And I Only Am Escaped Alone to Tell Thee About Ridley Scott’s Prometheus

Prometheus, a big summer popcorn flick is the latest from Ridley Scott, the visionary auteur who gave us Kingdom of HeavenBody of Lies, Robin Hood, and G.I. Jane.  Okay, forgive the sarcasm—Scott is also responsible for some fine films, including Blade Runner and Alien, which Prometheus is most decidedly a prequel to, despite the early incoherent maybe-it-is-maybe-it-isn’t buzz from the studio. I list some of Scott’s recent (and not-so-recent) films as a reminder of what many film fans might be happy to overlook: Ridley Scott may have a keen sense of style and a competent grasp on storytelling and emotion, but he’s essentially a hired gun who happens to make better-than-average genre flicks. Prometheus is another entry in his middling non-canon.

Obligatory plot summary (no spoilers):

At the end of the 21st century, two archaeologists find a series of apparent star maps at ancient sites. Positing these maps as an invitation from “Engineers” — clearly, an alien species who created human life (how they make this inductive leap is never made quite clear) — the archaeologists head to the outer limits of the universe in the spaceship Prometheus. Along for the ride are a host of expendables, a skeptical Captain Janek (Idris Elba), ice-queen/corporate rep Vickers (Charlize Theron), and David (Michael Fassbender), an android who has apparently mastered Proto-Indo-European, the language these alien astronauts presumably speak (again, why this should be is never explicated). The Prometheus’s crew follow the star maps to an Earth-like moon and land near a giant temple, where they discover the remains of the Engineers, as well as some vases filled with black ooze. Being reasonable folks, they break quarantine and bring samples back on the Prometheus (recall now how Ripley tries so hard to prevent Dallas from bringing Kane back aboard the Nostromo in Alien). All proverbial hell breaks loose, and Prometheus begins to rack up a predictable body count as it slowly settles on archaeologist Shaw (played by an excellent Noomi Rapace) as its heroine.

Along the way, Prometheus gloms clumsily on to questions about creation and origin, but these questions lack real depth. The filmmakers rely heavily on clichés, hackneyed dialogue, and overdetermined images to present their creation theme, and the effect is largely divorced from the visceral spirituality we might otherwise associate with such a grand subject. Fassbender’s android is perhaps the clearest symbol of creation, a robot boy with daddy issues. (David’s creator Weyland, portrayed by Guy Pearce, foots the bill for space exploration because, of course, he’s searching for immortality. Quick aside: Why in the fuck is Pearce, a man in his forties, cast as a dying elderly man?). While Fassbender does a marvelous job as David the android, his performance retreads familiar territory (nods to Data and HAL 9000). David’s motivations are never entirely clear, and while some may argue this makes for a more interesting film, the lack of clarity is ultimately part of the film’s deflections. In Prometheus, the refusal to telegraph clear meaning isn’t subtle ambiguity, it’s the mark of empty spectacle, of filmmakers who aren’t entirely sure if they have a thesis or not.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t some fantastic moments in Prometheus. The film is beautiful, the designs impeccable, and Noomi Rapace’s Shaw emerges as an enthralling heroine, a final girl to rival Ripley. The film is at its finest when it focuses its energies on Shaw, as in a bizarre alien-abortion scene, probably the most thrilling segment of Prometheus. However, most of the marginal plots fail to coalesce. Charlize Theron’s Vickers could just as easily have been written out of the film, for example. Also, we’re told at the beginning that there are 17 crew members on Prometheus, but the body count here is so nebulous that it becomes impossible to keep track of who’s dead and who’s alive, let alone care. Ultimately, it’s the mishmash of mythologies that muddies Prometheus: Is this Pandora’s Box? Pinocchio? The Fountain of Youth? Genesis? The Book of Revelation?

