Making sense of “Prometheus”


*Oh my God… It’s full of spoilers.*

From the moment I heard that Ridley Scott was returning to the Alien universe, I was excited. With each news item I read – it’s a prequel! It disregards every sequel! It won’t show a single face-hugger, xenomorph, or queen! – I grew more encouraged. Going in, I wanted very badly to love Prometheus. In the end, I will say that it looked fantastic, it was entertaining, but overall I was disappointed.

Alien is one of my very favorite movies, a masterpiece of claustrophobic atmosphere and artistic design that takes a simple concept and executes it well. Alien, however, benefits at least as much from the storytelling skill of Dan O’Bannon as it does from Ridley Scott’s directing. Prometheus may have Scott, but in place of O’Bannon it has Damon Lindelof, who is a master of making the vapid seem complex. Good science-fiction, even if it’s mostly meant to horrify or thrill, is meant to make you think. Bad science-fiction asks you not to think, because thinking will make it fall apart at the seams.

The 21st Century has brought us a generation of writers who have mastered “counterfeit depth.” They’ve studied works with complex backstories and world-building, learned what those look like, and plant clues and red herrings throughout their work that make it appear mysterious. I learned my lesson about counterfeit depth with “The X-Files” and “Millenium,” both of which seemed early on to be revealing a consistent mythos, but gradually fell apart as they discarded or ret-conned anything inconvenient in an attempt to drag out the series. By the time “Lost” came around, I was jaded. I never watched it, but late in Season One I had a conversation with a relative who’d watched the whole series. She filled me in on the big picture, and how mysterious it was, and I responded off-hand, “They’re in Purgatory.” She shook her head and said that the creators had been clear in interviews that it wasn’t Purgatory. Cut to the end of the series, after fans invested years of their time, research, and speculation about the various loose ends and clues, when the creators ignore all that and reveal…. It’s Purgatory. Well, not Purgatory. Buddhist Purgatory.

Where Alien took a simple concept and executed it well, Prometheus takes about a dozen big, complicated, messy concepts and reveals little enough that most audience members will be annoyed – when they aren’t being annoyed with the inane behavior of two-dimensional characters who don’t seem to think, but just do whatever they need to do to move the plot along. Thinking about it now, I’m just too darn agitated to even craft decent prose. So here’s some bullet points on the things that bugged me most:

  • First, I will point you to LiveJournal user Cavalorn, who has developed a unified theory of Prometheus that actually makes a lot of sense. There’s still a lot of bullshit that makes no sense, but at least it brings together a backstory that (arguably) holds together. It’s contingent on Jesus having been an “Engineer,” which is something Ridley Scott says was in their first draft. Read it, because it’s pretty smart.
  • The movie’s whole focus is on the origins of life and the nature of humanity, so what happened to the instinctive human fear of snakes? Did we evolve out of that in 80 years? When something that already looks like a snake rears back and spreads its hood like a cobra, you don’t reach out and pet it. For God’s sake, the guy’s a biologist. It doesn’t occur to him that this is a threat display?
  • If the researchers are concerned about “affecting the atmosphere,” why do the all take their helmets off? Why would you do that anyway, just because the room you’re in has breathable air? There’s about a hundred thousand reasons not to, and not a single good reason to do so. Oh, and then you leave them behind. You wouldn’t want to carry them with you, just in case something happened to the air.
  • First thing you do when you encounter an odd substance on an alien world? Touch it, of course.
  • If the probes detect “life form,” why don’t they notice the mealworms? Those are life forms. Or are the probes, intended to explore alien environments, programmed only to notice human-like life?
  • So what exactly does the black ooze do? Besides make stuff that looks cool on a movie screen, I mean. Is it basically just random? 
  • So let’s think through the logic here… I create a form of life. I decide I don’t like it any more and I want to destroy it. I build a massive (unnecessary… but that’s a separate bullet point) military facility to create weapons to destroy that life form. Something bad happens, and my people all die, but I luck out and I’m in cryo for a few thousand years. When I wake up, and those unwanted life forms are standing there talking to me, asking me questions in my native tongue….  Naturally my response is to flip shit, kill them all, and take off on that bombing run I had planned. I’m sure nothing’s changed in 2,000 years. Nothing like, oh, say, the life forms in question advancing from Classical antiquity to the stage where space travel seems pretty easy. 
  • As for that military base… What the F* do they need it for?? Seems like one drop of that black ooze would be enough to wipe out most life on Earth. Why are they building hundreds of thousands? Why tons of ships? Do you really need all that to take out Ancient Rome?
  • Did we need the goofy proto-alien thing at the end? Was that just a nod to the fanboys, was it the “origin” of the ‘xenomorph’ aliens (in which case the murals earlier in the film were maybe prophetic?) or was it an altogether different but similar creature? 
  • In the end, I felt like you could definitely still see the places where facehuggers and aliens had been removed from the original draft, replaced by ooze and posessed zombie geologists. And while I respect the effort to match the “DNA” of the original alien, doing it by forcing specific plot points (the room filled with eggs/canisters, the infected crew member, the underhanded android, the scene where the lady won’t allow the captain back aboard his ship, the scene where the monster has been hiding in the escape pod the whole time) in places just wound up making for a stupid plot that didn’t fit together.
  • Finally… the only thing more aggravating than trying (and failing) to reconcile the backstory of Prometheus with itself is reading all the fanboys who are trying to reconcile Prometheus with every goddamn Alien sequel. Because I’m sure Ridley Scott is concerned about the inherent contradictions of the black ooze with the “Predalien” from Alien vs Predator: Requiem.


  1. Amen, brother. Thanks for writing out a lot of the things that were going through my head after seeing the film. Nice that I am not alone in my thinking. Now…I’m a gonna take my robot head and go home. Cheers.

  2. As if I was in cryo sleep myself, I’m waking up and still wondering… What were they thinking… A well done rundown of this giant mess of a movie.


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