of creation than anything the silly 9-foot tall white guy gods of “Prometheus” ever manage.