Prometheus is all contours and surfaces, roomy, spacious, and slick. Near the end of the film, when one character, dying, announces “There is nothing . . .” it feels like a fairly concise summary of the film’s spiritual program. I suppose I’ve devoted so many words to Prometheus simply because I fear that it’s one of those popcorn flicks like Avatar or Inception that people will try to pretend are deep or meaningful or clever. In his glowing review, Roger Ebert suggests Prometheus is “all the more intriguing because it raises questions about the origin of human life and doesn’t have the answers.” Ebert’s analysis fails to leave out that the film doesn’t even try to answer—at best, it offers a smug shrug, a winking nihilism, pure cinematic spectacle as a substitution for meaning, gussied up in the robes of inquiry.

There is a moment though when Prometheus manages to synthesize its elegant bombast with the existential questions it wishes to pose. The end of the movie—yes, there are potential spoilers ahead—follows the same curve of self-annihilation that we see in Alien, with Ripley, final girl, safe but traumatized, a survivor who may now bear witness. In what I take to be the grandest shot in the film, a terrified Shaw gazes up at the alien spacecraft as it crashes down. The spacecraft recalls an ouroboros, the snake that eats its own tail, symbol of self-reflexivity, death-in-birth: it recalls too, both thematically and physically, the shapes of the reptilian aliens that haunt the rest of the Alien franchise. Watching the wreckage of ships, I was instantly reminded of the final chapter of Moby-Dick. In the epilogue, Ishamael tells us, “The Drama’s Done. Why then here does any one step forth? – Because one did survive the wreck.” The chapter begins with a quote from Job: “And I only am escaped alone to tell thee.” Whether or not Prometheus is actively alluding to Moby-Dick is beside the point. What both narratives do well is explore the capacity for survival, illustrating what it means to witness catastrophe on a cataclysmic scale. While Prometheus hardly explores its metaphysical questions with the depth or aplomb of Melville, it does tap into the same impulse that makes Alien such a great film, illustrating the Darwinian competition that underwrites existence.

If it seems I’ve been too hard on Prometheus, it was not my intention to declare it a bad or stupid or graceless film—again, it’s a good summer popcorn flick, filled with spectacle and thrills. I should point out that my wife and I caught the matinée, had a nice dinner, and then came home and watched AlienPrometheus actually does a remarkable job of answering to some of the mysterious imagery that dominates the planetoid scenes in that film, but it ultimately suffers by comparison with Alien. Prometheus is too antiseptic and spacious, with none of the gritty, grimy, cramped corners that makes Scott’s earlier film so scary and paranoia-inducing. Prometheus also lacks the naturalistic performances and dialogue of Alien, which I suppose is more an issue of how much film has changed since the 1970s than anything else. On the whole though, Prometheus isn’t a bad summer flick—it just can’t live up to its marketing buzz, let alone its own metaphysical posturing.

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27 comments

  1. Shawn Conner · June 9, 2012

    Excellent analysis and also a good summary of the problems plaguing summer blockbusters in general. I think I’ll take a pass on this one; from what I’ve read, it’s ultimately a waste of time.

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  2. seymourblogger · June 9, 2012

    It was just last night I was researching it. I’ll wait until it comes to the discount Palace. On Tuesdays – all day! – it’s $1.00. And thank you for wasting words on something that should be said. Ebert missed the Foucaudian Grid in Ides of March and everyone misread Cosmopolis, including that “auteur” Cronenberg, in its fuck you wink to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. I still can’t figure out if DeLillo has followed Zizek on Rand or not. Nevermind. Nietzsche will out.

    In this review you have a lot of examples of “floating signs” used as masks of dissimulation. Are you getting into Baudrillard and Lacan?

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    • Biblioklept · June 9, 2012

      Shawn, it definitely has a “summer blockbuster” vibe—Scott is clearly going for a “big” film, which, again, is fine—only I think a lot of folks will try to say Prometheus is also a “smart” film, which it just isn’t. It’s not Michael Bay dumb, but it isn’t as smart as a James Cameron film; in fact, I didn’t really get into this in the review, but in many ways it recalls Cameron’s Aliens as much as it recalls Scott’s Alien.

      Seymour, have you seen Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis yet? I’m curious about it.

      Your last question cracked me up. I’ve been doing my best to run from Lacan for years, but I suppose long-established reading habits die hard. Some of my mentors in college and grad school were die-hard Lacanians.

