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5 reasons why Prometheus may be a bad Alien movie

Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Saturday, March 3, 2012

As I write these words we’re three months away from watching Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s big return to science fiction movies. The Prometheus movie marketing hype has just kicked up a notch with the reveal of the TED 2023 talk. As the clock ticks down to Prometheus’ June 8 opening we’ll see the marketing escalate, and more of the movie’s secrets (and its increasingly likely strong connections to the first Alien movie) emerge from the shadows.

But it’s still a long three months to go until Prometheus actually arrives. Obviously, I can’t judge the movie until I’ve seen it but that doesn’t mean I can’t comment on what my gut and head are whispering to me, and why Prometheus could very well not turn out to be the redeemer of the Alien movie franchise but a trip down a blind alley.

Why be a critic of Prometheus this early out? Because that’s my job, and because I’ve been a fan of the world of Alien since I saw the original movie in 1979. I’m happy to see Ridley coming back to sci-fi – his voice and vision of future worlds has been sorely missed in cinema since the summer of 1982 and Blade Runner – but that doesn’t give him a pass. Alien isn’t just one of Ridley Scott’s best movies, it’s given the world of movies one of its most iconic monsters ever, right up there with Karloff’s Frankenstein and Spielberg’s Bruce the great white shark from Jaws. Alien elevated the genre at the time everyone was trying to imitate Star Wars, and it also gave the modern era of movies its first true female action hero, Ripley. So even if it were Stanley Kubrick, god rest his soul, who had descended from Heaven above and been given a billion dollar budget by the Creator, I’d still be skeptical of Prometheus until I’ve seen it.

All that said, here’s why the devil on my shoulder is dubious about the chances of fair Prometheus:

(Possible story spoilers for Prometheus are ahead -- so don't say that I didn't warn you.)

 

   1.    Explaining the origins of The Space Jockey

Alien is the perfect haunted house story set in outer space in two ways: with the spooky alien spaceship that the Nostromo astronauts find on the surface of the planetoid, and later with the monster running loose inside the dark hallways and rooms of the Nostromo. Those are two different kinds of haunted houses, but it’s the first one that provides the great mystery at the heart of the film: who was the Space Jockey, the fossilized being that Dallas, Lambert and Kane found in the ship? Where did he/it come from? Why was it transporting a cargo hold full of alien eggs? How did it get impregnated with a chestburster, and where did that Alien go?

The mystery of the Space Jockey and the story of how it came to its final resting place should remain unknown. I get that it’s tempting to follow that siren call and explain how the creature came to meet its end and the origin of the Alien eggs, but unless your idea can deliver on everyone’s expectations you’re almost certainly bound for failure. There are even three expensive examples that prove my point; they’re called Star Wars Episode I to III. Showing Darth Vader as a little kid, and then later as a lovesick Jedi Knight that kills innocent little kids, did nothing to add to the allure of seeing Vader that first time in Episode IV. Will showing the Space Jockey and revealing his origins really own up to not knowing and letting your imagination run wild?

The great thing about Alien’s Space Jockey or its ship or the eggs is that you don’t know how they got there and you were never supposed to. It was an unknowable mystery, and it made you think about how big the universe is and how humans known nothing about what’s lying around out there. Why can’t some mysteries remain not known? Do we really need to see that the Space Jockey is just some big human-looking guy that was wearing a biomechanical space suit, as the quick glimpses in Prometheus’ first trailer hint at?

I’d be all for seeing an Alien prequel or side-quel showing us more of the universe out there but I would have left the Space Jockey race alone.

 

   2.    How much did The Company know?

I don’t know the whole story to Prometheus so I’m taking a guess on how much knowledge Weyland’s space business will know about the Alien and the Jockey ship at the end of the Prometheus movie. From Alien, we know that the company knows something; they replaced the regular Nostromo science guy with Ash the robot before the freighter set out.

Prometheus is supposed to be set about 30 years before the events of Alien, so why did it take the Weyland corporation so long to follow up on what happened to the Prometheus? Sure, maybe there’s a solid reason for the three decade wait and we’ll see it played out in the movie, but then again, maybe we won’t.

The worst case scenario is that the company will know a) the Prometheus encountered a new lifeform, and b) a more advanced extraterrestrial spacefaring species. If the ship is lost and never heard from again (which does seem likely; it’s not like WY would send a dinky space freighter to investigate that moon if they knew the importance of what was there), why wait for that length of time? What changed between the end of Prometheus and the beginning of Alien?

By the end of Prometheus I’m hoping that Damon Lindelof will have addressed this plot point. Then again, Lindelof didn’t wrap all of the dangling story threads in Lost.

 

   3.    Where are the Aliens? Who are the bad guys?

Right from the start of when the greenlight for Prometheus was given the studio and filmmakers have distanced themselves from the Alien franchise. They’ve avoided directly acknowledging that there will be a Giger-looking Alien creature design in Prometheus; Scott’s even gone so far to say that the look of the Alien isn’t scary anymore to audiences, and he’s probably right. But Prometheus still needs an antagonist for its storyline, a villain that drives the story forward. So, unless it’s one of the human crewmembers, the Space Jockeys or something else that we’ve not yet seen (and I’m doubtful of that), there are no Aliens in Prometheus.

