What Predators and Prometheus have in common is that theyre the first of all these films since Alien to feature humans exploring a previously unknown planet. (And in both movies the explorers literally declare the planet Hell.)
What Predators and Prometheus also have in common is that they both represent attempts to reignite their respective franchises while ignoring the AVP films yet neither quite succeeds in putting AVP behind it. Ill discuss Prometheus debt to AVP below; in the meantime, heres IMDBs list of some of the ways in which Predators continues in the Alien/AVP tradition:
Even though this installment in the Predator franchise explicitly wanted to part with the crossover AvP story arc, it does contain at least three nods to the Alien franchise: 1) at one point, while (obviously, given the movies universe) facing near-certain death, one character tells another If the time comes, Ill do us both, a reference to Hicks almost identical line in Aliens, 2) when the group finds the body of an earlier victim of the antagonists, he has a large hole in his chest with the ribs bent outwards, referencing the way xenomorph young emerge from their host and the wound found on the space jockey in Alien, 3) as soon as Royce recovers from his parachute landing; as he looks around a music motif from Aliens can be heard and when the group enters the Predators camp theres a brief view of an Alien skull on the ground. …
According to director Nimród Antal, the lower jaw attached to the mask of the Berzerker Predator is that of an alien from the Alien movie series. …
Alice Braga (who plays an Israeli soldier) is the third brunette actress who appears in the Predator series, following Elpidia Carrillo in Predator and Maria Conchita Alonso in Predator 2, while Sanaa Lathan played the female leader in AVP: Alien vs. Predator following Sigourney Weaver who played the female leader role in Alien
I would add: a) Predators has the Predators customarily hunting in groups of three, something that was established only in AVP (since previous movies featured solo Predators); b) the scene at the end where Royce and Isabel finally tell each other their names is a nod to a similar scene between Hicks and Ripley at the end of Aliens; and c) Robert Rodriguez, the films producer and screenwriter, has acknowledged that the title Predators is consciously modeled on Aliens. Moreover, theres nothing in Predators thats clearly inconsistent with the Alien and AVP films, nothing that rules out their all sharing the same universe. (If it matters.)
Predators is the best of the Predator movies. One of the main reasons for this is that it has the best characters and the best casting choices, with Adrien Brody, Laurence Fishburne, and Louis Ozawa Changchien (now theres a multicultural name for you) being especially felicitous. (Ive seen an inadvertently hilarious online interview clip about Predators where Rodriguez is saying this group of killers and the subtitles mistakenly render this as the Scuba-Killers, so thats what Ill call them.)
The film is not without its plot holes, however. For example, in order to identify a prisoner on death row and know what crime hes committed, the Predators must be able to understand some human language (presumably English, since its an American prisoner). And we know from the previous films that the Predators can produce English words. (In Predator 2 a Predator does this with his mask off, seemingly establishing that they can produce human speech with their own voices, not just some sort of synthesier.) Yet both in this movie and in AVP, communication from Predator to human is done solely with hand signals. One might also cavil at the astronomically implausible sky, and the unexplained spinning leaf.
A few random notes:
Unlike the other films, theres no real governmental or corporate perfidy in Predators (apart from the general critique of professional killers working for same), but they do go the Ash/Burke route of having one of their own (actually two, in a way) turn out to be a betrayer.
Fishburnes character, Noland, wears Vietnam-era army duds and hums Wagners Ride of the Valkyrie, thus permitting speculation that he might be the same person as Fishburnes character Tyrone Miller in Apocalypse Now.
At one point Noland tells the Scuba-Killers: They drop in fresh meat, hunt it, and kill it. In that order. Well, of course in that order; what order was he expecting? (First kill, then hunt: Predators vs. Zombies?)
Royces say goodbye to your little friend is a nod to Scarface. (I cant shake the worry that Nolands split personality might have been introduced into the story solely in order to enable this punchline. I mean, this is a Rodriguez script, after all.)
By contrast with the other defeated Scuba-Killers, we never actually see Hanzo definitely dead, thus permitting speculation that he might return in a sequel.
Hanzos name is Rodriguezs nod, in part to actual Japanese history, but primarily to his friends movie.
Hanzos remark about the age of the samurai sword makes me wonder why there havent been any Predator films set in premodern times. It wouldnt be hard to turn Beowulf into a Predator story: Predator vs. Vikings!
There are deleted scenes available on the blu-ray but not the dvd, so I havent seen most of them, though I did find a few online. One was reminiscent of Clemens story in A3, though presumably differing in truth-value; another included a sexual proposition similar to one in Prometheus, but with a different result. The dvd includes three animated prequels, but they dont add much; apparently there are more on the blu-ray.
