How did a movie this bad even get made?

[ spoilers, but you shouldn't waste your money anyway ]

I’m mad now, but if I were Ridley Scott, I’d be really, really mad. Here I am, a respected director of the seminal science-fiction films Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982) , and I wake up one day to find some incompetent hack has made an appalling ripoff of my work and bunch of other movies from the 60s and 70s, and worse, has used my name to do it.

This fake Ridley Scott’s film, a surreptitious prequel to Alien, is called Prometheus, and it begins pretty well. By the edge of a giant dramatic CGI-enhanced waterfall a giant dramatic CGI-enhanced humanoid waves goodbye to a departing flying saucer and takes a drink of dramatic CGI-enhanced liquid. The humanoid, a hugely muscled-up, china-white creature, quickly sickens and dies. His corpse drops over the falls and we are treated to the ultimate extreme close-up: we see his DNA, the actual double-helix, get all moldy and disintegrate.

OK, that’s on shaky ground scientifically, but cinematically, we’re off to a good start. The photography is beautiful and now we have a bundle of mysteries to keep our interest through the first reel: who was the humanoid, why did the saucer abandon him, was he murdered or was that suicide? Sadly, it all goes downhill faster than a humanoid’s corpse over a waterfall.

There’s more dramatic National Geographic-style photography as two anthropologists (Noomi Rapace, the girl with the dragon tattoo in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and newcomer Logan Marshall-Green) explore a cave on the Isle of Skye in the Hebrides. They find some cave drawings that are, to the audience, less skilfully drawn than real cave paintings, but the two are very excited by a depiction of a human figure pointing at an arrangement of seven stars.

We cut forward to the spacecraft Prometheus and watch an android (Michael Fassbender) tending a shipful of hibernating astronauts, a sequence that might be haunting to anyone who hadn’t seen the same thing done better in 2001 (made in 1968) and Silent Running (1972). The android watches Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and practices imitating Peter O’Toole. Apparently, this is the director’s way of warning us that everything we are going to watch has been lifted from other, better movies, a warning that is already superfluous by this point, 10 minutes into the movie. Then there’s a remake of the wake-up scenes from the first two Alien movies, only with less character development and more vomiting.

Also 10 minutes into the movie, I was already debating walking out. Seriously, I’m supposed to believe the man who made Thelma & Louise (1991) and Gladiator (2000) made this?

The only thing the screenwriters seem to know about their job is Chekov’s Rule: “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.” In an early scene one character explains to another that there is a well-stocked lifeboat aboard, and an apparently pointless robotic surgical kiosk, so we know those are both going to be vital. Plus, Rapace’s character is infertile, so we can expect her to be pregnant at some point.

But those are about the only plot-points you have to remember for the whole 124-minute movie. Lots of other purported important events supposedly occur, but none of them is connected to any other. Guy Pearce shows up, in appallingly unconvincing old-man makeup, to give a holographic PowerPoint presentation full of information that should be, but is not, useful later in the movie. The android poisons a major character, for no apparent reason. Two minor characters wander off on a hostile planet and have to spend the night outside the ship, to no apparent ill-effect (no other character even discusses their absence in any detail). Those same two later encounter a horrid snake-like creature and decide to play with it. It eats them, to no one’s surprise or concern.

Various discovery are announced, on no particular basis. Those seven stars back in the cave? Somehow they were a map to one planet. I don’t know how I would draw someone a map to the Safeway with seven dots, but those great big white aliens are also super-smart, so they can guide the inept crew of the Prometheus to a planet “3.5 x 1014 km” away with nothing else. Oh, and those same dots also prove that the aliens are actually our ancestors (how we came to genetically resemble autochthonous hominids like chimps and Neanderthals is never mentioned). When the Prometheus gets to the planet, it turns out to not be the aliens’ home planet, but, it is inferred from the presence of a few hundred jars full of a harmless but icky black substance, a massive weapons factory. Oh, and those weapons were intended to be used against Earth 2000 years ago. Or so we’re told. So why leave us the map?

It would be confusing except that it so obviously doesn’t matter. The characters don’t seem to be paying attention to the plot, why should we?

They recover the severed head of one alien. Do they try to study it in some fashion? No, they try to reanimate it, and actually get as far as coaxing it into a few ominous grimaces before it explodes in a Nickelodeon Kid’s Award-worthy fountain of green goop.

They check the DNA of the alien. Turns out, they’re human. Yeah, the 10-foot-tall glowing white creature full of green goop are apparently 100% human. You think this would be big news in the movie, but no. All the characters are depressed because, since they found a dozen dead aliens — or “Engineers”, as they call them for no reason at all — piled up against against a wall like a bunch of discarded mannequins, the entire species must be extinct.

