Ridley Scott’s 2012 film Prometheus acts as both a prequel to the Alien franchise and its own, standalone piece of work. Upon its release, it was met with divisive critical opinions; some hailed the film as a masterwork of science fiction, while others derided their perceived problems with the script, plot and characters, all of whom are, on the surface, inconsistent and wrongheaded. The tale of a scientific expedition on a spaceship to determine the source of an ages-old SOS from a planetoid believed to harbor extraterrestrial life, Prometheus shows its characters making many stupid and flawed decisions, which some have taken as plot holes or general problems with the film – however, the specificity and consistency with which the characters make these decisions, as well as the themes the film is tackling, reveal Prometheus as a wonderful bit of intentional camp on the folly of attempting to learn one’s origins.
The biggest thing to take away from Prometheus is that its characters are flawed. Shaw is spiritual/religious to a fault (until her survival of the impregnation of the alien earns David’s respect – and the audience’s), David is secretly the most emotional creature on the ship despite being a robot everyone says has no feeling, Vickers is a bitter spurned child who has no care for the mission she’s been tasked with, and Weyland is a greedy old man who dares to ask his God for more life. The film deals in these basic ironies – everyone, even the scientists, are flawed, and make dumb decisions. However, those decisions are consistent with their characters and what they want. Take, for instance, the wonderfully comic duo of the bumbling scientists Millburn and Fifield – Millburn spends the entire length of the film trying to get the tough-on-the-outside Fifield to like him, leading to their constant teaming up, their fleeing together when the going gets tough, and their death by space snake. Many people hate the scene where Millburn teases a clearly-dangerous space alien, as it seems stupid and inconsistent. “I wouldn’t do that!” they cry. However, the difference is that they are not trying to impress Fifield. This is why Millburn tries to befriend the snake – his character trait is ‘friendship,’ and so he tries to get friendly with the alien to prove to his friend that he can be tough as well. It is these little ironies that are not received with as much openness; instead, people fall back on tactical realism and refuse to engage the film on its own terms.
The mission of Prometheus is not an objectively scientific mission to discover the secrets of the universe; that is a front, a ploy to get Weyland out to the planet to extend his own life. To that end, criticisms of the scientists engaging in bad science are somewhat misplaced, as that was never the real intention of the mission in the first place. Weyland just wants more life, and so he funds a pair of obnoxiously idealistic dreamers because it is the best shot he has of living. David and Vickers have an interesting fighting-sibling relationship; Vickers constantly has to vie for Weyland’s approval, which sometimes extends to acting, as Janek calls her, a ‘robot’ – this is the only way she knows to make Daddy love her, since he loves her robot brother more. All of these things and more add up to create a wonderful comic tragedy in Prometheus, one in which complaints of a lack of realism or consistency fail to see that, in the world they are watching, these characters are perfectly normal.
Scott, Ridley (dir.) Prometheus. Perf. Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron. 20th
Century Fox. 2012. Film.