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      • seymourblogger · June 9, 2012

        Disclosure: I am a Twi Pattinson fan and I keep deploring how ambitiously ambiguously talented – some downright un – keep pimping him for their own advancement. And he seems never to see it. I wrote about 70 posts on Cosmopolis during shooting, sent Cronenberg a registered priority letter to read my blog. I seem to be the only one out here “not reading by learning by heart” (Nietzsche) the book. Sometimes I think he read me and sometimes I think he didn’t. But I did get a huge number of hits from Canada last summer so I assumed – perhaps wrongly – that someone on staff was reading me.

        I have only seen the trailers but I have read/listened to all interviews. Cronenberg is not what he was when he did Naked Lunch or Crash. He puts down the big suits in Hollywood and would love to be there. He complains about funding a lot. Well the Canadian Board is funding some wonderful stuff lately. Derek Jarman who did Wittgenstein, a beautiful man and a beautiful film, talked on the DVD about being constricted with a 200,000 budget and how it made him even more creative. Tilda Swinton is so beautiful in it. A dazzling film. Another Earth is another 3 million budget film that is a treasure.

        Cronenberg has said what he left out and given his reasons which are bullshit. I won’t take up your space here. But it could have been a film for the century. It is a Cronenberg ego enhancing NOT film. He goes for controversy the way some sites do to get hits. In his case it’s tickets.

        I love your site. It’s keeping me from everything else tho so I hate it.

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      • seymourblogger · June 9, 2012

        As for Lacan. Francoise Dolto was his partner in all this but she was a clinical savant. Her book Dominique: An Adolescent Boy is the finest case study by light years that I ever read. the only one that comes close for me is “String” by D.W. Winnecott. It is all done in transcript: he said, she said with a short intro before each session about his history and present up to day material from home. But the radical change in this boy is all in the words, and she is doing a Lacanian analysis. the other one is a memoir by Marie Cardinale of her analysis and you just know her analyst is a Lacanian.

        I studied with some greats, but not Lacanians. I got there thru Dolto. Zizek’s new book on Hegel has a Lacan chapter that I am just beginning. Wow!

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      • M.S. · June 9, 2012

        I was with your reasoning (even if I don’t necessarily agree with it) on all counts until you said, “It isn’t as smart as a James Cameron film.” That is one of the dumbest statements I’ve ever read in film commentary. Please, please, please, tell me how James Cameron makes “smart” movies.

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        • Biblioklept · June 9, 2012

          M.S., —
          I’m not inclined to tell you anything, considering your insulting tone—-has the internet so desensitized you to the standards of discourse that you feel it’s okay to make a demand preceded by an insult? I mean, in all seriousness (not just as a rhetorical question), would you tell me to my face that my statement (one made in a comment section, no less!) was one of the “dumbest” you’ve ever read?

          I never said Cameron makes particularly “smart” films—I just said that Prometheus isn’t as smart as the films Cameron makes. Even if Cameron’s films are bombastic and thematically overdetermined, they at least follow their own internal logical program.

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          • seymourblogger · June 9, 2012

            It’s not such a bad insult. You should see the ones I get. It’s sort of funny the begging please, please, please. I agree with you but much more than you intended.

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        • seymourblogger · June 9, 2012

          I’ll tell you. Avatar. The perfect visual portrayal of the Nietzschean/Foucadian Inscription of the Body. I was going to write about this on my blog but then I saw Eclipse which is a perfect genealogy of sexuality, in moving technicolor for you, all condensed so it can be grasped in under two hours.

          Sorry for the hyperbole but Avatar with its paralyzed hero’s body, also presents a paralyzed hero’s mind and thinking. He is definitely inside the box of an authoritarian, totalitarian functionary. As both Nietzsche and Foucault tell us that the relation of power/knowledge inscribes the body, molding it into the docile and obedient body, but just because the mind is invisible to you doesn’t mean that it is not as severely inscribed as well. Then when he assumes his Pandora’s body he immediately goes out of control with happiness. Structural here, as he has been paralyzed and when released his change would be the most dramatic, more so than a physically normal person. OK so far. Kind of like a hit of acid to the mind.