Of course, it’s possible to enjoy a silly movie, but this one is just so ugly and lifeless. The interiors of the Prometheus, unlike the grungy and plausible Nostromo from Alien, don’t look for one second like any sort of vehicle. It mostly looks like the inside of an empty Ikea, except there’s a gymnasium (yeah, a huge gym for a spaceship whose crew sleeps the whole journey). The ziggurat on the planet that they explore is even worse, a pathetic attempt to recreate H.R. Giger’s visionary design for the derelict spacecraft in the first Aliens. They find the one remaining Engineer in what is supposed to be an impressive sarcophagus, but it looks exactly like an action figure in a plastic blister pack. Which it soon will be.

Forget being good at screenwriting or set design. The makers of this movie don’t seem to have thought through any aspect of the film, at all. When they awaken the Engineer — in the movie’s universe, the first-ever meeting between two intelligent species, one the ancestor of another — is there the slightest awe? Or fear? Or any emotional valence at all? Even some vomiting? Nope. They get into a fist-fight, a clumsy brawl in which the 10-foot-tall superbeing is able to overpower the dying Guy Pearce, but no one else.

And then the humans decide they have to ram the alien spaceship, now taking off to continue its inexplicable mission of destroying Earth. The captain and the two deckhands, who have been comic relief up until now, are briefed on the situation in a few shouted words and cheerfully decide to go all kamikaze on ET’s ass. This works, and brings the city-sized spaceship crashing down on Noomi Rapace’s head. Fortunately, she is able to escape certain death by rolling slightly to her left. Seriously.

It’s much less interesting than it sounds. When the two stupidest crew-members wander off by themselves and decide to tease the alien-snake-creature, the director is clearly trying to recreate the stomach-churning tension that the real Ridley Scott created in the scene in the first Alien when John Hurt has to examine the “seed pods”. It doesn’t work, at all. You just see two idiots taunting a dangerous animal. You know they’re going to get got, and they do, and you don’t care.

Then there’s the scene when a possibly infected man is brought back to the ship. In Alien, he is allowed inside, contrary to regulations, and that sets the rest of the plot in motion. In Prometheus, he allows himself to be killed, in the most gruesome way convenient (for no reason, since the atmosphere is poisonous, and he could have just opened his helmet and painlessly expired), but it doesn’t matter: he wasn’t infectious and was about to die anyway.

Even the monsters are boring. For some reason (never explained), the black goop generates un-scary tentacle monsters, and they look exactly like every other tentacle monster from every other tentacle-monster movie from Species to The Hidden to Pirates of The Caribbean. At the end, when after two hours of waiting, you finally get to see the Alien alien, it looks less like the Alien alien than like someone who rented an expensive alien costume for a party.

And on and on: no plot, just a series of 3D-friendly explosions, pointless exposition, and gross-out horror. Did they have a single script conference when they were making this turd of a film? Did nobody point out that there was no reason at all for the audience to sit through it?

Oh, and the humanoid from the beginning of the movie, the only good scene in the movie, remember that guy? The director apparently didn’t. Whatever was happening with him is never explained.

3 thoughts on “How did a movie this bad even get made?

  1. Also 10 minutes into the movie, I was already debating walking out.

    After reading the first part of your typo-laden review I was already debating closing the tab, but instead I kept reading and decided you would be better off reviewing Gone With the Wind

    Oh, and the humanoid from the beginning of the movie, the only good scene in the movie, remember that guy? The director apparently didn’t. Whatever was happening with him is never explained.

    You seriously didn’t get it? You need to watch it again.

    • “Also” wasn’t a typo in that context (if that was the implication). 10 minutes in, we knew the movie was derivative; also, 10 minutes in, I wanted to leave.

      Some people claim that that scene was supposed to be the aliens seeding Earth with their DNA, but that explanation has never made any sense to me.

      First of all, you see the DNA decay. OK, maybe that was Scott’s idea of anaphase

      But are the aliens supposed to be our ancestors, humans specifically? That seems biologically unlikely, given how close we are to the other creatures on our planet. Or are they the ancestors of all life here? If so, why do people, and no other species, resemble the aliens? That’s a huge dose of luck, don’t you think?

  2. Thank you for fixing my quote marks. I didn’t take the time to research how to do proper quotes on this site.

    The typos I mentioned were throughout the piece. Read it over out loud and it might be easier to catch them.

    I don’t have a problem with the alien DNA seeding all animal life. Who’s to say that it didn’t simply form the first dozen single cell creatures and evolution took over from there?

    I feel your take on the movie is purely scientific when in fact it is not a scientific movie. If we can imagine FTL travel then why are the other aspects so far fetched?

    I will admit there are some “DUH” moments. Such as the people taking their helmets off and playing with alien worms, but I have to give some leeway here because I’m watching an action scifi flick.

    Thank you for responding. I didn’t expect a response after my rant :)

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