So a team of archeologists financed by Weyland Industries is lured to an alien structure with ties to several ancient earth cultures ties that enable the team to decipher the inscriptions. Old man Weyland, the CEO, is himself along for the trip, seriously ill, grappling with own mortality and seeking answers. The structure is apparently, but not actually, deserted, and is also highly automated. The teams progress through the structure is displayed on a hologram. Within the structure, the team soon finds itself in the middle of a conflict between tall high-tech humanoid aliens and creepy-crawly xenomorphs that gestate inside other life forms; some characters are killed by the humanoids and others by the xenomorphs. Two minor characters, one friendly and one hostile, who initially havent gotten along, join forces inside the structure only to be killed early on. At the end the chief viewpoint character, a woman, is the sole surviving human, the last surviving humanoid alien having been killed a few minutes earlier. The second to last shot is an alien spaceship leaving the planet; the last shot is a new type of xenomorph bursting from the chest of the dead humanoid alien.
Is that the plot of AVP or ofPrometheus? Well, both which, as I mentioned last time, makes Scotts contemptuous dismissal of AVP rather churlish and ungrateful. Hell, Prometheus even follows AVP continuity by portraying AVPs Weyland company as not yet merged with AVP:Rs Yutani company to form Aliens Weyland-Yutani. (Scotts official online timeline for Weyland Industries is certainly inconsistent with AVP, but then such online material is not actually part of the movie, so its canonicity is as up for grabs as everything elses.)
Admittedly, Prometheus does it all better than AVP, with far more nuance and beauty. (Well, except for Weyland himself; AVPs Charles Bishop Weyland is actually a more interesting and fully realised character than Prometheuss Peter Weyland. But Prometheus beats AVP in every other respect, and of course is absolutely spectacular visually.)
Prometheuss debts dont end with AVP. The plot of Prometheus is so similar to that of Lovecrafts At the Mountains of Madness (which was, as youll recall, a major inspiration for AVP) that Guillermo del Toro has, alas, put on hold his plans for a movie version of the Lovecraft novel for fear of duplication. There are also similarities to Star Trek V (of course a much worse movie than Prometheus): a starship travels to a supposedly paradisiacal planet to meet God, and then theres screaming and dying. And theres at least one striking parallel with Scotts earlier (and still superior) Blade Runner: in both movies, a human and an android pay a visit to the creator of one of them, who asks for more life from his creator and doesnt receive the answer hes hoping for.
But the movie thats the clearest model for Prometheus, apart from AVP, is (the likewise superior) 2001: A Space Odyssey. The opening shots of Earth from space behind the disk of the moon are extremely similar; then we see a scene from Earths prehistory, featuring alien intervention in human origins; then we jump to the near future, with scientists digging up an ancient alien artefact; next we jump several months later to a spaceship that is heading from Earth to another planet to investigate the artifacts origin, with a human crew (some still in cryosleep and some not) and a soft-spoken, unreliable A.I. From there the plots diverge ones a monster movie, one isnt, and the difference isnt to Prometheuss advantage though they do both end with the birth of a new and unsettling lifeform.
There are even some similarities in dialogue: Holloway asks Vickers, as HAL asked Bowman, whether theres a secret agenda behind the mission, while Davids quasi-apology to Shaw is reminiscent of HALs telling Bowman after killing most of the crew I know Ive made some poor decisions recently, but I give you my assurance that my work will soon be back to normal.
Much ink has been spilled (well, pixels, really) over the question whether Prometheus is a prequel to Alien. It may not be a prequel in the standard sense, but its connection to Alien is certainly stronger than just happening to take place in the same universe, with the same company and the same alien ships. Admittedly we never see the xenomorph until the end (and even then its not qute our xenomorph), but Scott teases us with the prospect of the xenomorph throughout the film, from the bas-relief sculpture of a xeno-queen, to the Engineers that seem to have died of xenomorph, to the critters that, if they arent classic facehuggers, are certainly in the same line of work. We even get the suggestion that humanity owes its life to the xenomorphs, since a xenomorph outbreak on their ship seems to be all that prevented the Engineers from completing their plan to deliver xenomorphs to Earth. And of course, even though theyre not the same Engineer, we now understand why, back in Alien, the pilots skeleton appeared to have grown into its chair. (Perhaps in the sequel it will turn out to be Shaw inside?)