          His new body is naive as is his new mind. It is childlike and impressionable, He enters Baudrillard’s Order of Seduction (Pandora), out of the Order of Production (tekkie western world) where he has been living full time. The reading of the film as political in terms of environmental disaster and the western world’s technological plunder of the planet is all true. But deeper, and more basic and primitive and compelling is the body.

          When the body is “conditioned” from the womb by the power/knowledge grid/matrix, it is tea time after that to ravage the planet. So while ecology frets about the planet suggesting things to do within the grid – Vija Kinski in Foucault speak in Cosmopolis tells us, “There is no outside.” There is no outside because you are in your body, and like the goldfish in the bowl you don’t know it. So how can you even think you might like to get out. You can’t. This is the evil of the Inscription of the Body. It is silent, invisible, vicious and relentless, and it steals your life from you. No crime scene, no criminal, no justice, no punishment: The Perfect Crime as Baudrillard says when reality is stolen from you in homeopathic doses. The constant physical workout of the Commander is presented as our conception of the strong, action oriented body. And mind. The commander is self-inscribing: think dancers, football players, yoga instructors, etc.

          Does Cameron know what he put before our eyes on film. No of course not. But that is the role of an artist. To see and not to know s/he sees.

          I have been wanting to write about this for over 2 years. Thanks for the stimulus.

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  3. Pingback: PROMETHEUS « Written in Blood
  4. i, Laskey · June 9, 2012

    Very interesting review/analysis, very well written. I enjoyed reading it a lot, so I just wanted to make comment…

    I saw Prometheus over a week ago at an IMAX pre-screening here in the UK and I’m still not sure what I think about it, and it’s been a long time since a mainstream Hollywood movie has left me pondering so much (which must be a good thing, right?). I agree that, ultimately, it doesn’t quite work, that it’s reach exceeds its grasp. Yes, too many plot threads, ideas, character motivations are left too ambiguous to be satisfying. Yes, too many of the characters are anonymous when compared with the original cast of Alien. Yes, the high-minded philosophical debates of the first half (which are more interesting in terms of content rather than execution) make clumsy way for a monster-movie finale. Yes, its open-ended which will annoy some people…

    and yet…

    I still had a blast with it. I found it so thrilling to be immersed again in this fascinating universe that I was willing to overlook many of the shortcomings. There is dazzling spectacle in this film, many astonishing sequences (one of which – the surgical scene – I found jaw dropping), beautiful artistry on display, Fassbender’s David is genuinely interesting and I felt Noomi Rapace made a believable and sympathetic heroine; I’d rather a commercial Hollywood blockbuster like this try (if failing at times) to address “bigger themes” than just be a dumb guys-with-guns-fighting-scary-monsters action movie. As such, I do think its being a little disingenuous to label a “popcorn flick”: just compare this with something like the Transformer films to see an obvious chasm in ambition and quality!

    It also seems that so many people have a problem with it not living up to the hype. This is an interesting dilemma: is that the fault of the film, the director and film-makers, the marketing department, or audience expectations? (I AM angry that the trailers pretty much showed the entire film in compressed form. That ruined some surprises). I must admit, I went into seeing Prometheus not expecting anything on a par with the original Alien: how could ANY sequel/prequel live up to that masterpiece? And how many 5th entries in franchises (as prequel, sequel, whatever) are ever that amazing anyway? I’d say that Prometheus, shortcomings and all, is a much better film than Alien 3 (even in the “Director’s” cut) and Alien: Resurrection.

    So, yes, I agree with everything you say about the film, but I still enjoyed the film enough to be wanting to see it again. And I DO hope that it’s a big hit because I very much want to see where Scott intends to take this story next. Don’t you?

