Ridley Scott's 'Prometheus': A Personal Boycott
Although I appreciate that I will not be missed, and I may live to regret this anticipatory despair, the following states the rationale for my personal boycott of Ridley Scott's new Alien-derived film Prometheus. According to Scott, interviewed for The Hollywood Reporter: "NASA and the Vatican agree that [it is] almost mathematically impossible that we can be where we are today without there being a little help along the way... Thatâ€™s what weâ€™re looking at (in the film), at some of Erich von DÃ¤nikenâ€™s ideas of how did we humans come about." Apart from it being entirely false that NASA supports a specious new age theory of human evolution being influenced by extraterrestrial intelligence (neither does the Vatican), at this point, only the mentally incompetent are seriously interested in the theories of Erich von DÃ¤niken. Von DÃ¤niken, as you probably know, has represented the vanguard of this extraterrestrial intervention in human evolution and civilization nonsense since the publication of his bestselling book Chariots of the Gods in 1968. He is to archaeology what Joseph Smith is to theology. This truly is the equivalent of declaring that, to lend evolutionary gravitas to the Prometheus project, and to resolve the compelling allusions in the original Alien narrative, the crew had turned to the Book of Mormon. I mean: what ever next Ridley? A directorâ€™s cut of Alien featuring a miniature Stonehenge monument bursting out of John Hurtâ€™s chest? What terrifies me about the prospect of watching Prometheus is not some posthuman, Freudian, Conradian or even Promethean anxiety, not the tenebrous gore and slime, but something far more quotidian and dreary: the recycling of the fantasies of Von DÃ¤niken.
Ill-advised as it often is to preemptively pass judgment on a film that one has not seen, or will never see (come on, weâ€™ve all done it), Iâ€™m going to venture that Prometheus will concern a specious cosmology that would make even the History Channel blush, and that may even make the appalling degeneration of what we are now encouraged to refer to as â€˜The Alien Franchiseâ€™ in the Alien(s) v Predator films look dignified. For Ridley Scott to â€˜return to Alienâ€™ (at least in a Hollywood marketing sense) after more than three decades by invoking Erich von DÃ¤niken is, as far as I am concerned, spectacularly disappointing in terms of narrative. Despite its astounding visuals and excellent cast, this admission is a distress beacon regarding what we can hope from the film. We should not, of course, be shocked. Of all people to diminish The Alien Franchise, it makes some sense that Scott should finally eject it from the airlock.
Say what you will about Ridley Scottâ€™s classic Blade Runner, it commits numerous atrocities on the body of Philip K. Dickâ€™s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? at least in part because Scott reportedly did not read the novel. Blade Runner is a beautiful, spectacular commodity, but it has little to do with Dickâ€™s novel. I know that Dick was pleased with what he saw of Blade Runner before he died, however it is also true that the movie has become the kind of ubiquitous commercial artifact that Dick resisted in his fiction; but this is an aside. To the point: the â€˜directorâ€™s cutsâ€™ of Blade Runner illustrate almost everything thatâ€™s wrong with the uneasy relationship between cinema and DVD releases, including the manufactured tension between the director and his studio partners. Make no mistake: there will be several subsequent directorâ€™s cuts of Prometheus and a dozen packaging gimmicks. Scott is practically the architect and proof of the concept of the directorâ€™s cut in commercial DVD (although George Lucasâ€™ inane tinkering certainly qualifies, no one takes him seriously). So, you probably wonâ€™t really see the â€˜finalâ€™ and increasingly trite cosmology of Prometheus until it is released on DVD for the fourth time.
You can also, indirectly, blame James Cameron for what I suspect will be the hippie narrative failures of Prometheus. Cameron both amplified and depleted Scottâ€™s original Alien film in his sequel Aliens. Cameron even went so far as to repeat the alien-exoskeleton combat climax from Aliens in the dismal Avatar. So, this is where Scott gets something back: by conflating the nauseating new age qualities of Cameronâ€™s smash with his own. Unlike the History Channel, the best science fiction works â€“and the best fictions in a wider senseâ€“ do not rely on specious cosmologies to assert or vindicate the authorâ€™s vision. Consider the narrative space in Ridley Scottâ€™s brilliant first Alien film: it just is. It is realized without the tedium of too much begetting and begatting. When you encounter an exhausting quasi-Naturalist genealogy, you are confronting that nerdy self-consciousness that is the nadir of the genre. This is where the real horror of Prometheus will be found.
Â - James Reich is the author of â€˜I, Judasâ€™ published by Soft Skull Press