I said above that nothing in Predators was inconsistent with the AVP films, leaving viewers free to regard them as canonical if they so choose. Its less clear whether thats true of Prometheus. There would be some awkwardness, though nothing insuperable, in its turning out that two unrelated alien races have been interfering with ancient human cultures (sometimes exactly the same cultures). The real question is whether xenomorphs have been around long enough for Predators to have been ferrying them to Earth since before the rise of Egypt. Some viewers think the critter at the end is supposed to be the first xenomorph, or an ancestor of the xenomorphs, but from the murals in the main chamber its clear that something xeno-queen-like has been around for a long time. Perhaps this will be settled in a sequel.
The chief question to be addressed in the sequel is why the Engineers first created us and then decided to destroy us (though David warns the crew that the answers might be disappointing). Some have suggested that the Engineers have turned against us because weve grown too technologically advanced and now pose a threat to them but remember that their decision to wipe out humanity (if David has interpreted them correctly, and is telling the truth) was made two millennia ago. Scott had apparently flirted with the idea of Jesus being an emissary of the Engineers, and their change of mind being revenge for his crucifixion. That certainly would have given a different twist to Dillons apocalyptic faith in A3; but it doesnt make much sense for the Engineers to say, you refused to listen when we advised you to love and forgive your enemies, so now were going to go xenomorph on your ass. Although Scott dropped the idea, we still have the ship arriving at Christmastime, and the business with Shaws cross, and the Biblical trope of a barren woman named Elizabeth being made miraculously pregnant, so a Christian theme of some sort is definitely in play.
How does the films story connect with the myth of Prometheus? Its not clear. The Engineer who sacrifices himself at the beginning of the film seems to be introducing Engineer DNA into human DNA, and thus in effect bringing us fire; but theres no sense that he acts with the other Engineers disapproval. The ships daring to come to LV-223 might represent human overreaching except they were invited. The Engineers violent reaction to David might suggest that humans daring to become creators of life ourselves might be the offense (recall, too, that the subtitle of Frankenstein is The Modern Prometheus) but again, that could hardly be what set the Engineers off 2000 years ago. Theres also an ongoing theme, voiced explicitly by both David and Vickers, of the desire to displace ones parent/creator, but in their case the focus is Weyland; the humans didnt come to LV-223 to displace the Engineers (though one can see the xenomorphs as taking on that role).
Prometheus has been hailed as a film that tackles philosophical and religious themes. Now science fiction is in fact an ideal medium for the exploration of such themes, since, like philosophy, sf takes as its field the boundaries of the possible, and not merely of the actual. Indeed, many of the traditional sf plots are likewise traditional philosophical thought-experiments: what if we could make ourselves invisible? what if our daily experience were merely a simulation? what if someone disassembled you and then reassembled the parts exactly as theyd been before? what if robots demanded rights? what if we could see our own future? what if there were no government? what if by torturing one innocent person you could make everyone else vastly better off?
It has to be said, however, that Prometheus engagement with philosophical issues is shallow and muddled. To begin with, the question of whether we were genetically engineered by aliens is a scientific question, not a philosophical one. (It also has nothing to do with the question of what happens when we die, a question with which it is inexplicably linked throughout the film.) The question of how our self-conception as humans should be affected if we were to discover that we were so engineered is a philosophical question; but the answer, surely, is not much. What we are and can be should matter more to our self-conception than what caused us to be as we are. The question what is my purpose in life? is not answered by inquiry into the purposes of ones creators; if you find out that your parents deliberately conceived you in order to sell you into slavery, it doesnt mean you ought to be a slave.
Now in fairness, it could be argued with some plausibility that this is precisely the point that the film is trying to make; hence Davids point about the Engineers answers to humanity being potentially as disappointing as humanitys answers to him. But the question is never engaged; when, at the end, David asks Shaw why shes so intent on finding the Engineers homeworld, she simply tells him he doesnt understand because hes a robot, and then zips him up in a bag. Admittedly she has good reasons for bearing David some hostility; but its hard to explore philosophical questions when, of your three main characters (Shaw, Vickers, David), the first two persistently refuse engagement with philosophical inquiry, while the third shows some interest but seldom speaks about it, and when he does hes quickly dismissed (e.g. by Holloway and Shaw).
We also have the philosophic idiocy of Shaws worrying that shes not fully human because she cant bear children (though at least its subverted when she finds out being pregnant is not what its cracked up to be).
The films handling of religion is, if anything, even worse. Shaw is supposed to be a woman of faith, but her faith is never shown as having much content; and the films conception of faith is choosing to believe, which is not generally what faith means to actual believers. Moreover, in the real world youre unlikely to win the support of top scientists and billionaire investors by telling them that you choose to believe that your project will succeed.
