Paul P. Mealing

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Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Prometheus, the movie

Everyone is comparing Ridley Scott’s new film with his original Alien, and there are parallels, not just the fact that it’s meant to be a prequel. The crew include an android, a corporate nasty and a gutsy heroine, just like the first two movies. There are also encounters with unpleasant creatures. Alien was a seminal movie, which spawned its own sequels, albeit under different directors, yet it was more horror movie than Sci-Fi. But SF often combines genres and is invariably expected to be a thriller. Prometheus is not as graphically or viscerally scary as Alien, but it’s more a true Sci-Fi than a horror flick. In that respect I think it’s a better movie, though most reviewers I’ve read disagree with me.

Prometheus is a good title because it’s the Greek story about the Gods giving some of their abilities to humankind. Scott’s tale is a 21st Century creation myth, whereby mankind goes in search of the ‘people’ who supposedly ‘engineered’ us. One of the characters in the film quips in response to this claim: ‘There goes 3 centuries of Darwinism.’ From a purely scientific perspective, it’s possible that DNA originally came from somewhere else, either as spores or in meteorites or an icy comet, but it would have been very simple life forms at the start of evolution not the end of it. The idea that someone engineered our DNA so it would be compatible with Earthbound DNA destroys the suspension of disbelief required for the story, so it’s best to ignore that point.

But lots of Sci-Fi stories overlook this fundamental point when aliens meet Earthlings and interbreed for example (Avatar). And I’ve done it myself (in my fiction) though only to the extent that humans could eat food found on another planet. I suspect we could only do that, in reality, if the food contained DNA with the same chirality as ours. The universal unidirectional chirality of DNA is one of the strongest evidential factors that all life on Earth had a common origin.

But I have to admit that Ridley has me intrigued and I’m looking forward to the sequel, as the final scenes effectively promise us one. One of the major differences with Alien and its spinoffs is that there is a mystery in this story and the heroine is bent on finding the answer to it. She wants to find out who made us and where they came from and why they did it. There is an obvious religious allusion here, but this is closer to the Greek gods, suggested by the title rather than the Biblical god. Having said that, our heroine wears a cross and this is emphasised. I expect Ridley wants us to make a religious connection.

Good Sci-Fi in my view should contain a bit of philosophy – make us think about stuff. In this case, stuff includes the possibility of life on other worlds and the possibility that there may exist civilizations greater than ours, to the extent that they could have created us. We find it hard to imagine that we are the end result of a process that started from stardust; that something as complex and intelligent as us could not have been created by a greater intelligence. Ridley brings that point home when the android asks someone how would they feel about meeting their maker, as he has had to. So I’m happy to see where Ridley is going with this – it’s a question that most people have asked and not been satisfied with the answer. I don’t think Ridley is going to give us a metaphysical answer. I expect he’s going to challenge what it means to be human and what responsibilities that entails in the universe’s creation. 


Eli Horowitz said...

Yeah, I wasn't actually a huge fan :-/

In particular, I thought the writing was really weak. It did inspire some good conversations among me and my friends, and we did eventually figure out (to some plausible degree) most of what the movie left unsaid, but I felt like the plot made a lot of promises that it never came through on.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Eli,

Thanks for the comment. From what I've read by others, a lot of people are disappointed, though possibly for different reasons. Margaret & David, whom I linked on your blog, agree that the writing was weak. They're like the 'doyens' of cinema critics in Oz.

I'm hoping that he lives up to the promise in the next episode - certainly, curious as to where he's going with it. But he's tapping into mythology more than science.

Regards, Paul.

March Hare said...

It's interesting that "the maker" (usually humans) in SF is invariably less than the created (I, Robot; Terminator; Blade Runner etc.) whereas religion demands that the created is infinitely less than the creator, who is considered the alpha and omega.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi March Hare,

I think it's the Frankenstein thing that Mary Shelley tapped into. The idea that we could create something that could destroy us.

Actually, that comes up in the movie right at the end (in a different context) but I can't say much without giving away a spoiler.

I have to admit I’ve tapped into that as well.

Regards, Paul.

Eli Horowitz said...


"I'm hoping that he lives up to the promise in the next episode - certainly, curious as to where he's going with it. But he's tapping into mythology more than science."

Sure - and, actually, the scientific stuff wasn't what disappointed me. I feel like the mythology was developed barely at all, is the problem.

For instance: that quote from Lawrence of Arabia (the trick is not minding that it hurts). That was a very solid cinematic moment, rich in narrative and philosophical possibilities. But where did it lead? So far as I can tell, nowhere. Or the thing about Charlize Theron's character being the daughter of Guy Pearce's character. Why? That, again, is a very mythological sort of thing, but what did it accomplish?

Paul P. Mealing said...

Sorry Eli, your comment went to spam for some reason.

I was going to comment on your blog; I like the link you gave to the guy sending it up. Makes you realise how much we do suspend disbelief to engage with the narrative.

Going by the feedback I've read from everywhere, I expect it will bomb. There were only 4 people in the cinema when I went and saw it (3D, surround sound and all). Mind you, it was 11am on a long weekend. When I went the carpark was less than half full but when I came out at 1.30pm it was chockers (Aussie slang for full).

Regards, Paul.