This past week at the annual meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion I ran into an old friend of mine, George Gatis, who practices law in South Carolina. George is a fellow bibliophile, theologian, and sci-fi fan. I was delighted to learn he had review Prometheus for a local newspaper. I asked for him to send it along for posting, so here it is.
Prometheus Debuts as “Aliens IV” with a Twist, a few Tweaks, and Cinematographic Flare
Do you like sci-fi? Do you like creature-features? How about zombie movies? Did you like the Alien trilogy? Do you like philosophy? … especially pondering the big questions of “from where did we come? Are we alone in the universe? Who or what made us”? If you answer “yes” to any one or more of these questions, you’ll probably like the new sci-fi thriller Prometheus … And yes, you Sigourney Weaver kicking alien rear-end lovers will likely view Prometheus as Aliens IV with a twist, a few tweaks, and advanced cinematographic flare.
In sum, the plot of Prometheus is about the search for truth – the quest to know answers to the big questions, “from where did we come?”, “who are we?”, “what are we?” “are we alone?”, and “to where are we going?” The plot unfolds the angst of the soul’s innate ignorance, seeking knowledge of what we are, who we are, from where we have come, and to where we shall go.
The central protagonist therefore, the scientist-astronaut Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, personifies the pursuit of answers.
Unlike other characters on the movie stage, Shaw has inner angst because of ignorance of the fundamental questions of human existence. Driven by the pain of ignorance, she seeks answers to her questions, relentlessly, regardless of the cost.
She exemplifies the dimension of the soul that craves to know, the inner “itch” that drives the soul to find itself, its origin, its future, and its deity.
The script distinguishes her virtuous drive to know from those who have no such drive.
In a classic dialogue with an android (not dissimilar to Ash in Aliens), the android asks her why she wants to know and she responds that’s why she is human, and why he/it is “a robot” … Interestingly, the android was previously described by his boss, the CEO of the corporation that funded the mission to space, as having “no soul.” The script implies, therefore, that the drive to know is part of the human soul.
The virtue of her drive to know contrasts sharply with the sublunary vice of the motivations of surrounding characters – corporate predators seek profit, hired guns want their pay, nature lovers merely want to see (and pet) new animals, and space jockeys just want not only a job, but adventure.
Some other characters don’t want to know, but just want to “go home” (the cold corporate executive played by Charlize Theron), while others don’t seem to care from where we came (the Irish-brogued mercenary).
Shaw will also exhibit, effervescently, another drive in the human soul – the drive to survive.
When unwittingly impregnated with genetically-engineered DNA of a hostile alien creature, she overcomes by self-surgery to accomplish a Caesarian section.
Finding her ordeal remarkably commendable, and commendably remarkable, the android compliments, even praises, her survival instincts. She must not only know, she must survive.
The plot concludes with the epilogue of her commandeering an alien space ship, with the help of the android to navigate, to seek the alien species that “engineered” the human race, on their home planet, giving up her home, her past, her future, and her life in pursuit of answers.
Just as she asked questions of life and death to her missionary father while a child, she is impelled to ask the parents of the human race, “why did you make us?” and now, “why do you want to destroy us?” Indeed, her inquiring mind is compelled to know.
Her relentless craving to know means more to her than her life.
Although the characterization of this virtuous soul is deeply well-woven, the characterization of other characters tends to be flat.
Shaw, conversely, is surrounded by others poorly characterized, even borderline flat stereotypes – a robotic, cold, heartless, corporate executive, an Irish-brogued-brawling guard, a Southern-brogued-doltish biologist, a stressed-out alcoholic (her husband), a bold, adventurous, space jockey Captain, and the about-to-die, super-rich, megalomaniacal super-boss-corporation-
Why would the scriptwriter characterize Dr. Shaw so intricately, but neglect to provide reasonable depth or non-stereotypic substance for her colleagues?
Despite the script’s intricately interwoven tapestry of tasty and lofty themes – cosmogony (origins), anthropology, extraterritorial biology, and even eschatology (the future and end of time), the script is, unfortunately, speckled with the pepper of authorial gaffes.
Although the narrative is devoted to exploring answers to the great questions of human existence, other viewers who ask a lot of questions, or too many questions (like philosophers and trial lawyers), may find the script has some gaping holes.
For instance, despite the intellect and integrity of the protagonist, Dr. Shaw, the most foolish error in judgement is hers. The expedition into the unknown alien pyramid included a member requesting to bring weapons – she denied the request alleging “this is a research mission.” Had she granted the request, reasonable for an unknown scenario, some of her colleagues, including the one who proffered the request, might not have suffered grueling, agonizing deaths.