Another problem with the film is the incredible incompetence and disorganisation of the spaceship crew. First, they cant seem to agree as to whos in charge: Weyland says Shaw & Holloway are in charge, Vickers says shes in charge, and many of the characters act as though they think Janek is in charge. Shouldnt they sort this out before heading off to explore the Alien Labyrinth of Death? There were similar disagreements in Alien and Aliens, but they were much narrower in scope, and there were actual attempts to settle them.
Moreover, they cant seem to keep track of where their fellow crew members are. When they get back to the ship on the first day, it takes an unconscionably long time for them to realise theyve left two people behind. Also, apparently theres no procedure for recording incoming transmissions from missing crewmembers when no ones on duty to hear them live. (Not to mention the inexplicability of no ones being on duty to hear them. Okay, so I totally understand abandoning ones post to have sex with Charlize Theron, but why is there only one person on duty at night, when the ship is sitting on an unknown and potentially hostile planet? and why is it the captain, who also seems to be on duty during the day? and given that hes the captain, why cant he order someone to take over for him?) And how, on any well-run ship, can one hide an entire extra room, complete with an extra passenger, without the captain or most of the crew being aware of it?
The most hopeless of all the crew, of course, are the two doofuses that, to nobodys surprise, are the films first victims. It strains belief that on encountering their first extraterrestrial life, their reaction is to argue with each other as to whether it looks more male or female (the point seems moot, since what it looks like is a vagina at the end of a penis; of course the xenomorph itself, or at least its head, has sometimes been described that way, but this is … more so) while trying to pet it. Yes, people can be that stupid (every year, tourists at Yellowstone get gored as a result of trying to climb on top of bison evidently on the theory that the bison look so calm and placid when youre not trying to climb on them that theyre bound to be equally laidback when you are) but one doesnt expect such idiocy from a hand-picked scientific expedition. (Didnt Alien also feature a comic-relief duo? Yes, but not to the same extent; and Parker and Brett certainly never tried to pet the xenomorph.)
Of course the two doofuses arent the only idiots on the crew. What about Holloway, who removes his helmet merely because the alien chamber contains breathable air, with no concern about possible infections? And if you looked in the mirror and noticed you had tiny worms coming out of your eyes, would you mention it to anyone, or would you just head back happily to the alien site you were investigating yesterday?
There are other problems: Why would the Engineers speak the same language they spoke thousands of years ago (Proto-Indo-European, apparently)? That wouldnt be a safe assumption in our own case. Revisiting the Hulk problem, but much more massively (literally), how did Shaws cthulhoid baby grow so huge while locked in the medlab? What is there for it to feed on in there? And why doesnt David know the difference between thesis and hypothesis?
All previous Alien movies have, inter alia, two constants: Ripley, and a surprising android. (Ash was surprising because he turned out to be an android, and evil. Bishop was surprising because he turned out not to be evil. Then in A3, Bishop was surprising because he turned out to have an evil human creator or evil android brother, depending on whether you accept AVP as canonical. After that, Call was surprising because she turned out to be an android and a free-will agent. Notice, incidentally, that Scott has continued the extradiegetically alphabetical android naming convention from the previous films; notice, too, that theyre all names with religious connotations, for what its worth.) Prometheus has the most complex and enigmatic android yet, but no Ripley. In a sense, though, we might see Prometheus as splitting Ripley into two characters, Shaw and Vickers, in much the same way that a transporter accident once split Captain Kirk into two versions, one nice but weak and ineffective, the other forceful but sinister.
Admittedly thats an overstatement. Shaw may not be forceful, but shes determined, and far from weak; and while Vickers is no Ms. Congeniality, shes not portrayed as evil (particularly by this series standards for corporate representatives) indeed she made me wish Theron had gotten her wish to play Dagny Taggart. Her (eminently sensible) refusal to let contaminated crew members back onto the ship may make her seem unsympathetic, but remember that this is exactly what Ripley did in the first movie. Vickers might be said to represent Ripleys hardass, skeptical, super-competent side, while Shaw represents Ripleys gentler, less corporate, more honest, and frankly more courageous side.
Unfortunately, splitting these aspects of Ripleys persona apart weakens both characters, particularly from a feminist standpoint: in Ripleys stead we now have the unsympathetic masculine bitch and the naively trusting feminine ditz.
Moreover, I thought Noomi Rapaces performance was substantially outshone by Fassbenders and Therons. Now I havent yet seen the Swedish version of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but Ive seen clips from it, and while I cant imagine that her version of Lisbeth Salander could be better than Rooney Maras, it still looks pretty good, and has been well reviewed, so I know shes capable of playing tough and edgy. Thus the flaw may well be in the character rather than the actress but Shaw just struck me as a bit bland and boring. (Incidentally, Theron was initially cast as Shaw, which would have made a very different movie.)