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    • seymourblogger · June 9, 2012

      I really liked the way you reviewed and disagreed with the review. So civilized and wonderful to come across someone on a board that is such an intelligent commentar. I haven’t seen wither Alien or Prometheus but now I want to. Thanks. I wish you would read mine and comment on them from time to time. http://moviesandfilm.blogspot.com

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      • i, Laskey · June 9, 2012

        Thanks! I appreciate the kind words. Likewise, its nice to meet people who are just as interested in films and cinema! I love to talk about film seriously, to share counter points of views – ultimately, there’s no “right and wrong” when it comes to liking movies, is there? And I’m always happy to have my perceptions challenged! That’s the best way to learn! I’ll happily read your blog and comment when I can. Likewise, I’ve just started a blog: at the moment, it’s more a collection of cool clips/articles/stuff that I like, but I do intend to post reviews/opinions pieces, etc, in future: do take a look and comment if you like: http://www.mondomusings.wordpress.com

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        • seymourblogger · June 9, 2012

          Your blog said nothing about Dune my favorite sci fi. I loved it so much I refused to see the movie as I knew they would ruin it.

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          • i, Laskey · June 9, 2012

            Do you know, I’ve only just recently been given “Dune” (the novel, that is). It’s on my “to read” list as I’ve always wanted to. So, whilst I have seen the film, I can’t compare it to the book. But I appreciate that it’s made lots of omissions/changes that have angered the novel’s fans so I can sympathise with your position. But it’s a curious film, nonetheless. Considering the time when it was made (height of the Star Wars / sci-fi frenzy) and the amount of money it cost, it’s still amazing that Lynch was able to make such a bizarre and idiosyncratic film. It’s truly odd-ball in places, and the production design is quite amazing (in a good way!). As a big-budget “folly” it’s actually quite a lot of fun, as long as you accept that it’s NEVER going to be as good as the novel. For me, although it’s not sci-fi, I loved the novel “American Psycho” but knew that there was no way, ever, it could be done full justice as a film (even when Cronenberg was briefly attached to direct it). That said, when I did see the film, I enjoyed it enough for what it was as a film separate to the book. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you haven’t already, give Dune the movie a shot as you may find a few things in it to like (whilst accepting it messes up the book, that is!).

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            • seymourblogger · June 9, 2012

              I didn’t know Dune was a Lynch film and that makes all the difference. I saw his Eraserhead at his art school in Philly in a basement room there. don’t know if he was still there or it was an admirer of his that showed it. I loved it. After a minor auto accident I stopped in an emergency room and the guy that saw me had a head of hair just like eraserhead. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. finally I said, “I can’t believe it! Your hair is the same as the guy in Eraserhead!” He looked at me (I’m in my mid 70’s) and said, “I can’t believe you even know that film much less have seen it!”

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    • Biblioklept · June 9, 2012

      Hi, Laskey,
      Thanks for your thoughtful response. I liked the movie, and I agree with you, especially about Fassbender’s and Rapace’s performances. I didn’t intend “popcorn flick” pejoratively—some of my favorite movies are smart popcorn flicks (Die Hard, RoboCop, ConAir, for example). I enjoyed much of the movie, but the plot holes + its sense of self-importance were a bit much. It’s certainly heads and shoulders above Michael Bay’s schlock, but I think that the bar has gotten so low these days, you know? I mean, I’m thinking of maybe last summer, where people were calling Inception an “art film”?! Maybe I’m comparing apples and oranges here.

      And, to worm my way into the Dune convo—
      I loved the book—read it and its sequels as a kid. I also love the movie, which I know is deeply deeply flawed, terribly miscast, somewhat incomprehensible in its short edit, and occasionally silly. It also has some brilliant moments. I also saw it when I was like 6 or 7.

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      • i, Laskey · June 9, 2012

        I’m guessing I saw Dune round about the same age as you. Certainly when it first was released onto VHS. I have to be honest: I found major parts of it bewilderingly incomprehensible, but I understand that’s because a lot of the book was excised/altered, and that Lynch had a much longer cut in mind? I wish he’d go back and revisit that film and construct a “workprint” version, or something, for bluray/dvd. But he seems to have distanced himself from the film (like Fincher and Alien 3). I do think it’s a crazy cool film, though. Amazing art design and some bizzaro casting! (Sting, anyone?!) Funnily enough, it’s not a movie that seems to get shown a lot these days on film channels, and I haven’t seen it in years. I must watch again sometime…

