It has come to my attention that Prometheus is not a well-written movie. Like, at all. And not because it didn’t answer the questions about the Alien universe that everyone was expecting, but…the film just didn’t make that much sense; the characters either completely lost any of their common sense, or they didn’t have any in the first place. I actually didn’t mind that we don’t find out what the “Engineers” wanted or why they made humanity or why they decided to kill it off; I can deal with the idea that we weren’t meant to know (or that it doesn’t matter). I didn’t even mind most of the scientist stupidity (“Let’s take off our helmets in this unknown environment!”) And to be honest, I kind of like that the reason for the cave paintings was left unanswered. Film Crit Hulk’s article on Damon Lindelof calls this the “ ‘I want the answers!’ ‘You can’t have the answers!’” dynamic (and by the way, you all should be reading his work because it’s amazing), but personally, I felt that wasn’t important. The reasons aren’t important, but everyone’s reaction is. The main theme isn’t about the actual creation of humans, but the search for it.
The problem is that the results of the search and character reactions don’t mean anything because the characters are so inconsistent and flat. Holloway falls into a drunken depression within hours of learning that he’s right, but he can’t personally talk to an alien. He’s had this theory about intelligent life for what we assume to be years, and he’s sad because he can’t personally have a conversation with them? Sad enough to down a bottle of vodka? Really? Milburn is scared shitless by a bunch of dead alien bodies, but when he sees a live vagina monster, he’s not scared in the slightest? Janek doesn’t give a fuck about the mission, and yet he somehow figures out that the xenomorph primordial soup was a biological weapon meant to kill us? Jackson the security guy sees a twisted body that was originally in the Temple of Doom and his first reaction is “Hey, look at this” ? (Protip: if you’re ever in a scary situation and see something unusual, don’t get closer to examine it! “Hey look at this” is almost guaranteed to get you killed!) Shaw has the ability to go home, away from the alien crazy, and instead decides to go after the aliens who could kill her in a second along with the robot that’s been creeping on her for the entire movie? What?
Speaking of David, I loved him (as I do most robot characters), and he’s possibly the only nuanced character; I only wish we got more time with him. The Weyland family dynamic is really something that was shoehorned in (“Kings die someday, DAD”), and David’s devotion to his father combined with his fixation on Shaw hands down makes him the most interesting character on the ship. He’s supposed to be support for the crew, but it’s made clear very early on that he has his own agenda, and while his agenda is vague, it’s not baffling. David is driven by his desire to gain acceptance as a true son by his father, his fascination with Elizabeth, and his curiosity about alien life. The last point may be related to the first; Weyland has spent over a trillion dollars and possibly sacrificed an entire crew just to have a chance to meet the creators of the human race, and so David’s fascination may be an extension of his desire to please his father. However, it also may relate to Ash’s admiration of the alien in the original Alien; David has spent his entire life trying to be accepted as a human son, so perhaps he is curious about the first non-human creature he’s ever encountered. Poisoning Holloway may have been an experiment to see what this life form was capable of, but it is unclear whether this was part of Weyland’s plan or David’s interpretation of it. Whichever it was, the fact that Holloway is Shaw’s boyfriend was definitely a factor, and David definitely has a vastly different version of morality than anybody else on the ship.
But talking about David, Weyland, and Vickers reveals the biggest problem with Prometheus; most of the meaning derived from it is completely subjective. A lot of the things I just said were how I interpreted it, and there are a ton of different interpretations, some of which are based on prior drafts or deleted scenes from the film. Supposedly there’s going to be a director’s cut, which seems like a bit of a cop out to me. The film should make concrete sense on its own; any theory that is based on deleted scenes is automatically invalid because those scenes weren’t in the finished product. Personally, I think that David’s actions can be explained, but it’s never truly clear, and while it’s a much more interesting mystery than why the Engineers try to kill off humanity, it’s still an important element of the film that’s kind of left dangling. I can say that David’s lack of morals is an example of the non-humanity that he struggles with for the entire film, but I don’t really know if I’m not intended to be sure of that or if Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof don’t know either, or just don’t care. I think comparing Prometheus to Alien is pretty unfair (they’re only tangentially related at best, and Alien is tightly focused whereas Prometheus is intentionally sprawling), but Ash is given a clear and direct purpose: bring the alien back to earth at all costs, and in retrospect, everything he does comes back to that directive. David has much more of a developed personality than Ash underneath his congenial demeanor, with his own wants, but that makes his motives much more unclear.
And that’s really the thing about Prometheus; I liked it at first, but what I was interested in (besides the amazing cinematography) was more the seeds of ideas instead of something truly concrete. I still wouldn’t say it’s a bad movie by any means, but it’s definitely more vague than it should be.