You have to hand it to the creators of Prometheus. They finally came up with a way around the “Haven’t any of these guys seen Alien?” dilemma of every horror film post-Alien.
Set the movie before Alien.
Of course, Ridley Scott has it easier than most sci-fi horror directors. He’s making a movie set in the same universe as Alien, or at least adjacent to it. Working within the official brand allows him the leeway to set the story before the events of the original film, so none of the characters could possibly be prepared for what awaits them. He also cheats a little, inserting deliberate continuity errors that contradict the first movie, encouraging viewers more charitable than me to view Prometheus as an elseworlds origin story for the iconic xenomoprh.
In any other setting, you’d need an expository crawl to explain that though humanity’s gained the technology for long-distance space travel, we lost all movies, books, and collective cultural memories somewhere along the way. Either that, or set the film in a world where we were establishing mining colonies in space since before 1979. Otherwise, it makes no sense for characters in these types of films to act as they usually do– sticking their unprotected faces into dark holes and stopping to check out every abandoned vessel they come across in the dark recesses of space.
Unfortunately, though the crew of the Prometheus can be forgiven for not expecting chest-bursting, throat-gagging aliens with acid for blood at the other end of their cryo-sleep enabled journey, that doesn’t mean they’re wise enough to avoid the other prominent pitfalls common to their horror movie contemporaries. Most notably, never name your ship– or virus, or genetic test subject, or experimental artificial intelligence– after a doomed or malevolent mythological figure. “How could I have known that my cutting-edge cancer vaccine, which I call the Judas strain– after my son Judas, who died of cancer, but whose personality I downloaded into this quantum hard drive I call the Alpha and Omega Project– would have the side effect of turning the human race into undead monsters with a craving for brains…which incidentally is something else I have never heard of before?”
Possibly the dumbest scientists ever assembled on a spaceship, they spend three trillion dollars on a journey inspired by two hippies who happen to notice that, “Like, a lot of primitive cultures have cave paintings showing pictures of the same stars and stuff.” Upon arrival, they waste no time wandering outside after dark into an alien tomb without scanning the planet for sources of life, taking off their safety gear because it’s probably okay, and deliberately fucking each other over with little regard for how their actions might kill everyone on board and prevent them from returning home. These people may be exempted for never having seen Alien, but their relentless lack of concern for their own safety in a foreign environment is suicidal. It’s like they came from an alternate Earth where nothing bad ever happens.
After years of dilution with sequels, spin-offs, and imitations, the alien from Alien isn’t as scary as it used to be. Revisiting the original material from a smart perspective was an ambitious move. But unfortunately, Prometheus is just another movie about stupid people in space acting like horny teenagers until they die.
This movie should have had me wondering about creation myths and the propensity of creators to mistreat their young. Which, in terms of wondering what the hell Ridley Scott’s doing to his alien baby, I guess it did. But mostly I was left with the same simple moral of all movies since:
DON’T GO TO SPACE.