        Completely understand your comments about “popcorn flicks”. I guess I’ve become too used to too many fanboys online using the term to justify their liking of brain-dead Michael Bay schlock (“hey, whaddya expect, its only a popcorn flick…”). I’m a big fan of good summer movies too (heck, my first cinema experience was the original Star Wars). Funny you mention Inception. I certainly agree it’s not an “art film” but it did impress that such a massively expensive “event” movie was scripted so smartly (I also fell in love with Hans Zimmer’s score, a composer I’ve always disliked until he teamed up with Nolan). I actually found it quite touching in places too (odd considering Nolan has a reputation for emotional coldness as a director). I like the fact that he’s been able to straddle his more cerebral, mature films (Memento, The Prestige) whilst also being allowed to bring such sensibilities to big Studio films. I can’t wait to see Dark Knight Rises. Whilst I doubt it will quite live up to the previous two (what third film does) I’m curious to see how far he’s been allowed to go on such a massively anticipated money maker!

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        • seymourblogger · June 9, 2012

          I am still in thrall to Inception. How to explain why here. The layers of time, acceleration and almost time stopping and illusion, I think. I will have to see it again to think what I want to say.

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  5. Pingback: Seven Sci-Fi Films That Are Smarter Than Prometheus | biblioklept
  6. seymourblogger · June 9, 2012

    Oh on Inception. The concept of Alterity, of living parallel lives after Destiny crossings. Not unlike Another Earth.

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  7. Von · June 9, 2012

    I’ve been possessed by this film since seeing it a few days ago; it keeps coming back to haunt me like a little piece of steak caught in my back teeth that I can’t … quite .. reach .. with my tongue. I’ve recalled, pondered, and read a couple of good blogs (of which this is one) .. and since you seem like smart people I guess I’ll use this one to post my thoughts:

    1) One of the defining hallmarks of Art (capital ‘A’ deliberate) is that it sticks with you, makes you think, makes you feel something, and generates discussion.

    One of the defining hallmarks of this film (apparently / obviously) is that – regardless of whether you hate / love / or somewhere in between “Prometheus” – is that it sticks with you, makes you think, makes you feel something, and generates discussion.

    Not necessarily making any specific correlation here. Merely pointing out a truism.

    2) One of the defining qualities of Ridley Scott’s best films, his most personal films – is that they are full of subtle text and meaning .. often meta-meaning, and it takes a certain amount of focus and deliberate thought to “get” what he is aiming at.

    One gets the impression that almost everything is symbolic, and deliberate … so much so that even things that might not be (especially symbolic or deliberate) get swept up in the hysterical, almost obsessive quest among the fans to wring every last nuance of text and meaning from the film.

    Like searching for ‘easter eggs’ in a videogame you’ve already played 150 times all the way to the end, or scanning an old Rolling Stones album with a magnifying glass to see what else there is to find; the clues that will illuminate whatever deeper concept you are convinced that they’ve buried within the superficial context of a mere commercial rock album ..

    … this defining quality of Ridley’s best / most personal films – particularly Blade Runner and Alien – is so well known by now, that it is *expected*

    The moment this film was announced, and before the first drafts of the scripts were even finished … we *expected* this.

    We expected that the film would be filled with deeper meaning and text. We were expecting it to be a tough nut to crack. And we were expecting the film to be full of hidden, deep references that are DELIBERATE (ie, not sloppy or an accidental result of poor film making).

    Well …

    I am here to tell you that it is. Deliberate. ALL of it … including the things that – on the surface – appear to be obvious sloppy screenplay and bad choices with narrative.

    Its all deliberate. Because …

    3) Ridley knows all of this. So does Lindelof. They would not and did not “cop out” and put together a “visually spectacular yet burdened by summer blockbuster sloppiness” half assed effort.

    They knew these expectations from the beginning, and they played to them; the film absolutely 100% plays on them brilliantly and *plays the audience* (as in: Playing With Ur Head) brilliantly as well.

    4) The main theme of the film IS about life creation, and specifically the value (and often, the necessity) of self sacrifice in the creation of life … whether that be on a personal, or a cosmic scale (both are represented in the film

    5) The Engineers absolutely DID send down an emissary to Earth during the height of the Roman Empire, and we (humanity) ganged up on him and killed him … and this said a whole lot about us as a species to them.