I’m fine with that, but what I’m concerned about is the rumors about who the villains are in the movie. According to several message forum posts on Alien fansites, several of the crewmembers from Prometheus are exposed to a substance that changes their DNA into “star beasts”, Alien-like biomechanical lifeforms. These reports, as well as a supposed synopsis of the movie’s major plot points, leaked online before official photos or the Prometheus trailer were out. The images showing Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender’s characters standing inside a gloomy chamber with a giant stone-like face also show elliptical containers on the ground. They look like weird barrels, about the height of one of those leathery eggs that Kane saw in the Jockey’s ship.

The similarities between the two environments suggest that there’s something to this rumor, as well as rapid shots in the trailer that show a spacesuited Prometheus crewmember doing a super-leap onto another.

If Scott and Lindelof are indeed using some kind of Space Jockey-made mutating DNA gel as the mechanism to change some of Prometheus’ crew into proto-Alien forms, why? Do they really need to go down the same road that so many other sci-fi/horror hybrid movies have done? This kind of body horror has been played out and done so many times before in movies that it would feel cheap to see it in an Alien movie, especially one done by Ridley Scott. In fact, one of the rejected screenplays for Alien 3 turned the Alien into a virus that could change people and even ships into biomechanical beings. It read like a lame idea back then and I hope that it’s not being done now.

I would like to be very wrong about this.

 

   4.    Who is Elizabeth Shaw?

If you’ve been following the development of Prometheus from the start you may have forgotten about how important Noomi Rapace and her character Elizabeth Shaw is supposed to be. She’s not front and center in the trailer and Rapace hasn’t been seen in the viral marketing starting up, but that doesn’t change the fact that she was one of the first cast, or that it’s been hinted that Shaw is going to be around the longest in Prometheus, or she's certainly the most important.

That’s Shaw’s voice in the Prometheus trailer saying “I’m so sorry, we were so wrong.” That’s Noomi Rapace wearing a spacesuit and running away from what appears to be the same design ship (if not the actual same spaceship) as the Jockey’s, falling to the ground, in the trailer.

Is Elizabeth Shaw supposed to be a new Ripley? If Prometheus is a fresh start for the Alien franchise, should there automatically be a female as the film’s central character? Elizabeth Shaw could wind up reminding the audience too much about Ellen Ripley, and what happens if we wind up liking Ripley better than Shaw?

There’s also that rumored storyline floating around. It states that Shaw’s parents were archeologists that discovered evidence of ancient extraterrestrial contact in Africa. Shaw grew up in her parents’ footsteps and went on the Prometheus mission because she believes that they will find the race that visited Earth in the past. Eventually she winds up playing an incredibly important role in the origins of mankind.

I think that the trap Ridley Scott could fall victim to is believing that because his movie is set in the universe of Alien, that there has to be a Ripley-like character in it. If Shaw winds up being the sole survivor at the end of Prometheus, then the comparison between her and Ripley will be blatant.

 

   5.      The Big Questions

One of the ways that Ridley Scott ground Alien in reality was by showing us a crew of “space truckers”, blue-collar workers that had a job in space. These guys woke up the same way we do, got ready for another day at work and griped about how much money they were earning. Up to Alien those humanizing elements in sci-fi movies were non-existent.

Alien didn’t worry about explaining how the Nostromo went faster than light, or how many worlds humans had spread out to live on. It kept its story centered on one big concept: fear. And it worked very well.

Prometheus is marketing itself as something different. Alien had the tagline, “In space no one can hear you scream,” but with Prometheus, it’s “The search for our beginning could lead to our end.”

Again, back to that rumored storyline: it says that the Prometheus finds the alien race that created Mankind. By stealing the technology that made the human race, human beings unexpectedly create the Aliens. Eventually Shaw and the android David wind up traveling hundreds of millions of years into the past and play a critical part in how all life on Earth begins. Putting aside the disquieting notion that a movie titled Alien and about the discovery of something really alien may be retro'ed by what we see happen in Prometheus, these are grand, big concepts that I love to see handled in science fiction. But should time travel and the origins of life on Earth be in an Alien movie?

Big ideas are great, but it’s damn near impossible to put big ideas into movies that focus on emotions that drive characters. For an example, let’s look at two movies: Jaws and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In Jaws, the story is about a great white shark that menaces a small coastal community. The sheriff of the town becomes the central character, and he faces his fear of the water and of being eaten alive. Eventually he kills the shark and saves his own life and the town.

2001’s main character isn’t introduced until halfway through the movie. Kubrick’s movie begins by showing the origins of humanity, and how an alien presence helped apes evolve into humans. Then we’re off into space and going to the moon, where another monolith sends our story off to Jupiter. We’re then introduced to the film’s main character, astronaut Dave Bowman, who has to showdown with a homicidal computer named HAL. It’s here that we have a section of 2001 where there’s a strong individual character arc driven by survival, but once Bowman defeats HAL he’s off to face the Jupiter monolith and then face his destiny as the Starchild.

