Hello everyone! This one’s running a tad late today- I’ve been training for a new job this week! I was also going to make this week’s post about Neuromancer, but after seeing Prometheus this last weekend, my brain’s been stuck in the Aliens universe (and no, not in a good way). So, next week I’ll be starting a two-parter on Neuromancer, but this week is going to be something of a review of Prometheus, as well as a look into some of the problems I see in the Aliens universe.
*WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS. I’ll try not to give anything important away, but I might accidentally spoil something cool for you if you haven’t already seen the movie.*
The Problem of Prequels
In case you didn’t already know, Prometheus is a prequel to Alien, the first movie of the Aliens franchise, and thus attempts to round out some inconsistencies and confusion of the series of movies as a whole. This is already a daunting task, as the list includes Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Alien Resurrection, Alien Vs. Predator, and Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem for a total of 6 films, not including other related novels, videogames, and the Predator films.
With such a huge array of stories from so many different directors and writers, it’s no wonder that the Aliens universe is… less than cohesive. There are so many different plot elements and world elements that people find inconsistent, but here are a few that I have personally questioned, that I hoped the Prometheus movie would at least touch on:
- The Origin of the Aliens: From the first movie, the nature of the xenomorphs (as they’re called in the canon novels and spinoffs) is extremely vague and cryptic. Are they intelligent? Where do they come from? Everything we know about the aliens from the other movies can only be inferred since everyone’s a tad too busy dying or running for their lives to stop and explain anything.
- The Nature of A.I. in the Aliens Universe: The idea of “robots” (as they’re commonly referred to in the movies) is prevalant and consistent, and explained in far more detail than the xenomorphs are. However, by the time of the first movie, androids (artificial humans designed to behave and function just like their biological counterparts) are already very developed and continue to advance as the series continues. How did they begin? How come they haven’t basically taken over (there’s that hairy technological singularity question again)? There isn’t enough information yet to really understand the nature of A.I. in the Aliensuniverse.
- Where do Humans Fit In: The state of humanity and its exploration of the universe is always very unclear in the movies, partly because different films are set in different time periods, some modern, some future, some really future. In order to understand the world more (for example, how people keep getting mixed up with these confounded aliens to begin with, and why are they seemingly always surprised to be) we need to have a better idea of where humans came to be exploring and colonizing other worlds, and why they went out there in the first place. Is Earth out of resources? Are corperations and governments seeking profits and boons from the stars? We don’t know.
So, I don’t think those questions are unreasonable, do you? Considering that we already have six movies in the franchise, it seems like these should be a little more fleshed out. So, does Prometheus answer these questions?
In Short, Kind of.
I’m not going to get into all of the non-scifi aspects of this movie except to say that Rotten Tomatoes gives it passable 73% and IMDB gives it a slightly more enthusiastic 7.7 out of 10. You can make up your mind from these sites if that makes it worth the money as they’re a heck of a lot more qualified reviewers than I am. However, from a world-building and continuity perspective, I think this movie takes some strong strides to accomplish its function as a prequel, but fails to overall reconcile the franchise and simultaneously stay strong enough stand alone to warrant my $12. Based on the above three main questions, here’s how Prometheus handles it (again, some spoilers are inevitable):
- The Aliens: This question is handled most directly in the movie, effectively showing that the xenomorphs were created as a weapon by an alien race to use against humankind, but didn’t quite make it to us (this plays a part in the movie’s presentation of it’s particular brand of Extraterrestrial Panspermia, but I won’t get into that yet). We see the aliens grow and develop from a jelly-like sludge to a primal form of the iconic sausage-headed brain muncher throughout the movie, which serves to at least show us how it got its shape. However, since the revelation of the aliens being created bioweapons is closely tied to the philosophical thrust of the movie, it creates problems. If the aliens were created as a weapon, why did their creators decide humans all need to die? Inevitably, this creates almost more questions than it answers, and we can only hope that the heavily hinted-at sequel to Prometheus further explains these new problems. Overall, it doesn’t feel like this has been resolved at all, just pushed further down the road.
- A.I.: Here’s where my favorite part of the whole movie comes in: the character of David the Android. The fact that he’s an android (unlike in two of the other Aliens movies) is not a spoiler as you find it out almost immediately (and the studio released several promotional videos for the movies, one in which David is featured). David is exactly what we’d expect the first few generations of synthetic humans to be like: awkwardly or unsettlingly unemotional, extremely intelligent yet lacking human appreciation for life or morality, and a scary level of pragmatism that becomes a main catalyst for most of the plot. David explains the franchise’s A.I. characters to a further degree, at least giving us an idea of where they come from. While his character suffers from a few writing mistakes creating problems understanding his motivation (or at least his orders), I still think that he fleshed out this area of the Aliens world better than the other two points.
- Where do Humans Fit In: Well, cosmically, I suppose this movie answers that completely (see: Extraterrestrial Panspermia), but I find that kind of odd because it’s not really a question that the Aliens franchise has ever been concerned with (at least not in any of them that I’ve seen, which I’m pretty sure is all of them). I won’t go into exactly how this plays out, but the origin of the xenomorphs is closely tied with the origin of humanity. Other than that, we get much closer (but still future) setting than the other Aliens movies that helps to fill in the gaps technologically. We still don’t know exactly why humans are taking to the stars, but by the conversation of characters in Prometheus we can deduce that it is fairly normal now and many companies are investing in terraforming efforts. So, the odd shoe-horning of philosophy aside, Prometheus does offer a few more glimpses into where humanity comes from.
Overall, I can honestly say that I enjoyed the movie, even if there were tons of little things that bugged me. I’ve always enjoyed the Aliens movies, even if they’ve always been pretty hit or miss (just check out those IMDB.com scores… they’re all over the place), but I think that most of the issues were writing-related rather than sci-fi faux pas. It was an admirable attempt to illuminate a pretty crazily constructed universe, and it did a decent job of it. If you’ve liked the Aliens movies in the past (even in spite of the stinkers and outdated special effects), you should definitely see it, if only to see the beautiful landscapes, neat sci-fi special effects, and to meet David, who is awesome.
So, what do you all think? Are the Aliens movies a hit or miss for you? Let me know in the comments below!