The wisest cast member makes the most vapidly naive, even self-destructive, judgment call. How can she be the heroine, and yet, in this instance, a dolt? (Trekkies may recall how Captains Kirk, Archer, and Janeway would take phasers into unknown scenarios, while Picard wouldn’t see the need.)
Consider, as well, the untoward naiveté of a world-class biologist, in an alien ecosystem, confronting a species never before encountered, who reverts to acting, playfully, like a child, who wants “to pet the doggie.”
His outreached arm was torn off. The creature entered his GI tract. Would he, as a biologist, have reached out to pet a cobra? Would he have high-fived a hungry rhinoceros?
Further, why would the alien super-species that “engineered” the human species be so fickle, bipolar, or even acutely “nuts”?
The alien super-species “seeds” the early earth with their DNA; then, as per the cave and temple drawings, visits the earth – benignly. Then, when they awake on the alien moon the last surviving alien of their moon outpost, he hears the android speak peace in his alien language, and then, without so much as a “hello, nice to meet you” proceeds to tear the android’s head off, then in a psychopathic rampage, tries to murder the other humans! Was he off his meds? Not enough Klonopin during his deep sleep-hibernation? No manners? Or just a child killer, killing his own offspring? His outrage and rampage are not understandable.
Moreover, the aliens created a black gooey gook that upon human contact turns humans, or any other beings, into crazed psychopathic murderers. Why does this alien act the same way without the black gooey gook that makes you turn into a monster? What is the universe coming to?!?
The parallel between the kill-mercilessly genetically mutating reptiles and the capricious alien-creators-of-the-human-
Additionally, the central care-taker-android (also called pejoratively “a robot”), named “David,” is cast in the role of distantiated, objective observer-judge of the human race, not unlike Spock, in particular, and the Vulcans, in general, of the Star Trek genre. He critiques us. On the one hand, he tenderly comforts, with notable bedside manner, the ever-searching-for-answers protagonist, Dr. Shaw, with a voice like Hal the Computer in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey; yet on the other hand, he capriciously poisons her alcoholic husband with the alien weapon of mass destruction gooey black gook, in order to study the effects of the bio-weapon. Doesn’t this advanced android realize that he may have planted the seed of his own destruction? Shouldn’t such an experiment be conducted in a secure quarantine? “Ash” of Aliens was subtly treacherous, but the android David takes treachery to a new level. Moreover, David smiles smugly as he dastardly “Machiavellinizes.” Is he good or evil? Or is he androidly schizophrenic? If you can’t trust an android, whom can you trust?!?
Parallels with Alien may please sci-fi creature-feature enthusiasts … the conniving creatures in both genres have blood more destructive than any known acid, but the Prometheus twist and tweak is that not only does this alien blood burn anything and everything, it turns you into a super-zombie, killer-monster, and superhuman violent socio-psychopath. Similarly with Aliens, these creatures also like to go down your esophagus and next in your GI tract, and explode out when they mature (leaving a mess). In contradistinction, when the black gooey gook infects a male human, that male human’s sperm transmogrifies into alien creature sperm comprised of alien DNA, that can fertilize a human female, with who-knows-what hybrid-offspring – a tweak with a flare from the aliens of the Aliens trilogy. As zombies are evolving in sci-fi folklore, so are doomsday ultimate killer alien hostile creatures!
A central emblem around which the plot revolves is the gift given to the heroine Dr. Shaw from her father, a person of faith and an overseas missionary . The narrative revolves around her cherished necklace with a Christian cross. Shaw is impelled by the compelling questions, “From where do we come?” and “what happened to Mom” because of her mother’s death. As this telling flashback portrayed her as a child asking her father about the death of her mother, she was an inquirer, seeker, and learner, even as a child. Discarding her cross when she believes that benign aliens “engineered” the human species, she dons it again when she finds the alien creators to be capricious, even malevolent. Is she admitting the need for theistic faith? She further opens the door to more questions, asking who made the alien founders of the human species? Who were the engineers of the our “engineers”? Her father, a person of faith, chose religion as the ultimate answer to these questions of human existence. To her father, God fills all the gaps.
In conclusion, twice in the script the telling thesis protrudes … “it’s what I choose to believe.” First spoken to the heroine Dr. Shaw as a child by her missionary father, then spoken by her to her husband to explain her quest for knowledge, this adage may serve as the “moral” of the story – everyone chooses something, or someone, to believe. The choice is yours …