The name Elizabeth Shaw is also associated (whether coincidentally or not, Im not sure though Scott is certainly familiar with the show, having originally been scheduled to design the Daleks, and what an alternative universe that would have been!) with a Doctor Who character the first companion of the third Doctor, back in 1970. That Shaw (played by the late Caroline John) was a more skeptically-minded scientist than the one in Prometheus, but there are nevertheless some parallels: in the four stories she was in (note: more screentime than it may sound like, since those four stories were spread over 25 episodes), she was menaced by homicidal synthetic humans, deadly alien ambassadors, and two ill-fated drilling projects, one that awakens humanitys intelligent prehuman precursors, and one that releases a force that transforms humans into belligerent monsters.
As with Hanzo in Predators, theres been speculation that Vickers may be alive. Yes, we saw an alien starship fall on top of her, but we saw the same ship fall on Shaw, so who knows? Besides, if shes not dead, who is the xenomorph from the last scene going to menace in the sequel? Unless were being shown events out of sequence (always a possibility: Im sure some viewers of ESB thought two probes had landed on Hoth), Shaw and David have already taken off in the Engineers ship when the xenomorph hatches back on the planet.
Theres also been speculation that Vickers is an android, but I think that would be a bad idea: David would lose his distinctness, and his oddness of affect would be unexplained, given that Vickers doesnt share it; Vickers resentment against her fathers preferring an android son to a human daughter would also lose much of its point. (Admittedly, though, if shes an android it would be easier to sell her survival. And she does have a religiously-oriented name, if you spell it differently. And although her name begins with V rather than E, E is at least the Vth letter of the alphabet ….)
The character of David raises the most questions. To what extent is he following Weylands orders and to what extent is he acting on his own initiative? In particular, is his slipping Holloway the DNA cocktail driven by a) Weylands instructions to try harder, b) Davids resentment at Holloways calling him not a real boy, or c) Davids own quest for answers? If David takes Holloways answer to the question how far would you be willing to go? as validation for his own actions, does that mean he would have acted differently if Holloway had given a different answer?
Prometheus has its feminist themes, both in Weylands preferring his synthetic son to his real daughter, and in Shaws reprisal of A3s refusal-of-motherhood theme, along with the medical devices being programmed only for male patients. (This is also a class theme, since its really intended for just one male patient. But it does raise a loose end: what does Vickers think the machine is for? does she know its programmed only for men?)
The scene where the medical machine is used is incidentally one of the most memorable in the film. (And despite the superficial similarity, I dont mean that in the same way that the maternity-ward scene is one of the most memorable in AVP:R; the AVP:R scene is just a cesspit of ugliness I cant get out of my head, while the Prometheus scene, despite its likewise disturbing imagery, isnt objectionable in the same way. Of course it helps that its a scene where the character is succeeding in taking control of her situation as best she can, rather than simply being gratuitously brutalised.) It certainly blows the scene with the New You machine from Logans Run out of the water.
The scene where Shaw attacks the medics is a nod to similar scenes with Ripley in the earlier films: a less violent one in A3, and an even more violent one in (the special edition of) Resurrection. Davids basketball shot is a nod to Ripleys in Resurrection (which Weaver did perfectly on the first take). And in its ending narration, Prometheus echoes the ending narration of Alien, just as Aliens and A3 had.
Back in Part 1, I described Prometheus as one of the three most beautiful entries in the series. Ill go farther: it is the most beautiful. Whatever its faults, the film is visually magnificent, with the opening footage of Iceland, the landing of the ship on LV-223, and the starmap inside the Engineers ship being standout examples. Its visual look and Fassbenders performance are probably the two aspects of the film that will stay with viewers longest.
The blu-ray will reportedly feature 20-30 minutes of extra footage, including a scene where David goes into Weylands dreams to receive his orders. Weyland is a young man in his dreams, which explains why they cast a young guy in old makeup rather than an actual old guy.
Before the film opened, three shorts were released. The first one features actually-young Weyland telling the legend of Prometheus, as well as the match story from Lawrence of Arabia again. (I wonder whether rentals of Lawrence have spiked as a result of this film?) This clip may or may not be a clue to the meaning of the film, though Weylands description of the eagles tearing through Prometheuss belly is naturally going to remind viewers of the xenomorph birth process:
In this short, featuring Shaw, notice the reference to Yutani:
Finally, the best of the lot is this ad for the David-type of android. Note that David is the 8th model, just as Ripley was in Resurrection: