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Sunday, June 24, 2012

10 Things I've Learned From Prometheus (Or, Prometheus: A Testament to the Stupidity of Mankind)

Because everyone is poking fun at Prometheus, I've decided to join in on the festivities.

Here goes:

1. Only an American-based expedition could be based solely on the personal beliefs of someone claiming themselves to be a scientist.
The Evidence: Shaw and Holloway, the two archaeologists responsible for the Prometheus mission, have nothing but a handful of cave paintings to suggest that aliens visited Earth in the
past. The rest of their hypothesis (aliens seeded Earth and left markers to convince humanity to find their makers) are based on absolutely no scientific evidence whatsoever.

And the fact that the characters are from a variety of nationalities is irrelevant, since the entire mission is funded by a rich American businessman who has bought into the evidence-less hypothesis.

In other words: America's pathetic tendency to base political and social decisions on the whims of "beliefs" have so tainted the future that the term "scientific exploration" is more ironic than anything else. Thus, the only science in this movie is tangential.

2. In the future, medical pods will remind women that they aren't important.
The Evidence: The one automated medical pod in the movie is designed for the male anatomy. Why? Some argue that this has to do with Peter Weyland's selfishness, but considering that the pod is perfectly capable of performing surgeries on women (Shaw uses a "foreign body" program to perform a Cesarean section), what this really tells us is that Scott's future is a patriarchy for the sake of being a patriarchy. Considering that half the planet are women, it is absurd to think that medical pods are not being programmed for women; and if they are being programmed for women, then it really doesn't make any sense to create two different kinds of pods when you could save considerable amounts of money on production to make one pod for practically all situations.

After all, the pod in Prometheus can already perform the necessary surgeries on a female body anyway, just not under the appropriate surgical subheading.

3. Scientists are incompetent in the future.
The Evidence: The geologist uses several orbs to map out the interior of the alien ship, but is completely incapable of using that map to find the exit. This is necessary for the plot, in which the geologist and his not-really-a-friend scientist buddy get lost and are then destroyed by evil alien snakes from hell.

Likewise, there's Holloway and Shaw, who refuse to observe quarantine procedures. Worse yet, Holloway decides that because the air appears to be breathable inside the alien ship, it is perfectly reasonable to remove his helmet. No worries about microbes. No attempt by an authority figure to reprimand him. In fact, it doesn't seem like anyone put much thought into this mission at all.

Oddly enough, the only technologically competent people in this movie happen to be the captain (Idris Elba) and his mini-gang of ship people. All three can read the geologist's map, pilot the ship, use little computers and gizmos with expertise, and so on. But, hey, when you put together a mission based solely on the whims of a bunch of new age archaeologists, I guess you can't expect to nab a few decent scientists to tag along.

4. Humanity hasn't learned anything from all the science fiction stories they've written.

The Evidence: Thousands of movies and books and short stories have been written in the last 100 years alone about robots, androids, and other synthetic beings going slightly mental, and yet we have not taken any of that into account in the world of Prometheus.

Case in point -- David (Michael Fassbender). Here's what he's responsible for doing in the movie:
a) Invading the dreams of humans in suspended animation.
b) Infecting Halloway with an alien sludge, resulting in Shaw's impregnation with a mutant alien baby from hell and the death of Halloway.
c) Denying Shaw the right to terminate her mutant pregnancy by using medicine (drugs) against her.

Why? I don't know. The movie never tells us his motivations for any of it. So either David is just naturally curious, and therefore dangerous to human beings, or he's insane. Neither of those options sounds good to me.

5. The Roman statues were based on aliens.
The Evidence: The Engineers (Space Jockeys) are all white as stone, perfectly sculpted, and surprisingly shaped like this guy:
Some have criticized the film for its strange magic-Aryan-sperm-seeds-the-Earth ideology. I think it's weird enough that humanoid aliens shaped like Roman statues could only seed other planets with their DNA goop by committing suicide. Seriously? You're an alien race capable of interstellar travel and you can't figure out how to stick your DNA into the lifeless streams of Earth without killing yourself?? You've got hands...just sayin'.

(Yes, I'm aware that the concoction the Engineer drinks probably does something to his DNA. It's still stupid.)

6. There are no female aliens.

The Evidence: There are no female aliens. Seriously. None. Not a single one. Unless Scott is suggesting these nearly-human aliens reproduce asexually, like bipedal amoeba, then what we're left with is an alien race that believes its lady aliens need to stay home and do whatever it is lady aliens are supposed to do. They don't eat food, so maybe they just tend to the house (or whatever they live in). Why are there no lady aliens? Seriously. Are the man aliens the only ambitious and batshit crazy, dickish members of their species?

7. Two obviously different species can be the same species.
The Evidence: We're told in Prometheus that the Engineers are us, and we are the Engineers. On top of that, we're shown it on a screen, where two strands of DNA (human and Engineer) are matched up. And guess what? We're 100% the same!

Wait, what? Have you seen an Engineer? They're two or three feet taller than us, naturally muscular, and slightly off looking. Just look at him:
He's like Eugen Sandow on PCP!

If that isn't enough evidence, then perhaps the prologue of the film, in which an Engineer sacrifices himself so his DNA can seed the Earth, will do. Only we had to *evolve* from that DNA, over a long span of time. Unless the Engineers have magically learned how to control evolution through DNA alone (which I doubt -- see #5), this is simply impossible. We cannot be exactly like the Engineers. We can be surprisingly like them, but the same species? Nope. Even a .01% difference should matter.

8. Nobody keeps track of long-distance spacecraft in the future.
The Evidence: Since we've seen the other films in the Alien franchise, we know that nobody went looking for the Prometheus, let alone seemed aware that the Prometheus had actually set of to find aliens.

This seems unrealistic on a number of levels. Take, for example, the level of control placed on airline travel. You cannot build an airplane and take it for a joyride without letting someone know. Why? Because there's lots of crap flying up there, and it's kind of important to know who's flying where. Space travel is even more restricted. Even with the private sector getting involved, it's all heavily regulated. Don't tell me some rich billionaire can build a huge spacecraft to search for aliens and nobody knows about it. Human beings are stupid, but we're not that stupid.  If we were, we'd have hover cars by now...

9. Infecting someone with alien goo means their sperm becomes super-alien-sperm.
The Evidence: Holloway is infected by David with alien goo, which can apparently be transmitted through alcohol (mind you that alcohol sterilizes surfaces). While going about in his douchebaggery way, he manages to seduce Shaw, his presumed girlfriend, and they have wild space sex. The result? Not only does his newly-infected magic sperm cure Shaw's apparent (and rather sudden) barrenness, but it also infects her with a fast-growing alien parasite. All in a matter of hours.

Remember, these are the same aliens who hadn't figured out how to seed other planets with life without committing suicide, but they've easily solved the problem of quickly mutating other life forms with a single drop of alien goop. Hilarious.

10. The weather will make no more sense to us in the future than it does to us today (well, assuming by "today" we mean "1910").
The Evidence: Our crew lands on an alien world, semi-psyched to discover some alien nonsense. A few hours later (thirty minutes for the audience), a scary sandstorm shows up out of nowhere, threatening the crew. I'm sorry? You didn't see this sandstorm coming? Super advanced humans have figured out how to put people in stasis, create humanoid synthetic lifeforms and long-distance space craft with anti-gravity floors, and so on and so forth, and yet they have not learned how to monitor weather patterns on planets, alien or otherwise? Really?

But then I keep forgetting: all that is wrong about this movie are necessary for Ridley Scott's (and Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's) convoluted, nonsensical plot. Monitoring weather patterns? Nah. Let's just have the weather fuck things up for our heroes. Stick with basic rules of biology? Nope. Alien goo = super sperm. Medical pods for everyone? Hell no. Women got vaginas, and those things are weird alien monstrosities!

I think Prometheus would be a really great movie if you could watch it without thinking about. Sort of like a 3D Disney ride; you sit there and enjoy the pretty visuals without recognizing that there's a story somewhere in all that mess.

What are some things you learned from Prometheus?

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  1. We're told in Prometheus that the Engineers are us, and we are the Engineers

    Not quite, Shaun. I think the implication was that we had similar DNA, but not that we were the same species.

  2. what did I learn?

    In the future, evil people can't figure out how to make right turns to escape threats coming at them.

    Also, learned that androids use hair coloring for no good reason.

    And don't forget...heads of androids and a human can fly a ship meant to be flown by an alien species...possibly to a destination
    years away. What is she going to eat? Hell, she may not know where the bathroom is on that thing.

  3. You are wrong. The screen where they show us that "we're them" makes clear that the DNA is the same. It's an exact match. So maybe we're to assume we're related, but not exactly the same; if so, then Scott screwed up double time.

  4. I thought that bit was a more generic comparison of the genetic material, and realizing it was nearly the same as theirs.

    But wasn't it not precisely identical? Which would explain the physical differences to be sure...

  5. Paul: You're trying to rationalize the movie based on logical thinking, but the way I recall it, we're supposed to be exactly like them. There's no indication in the scientific language *within* the movie that we're only related.

    I get what you're saying. Technically, we can't be genetically identical, but that's now how the movie treats it.

  6. 1. cave paintings; hypothesis based on no scientific evidence; mission funded by rich American businessman who has bought into the evidence-less hypothesis

    The website showed that Weyland had received a transmission from the Engineers and had replied. In the film Vickers asks David if they received a reply. Weyland had reasons for going that were validated by, not based on, Shaw's discoveries.