These grand ideas are common in the genre of science fiction, and the genre is a great birthing pool for these weighty philosophical ideas. But they don’t suit the kind of stories being told in Alien or Jaws where the protagonist has to face the challenge and overcome it. Action and the cerebral can work together but the balance is delicate and must be finely tuned to the particular story being told.

Maybe that’s exactly what Ridley Scott, Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts have done with Prometheus, but it’s a damn hard thing to do, and it’s a lot easier if you pick one direction to take. As I started with at the beginning of this article, we’re three months out from the release of Prometheus and I can’t tell you whether it’s a movie that wants to tell its story about big ideas set within the horror genre or a horror movie that has big ideas in its background.

Chris
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Posted: 7 years 37 weeks ago

LMAO. This is exactly how I feel about this entire film, especially reason #1. I'm glad someone had the balls to post this, because I've been getting dogged ever since I stated the same thing! Cheers to Patrick Sauriol.

The Swollen Goi...
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Posted: 7 years 37 weeks ago

It's cool that you did this, Pat. I stopped right before I got to the spoiler warnings (I'm going to try not spoiling myself [GASP!] for a change), so I didn't actually get to the meat of the article.

I did see that the first point was one about explaining the origin of the Space Jockey, though. I'm wary about that one, myself. I absolutely love how the Space Jockey is just there in Alien. Massive. Ancient. Unexplained. It works. I just hope it doesn't turn into midi-chlorians.

Also, I somehow missed the Guy Pearce video the other day. Thanks for linking back to it.

The most frustrating thing about Prometheus is that it doesn't come to German theaters until after we leave, and it will likely be out of US theaters by the time we get back. Fuckers.

Worldswithoutend
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Posted: 7 years 37 weeks ago

Good piece on Prometheus. Worlds Without End posted a blog about the Alien Prequel in 2010 that might be interesting to you. Check it out. https://worldswithoutend.com/blog.asp?view=plink&id=197

Jakester
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Posted: 7 years 37 weeks ago

 Excellent article, Pat! You've hit on my concerns about the movie as well.

I can't really see how time travel would fit in the Alien universe at all, not even if the space jockeys (or another race) has it.

 

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Jack S. Pharaoh
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Posted: 7 years 37 weeks ago

Is the premise for 'Prometheus' unsound?

Jack S. Pharaoh
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Posted: 7 years 37 weeks ago

I'm disappointed to feel my anticipation for 'Prometheus' unwound.

Jack S. Pharaoh
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Posted: 7 years 37 weeks ago

I may have to skip this one in the theater now, and wait until it arrives on my TV.  Even then I feel like watching it will probably be done more as a show of respect for Scott and the once proud 'Alien' franchise.  I call movies like this "mercy telly."

Mal Shot First
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Posted: 7 years 37 weeks ago

Jack S. Pharaoh wrote:

Is the premise for 'Prometheus' unsound?

Jack S. Pharaoh wrote:

I'm disappointed to feel my anticipation for 'Prometheus' unwound.

Jack waxes poetic.

draekus
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Posted: 7 years 37 weeks ago

I can see where you're coming from in most of your points...and I agree that this has the possiblity of being a bad film (all films do). But I don't think your points (if they come to be true) would necessarily prevent this from being a good film. (Thats just my opinion, not trying to make your points seem invalid. )

Also, many of the plot details you've sourced from fansites have been debunked. The plot-leak that featured the bio-former gel, time travel, and crew memebers being converted to Star Beats was just fanfic, which was first posted over at prometheus-movie.com. (By the way the author of the fanfic never intended for his/her fanfic to be confused as a "plot leak". He/she made sure to label his work as fanfic. Some one apparently just copy, pasted, and sent his/her fanfic to websites disguised as "the leaked plot". If the final movie has any similarities it think it would be coincidence.)

Space Tycoon
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Posted: 7 years 37 weeks ago

I'm not expecting the heavens to open up and the truth of the cosmos revealed in this movie. 

But to say this may be a "bad Alien movie"..... "bad" compared to what? 

Alien: Desecration?  AVP 1 or 2?  Fourteen years of crap?

I look forward to a smart, visually arresting, forward thinking, thought provoking science fiction film.  Maybe I will see one, maybe not.  But at this time I have high hopes for Prometheus.

Master_Blaster
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Posted: 7 years 37 weeks ago

Great article!

A few observations from the stills.

In Aliens and subsequent movies, we see the aliens imitate the internal, esophageal structure of the Jockey ship.  I speculate that the aliens were created by the Jockey species and thus, the aliens' DNA is encoded to replicate a Jockey-like environment.

This leads to point 2: in Aliens, the Jockey ship's cargo hold was full of alien eggs that were to be delivered to Earth and/or the colony on LV-426, to wipe out the human race - a race they created.  This theme - our beginning, our end - is repeatedly emphasized in the marketing to date.

Leading to point 3: there may be some biological link between the Jockey and alien species. For example, Jockies are evolved aliens, or aliens mutate into Jockies, or something. This point is admittedly weak.