    This Christmas / Christian / self sacrifice theme is practically shoved in our faces over and over again in the film, if you take care to look for it … its all over the place. And Ridley – in a rare moment of candor – verbally spelled this out in a couple of interviews already.

    So, accept it. This much is a done deal.

    6) Accepting this thesis naturally sheds light on a whole lot that happens along the way. In particular, why the Engineer reacted so viollently to Weyland’s selfish request for immortality, and why they were aiming to spread the black goo on our planet. Among other things ..

    This is the core of the film, and this is what gives it the deliberate depth that everyone is so furiously hunting for.

    That’s enough. Its a very worthy, a very deep cosmic theme and they deliver it very well, very beautifully done.

    Now … a lot of people have also come to this understanding of the film, but are disappointed / pissed off that its somehow not enough … and what about all of this other “stuff” in the film that is sloppy? And pandering to a summer popcorn crowd? Or leaving loose ends? Or character’s that are inconsistent … etc etc ..

    Check it:

    ALL OF THIS OTHER STUFF IN THE FILM THAT APPEARS SLOPPY AND / OR PANDERING FAN SERVICE IS ALSO DELIBERATE ..

    .. that is: Deliberately FUCKING WITH US.

    Idiot biologist? (“..c’mere … oh your such a pretty girl..!”) = hilarious tongue in cheek Jurassic Park reference. Deliberate.

    Charlize character crushed by the ship? = hilarious. So totally fucking with us and those expectations (Corporate Bitch Deserves to Die) that it cracks me up. Totally deliberate.

    Guy Pierce in obvious bad “old man” makeup that looks uncannily just like the bad “old man” makeup used during the end sequences of ‘2001: Space Odyssey’? = oh ..*please*. Totally hilarious, totally fucking with us, and TOTALLY deliberate.

    These are merely a few of the most obvious examples.

    In conclusion:

    No, this film is not sloppy and half-assed. At all.

    It’s full of meaning and subtle text. And beyond the first (most obvious) layer of narrative and text (life creation / self sacrfice) … there is a META text:

    About people’s expectations in Ridley Scott’s films, and the “Eternal Fanboy’s Quest for Meaning”

    Ridely and Lindelof know EXACTLY what they are doing :) And it’s brilliant.

    And it is hilarious.

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    • Biblioklept · June 9, 2012

      Hi, Von,
      Thanks for your detailed response and your kind words about the blog. I’ll reply to your points individually:

      “1) One of the defining hallmarks of Art (capital ‘A’ deliberate) is that it sticks with you, makes you think, makes you feel something, and generates discussion.”

      Okay, sure, I agree.

      “2) One of the defining qualities of Ridley Scott’s best films, his most personal films – is that they are full of subtle text and meaning .. often meta-meaning . . . were expecting the film to be full of hidden, deep references that are DELIBERATE (ie, not sloppy or an accidental result of poor film making).
      Well …
      I am here to tell you that it is. Deliberate. ALL of it … including the things that – on the surface – appear to be obvious sloppy screenplay and bad choices with narrative.
      Its all deliberate.”

      Hmmmm…I mean, even if Prometheus’s (many many) flaws *are* deliberate, we’re still left with so much sussing out to do.

      This argument strikes me as an example of what the New Critics called “the intentional fallacy” — the idea that it’s inherently problematic to try to critique art (film, poem, whatever) based on the perceived intention/purpose of the artist. It basically leads to conjecture or armchair psychology. Or hunting Easter eggs, I guess.

      “4) The main theme of the film IS about life creation, and specifically the value (and often, the necessity) of self sacrifice in the creation of life … whether that be on a personal, or a cosmic scale (both are represented in the film”

      I agree—but it’s also about the massive Darwinian competition that underwrites life creation—it’s about death. It’s about survival. See, I think here is where we might disagree big time. I think, to the filmmakers *try* to present a film about creation, but the Alien franchise defeats them—the film is about extinction, survival.