    2. medical pods: women aren't important

    The ship and the pod in it exist only to get Peter Weyland to the Engineers. There was a scene from before the TED Talk video where Weyland quotes Nietzsche: "I am a law only for my kind, I am no law for all." His 'kind' doesn't even extend to his daughter; he had that pod set up for himself alone.

    3. future scientists are incompetent

    Fifield was smoking pot in his helmet. Milburn tried to pet a cobra-penis-monster. Holloway removed his helmet. These all show us THE main theme: hubris. The Engineers thought they could use the goo without it biting them on the ass; Weyland thought he could storm the walls of heaven; Holloway thought he could groove with the gods; Shaw thought that her faith had meaning beyond this rock.

    "I guess you can't expect to nab a few decent scientists"

    Vickers explains this... the mission is to get Weyland there, nothing else matters.

    4. Humanity hasn't learned anything from SF stories... Case in point: David

    I'd add d) he aimed the first ship for Earth, because what he wants from his creators is to be free of them. (He triggered the map and selected Earth; when the map turned off the hologram of the Earth moved over to the top of the control panel. And David didn't care.)

    5. magic-Aryan-sperm-seeds-the-Earth ideology

    The funny thing is that in real life something similar happened... no sign that it involved sentient aliens, but life on earth did not originally have mitochondria, we were infected with it, probably via a virus. That enabled the mammalian revolution. We (really) have alien (mitochondrial) DNA in us.

    6. There are no female aliens

    No female Engineers. The 'Alien' at the end is a female, which explains why there are other planets with face-hugger eggs by the time of the first Alien film.

    7. an Engineer sacrifices himself so his DNA can seed the Earth. Only we had to *evolve* from that DNA

    Most of our evolution WAS THEIR evolution. The rest of our evolution explains why we are smaller and less gooey-looking

    8. Nobody keeps track of long-distance spacecraft in the future

    Shaw left a quarantine message at the end of the film, and for Weyland Industries to become Weyland-Yutani it was necessary for Weyland and his daughter to be gone.

    9. Infecting someone with alien goo means their sperm becomes super-alien-sperm

    This is THE reason that the Aliens exist. The Engineers use the goo to create life, amplifying their own DNA into a planet worth of life. When the humans released the goo (body temperature and CO2 from breathing without a helmet warmed up the vessels) small worms in the dirt turned into to cobra-penis-monsters. Goo + Holloway = nasty tentacle baby; NTB + Engineer = an actual Alien which learned a lot from the Engineer's and our DNA. This is why the Engineer needs to destroy Earth, because us + goo = something that can kill Engineers (and everything else). It is Genesis Goo.

    10. The weather... shows up out of nowhere

    They flew through epic stormclouds to land, and the captain told them they only had a few hours until the storm hit. Hubris, again.

    "convoluted, nonsensical plot"

    Convoluted, yes. Nonsensical? Not inherently.

    "Stick with basic rules of biology? Nope"

    The premise is that we don't really know the basic rules of biology... all of the Alien films show this. Prometheus shows us *how* (not 'why') the weird biology of the Aliens, and their inherent danger to humans, came about.

  7. "In the future, evil people can't figure out how to make right turns to escape threats coming at them."

    That bugged me the first time, but when I saw the movie again it made sense: burning chunks of the ship were falling everywhere, mere meters to the right and left... the ship that was about to crush them was also shielding them from the debris, if they had turned they would have been toast.

    Also they were running toward the ejected module, and when Shaw got there her suit was telling her she was out of oxygen... running any other direction, she wouldn't have made it.

    "androids use hair coloring for no good reason"

    David was styling himself after Lawrence of Arabia (or rather Peter O'Toole, playing Lawrence of Arabia), who famously declared that nothing is written, we can make our own destiny. David, for obvious reasons, is quite taken with that idea; changing his hair was his way of declaring his individuality, his separate existence, rather than staying the way his creator had made him.

    Kind of important to the plot, if you think about it that way.

    "heads of androids and a human can fly a ship meant to be flown by an alien species"

    David watched the hologram using the lower controls (Engineer version of a siren and flashing lights, BTW) and knew how to bring up the map. He could instruct Shaw to repair him, then put her in a sleep pod. This is not a deal-breaker, especially if they actually incorporate it somehow into a second film.

  8. Anonymous5:36 AM

    I think the reason they made a "male only" medipod is so they could avoid pro-lifer/"moral" questions of why it would be so easy to get a caesarean (aka "abortion") in the future. This way, the audience doesn't know what the options in a "female only" medipod include; Shaw just made an override and gave herself an "abortion."