      “5) The Engineers absolutely DID send down an emissary to Earth during the height of the Roman Empire, and we (humanity) ganged up on him and killed him … and this said a whole lot about us as a species to them.
      This Christmas / Christian / self sacrifice theme is practically shoved in our faces over and over again in the film, if you take care to look for it … its all over the place. And Ridley – in a rare moment of candor – verbally spelled this out in a couple of interviews already.
      So, accept it. This much is a done deal.”

      I get that Christ is a Promethean figure, in ways—but naming the film/ship Prometheus is not the same as evoking a psychologically real Promethean figure.

      While the Christ story is so central to Western culture that we can expect audiences to understand when artists/filmmakers symbolically use it, I don’t think Ridlely clumsily shoehorning in Xmas elements is particularly effective. Also, what Ridley spells out in a few interviews is ultimately meaningless to me—he might as well tell me that his film is coherent and deep.

      I missed the part of the movie where the engineers sent JC to earth as an emissary (maybe I was in the bathroom. Or maybe this is more conjecture that Ridley intended me to assume in order for me to add depth to his own movie). What was JC an emissary of (in terms of the film?

      “6) Accepting this thesis naturally sheds light on a whole lot that happens along the way.”

      Is the thesis the idea that the film’s (apparent) flaws and cracks are actually deliberate?
      Is the thesis that Prometheus is a Christ-story?

      ” In particular, why the Engineer reacted so viollently to Weyland’s selfish request for immortality, and why they were aiming to spread the black goo on our planet. Among other things ..”

      I think I’m still unclear on the thesis, b/c neither of these plot points still makes real sense to me.

      “Idiot biologist? (“..c’mere … oh your such a pretty girl..!”) = hilarious tongue in cheek Jurassic Park reference. Deliberate.
      Charlize character crushed by the ship? = hilarious. So totally fucking with us and those expectations (Corporate Bitch Deserves to Die) that it cracks me up. Totally deliberate.”

      Even if these moments are meant to be deliberate self-referential inside-joke-for-sci-fi fans stuff, they seem to me ineffective as either parody or meta-commentary. The filmmakers saying, Hey, look at these stupid tropes! We can make them stupid too! is not good art.

      “Guy Pierce in obvious bad “old man” makeup that looks uncannily just like the bad “old man” makeup used during the end sequences of ’2001: Space Odyssey’? = oh ..*please*. Totally hilarious, totally fucking with us, and TOTALLY deliberate.
      These are merely a few of the most obvious examples.”

      This is interesting—especially the 2001 argument—because it’s the closest I’ve seen to any kind of answer. It also seems to suggest that Ridley Scott is making some kind of sophisticated parody that relies on his audience’s having seen pretty much every sci-fi film ever, and also having the right kind of vision (ironiscope?) to “get” that his film is both profoundly spiritual but also a piss-take on sci-fi films.

      “About people’s expectations in Ridley Scott’s films, and the “Eternal Fanboy’s Quest for Meaning”
      Ridely and Lindelof know EXACTLY what they are doing And it’s brilliant.
      And it is hilarious.”

      See, if this is the case, it makes me dislike the film even more. I have no expectations for Scott’s films—none—he’s a genre hand posing as an auteur. He’s made exactly three great films (Alien, Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down), and a few okay ones (Matchstick Men, Thelma & Louise), but he’s not an auteur. He’s no Godard. Or Malick. Or PTA. Or Gondry. Or Coens. Or Kar-wai. Or Lynch. Etc.
      If the film is just a meta-fuck you to its intended audience, that’s even worse. I’m not sure what you’re suggesting, but it sounds like you’re arguing that the film is only “meant” for the people who are willing to do all this extra peripheral work in order to “get” the film.
      Or that the film relies on this whole other set of external correspondences in order to achieve meaning. To me, that’s drastically impoverished art. It’s like the difference between one of those movies like “Scary Movie,” which relies on the audience’s awareness of temporal faddish trash vs. a Marx brothers film or a Chaplin film, which will last because of an inherent timelessness. If, in order for the film to cohere, we have to know the entire history of the sci-fi genre as well as have a keen understanding of Scott’s corpus, as well as some level of familiarity of his intention—if this is the case, then I think that the film is a failure. An interesting and very pretty failure, but a failure nonetheless.

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