Prometheus (WARNING: SPOILERS)

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Prometheus (WARNING: SPOILERS)

Postby Fyrebrand » Wed Jun 13, 2012 4:44 am

This thread contains spoilers! You have been warned!

Director Ridley Scott may not be a trolling buffoon like Ray Comfort, nor a faux-intellectual shyster on the scale of William Lane Craig -- but his recent film Prometheus is in some ways as lousy with religious pandering as any theist apologist's ramblings. It covers so many of the usual bases:
- painting science as short-sighted, near useless, and not really a good way to get anything done
- portraying skeptics as narrow-minded idiots who can't face facts
- glorifying blind faith as a virtue that will guide you through all problems
- evolution really is "just a theory," and turns out to be wrong
- endorsing the view of not just intelligent design, but also that the designer's morality is objectively superior to ours no matter what
- cautioning humanity that hubris will only incur God's wrath in the end

Martin Wagner wrote a piece over on the AXP blog, and I found myself agreeing with a number of his points. From the moment-to-moment questionable motivations and boneheaded mistakes of the characters, to the offensively preachy yet confusingly vague pseudo-philosophy, nearly everything in this movie brutally punishes you for trying to enjoy it as anything deeper than a superficial monster movie. Not that there's anything wrong with just enjoying a movie for what it is, but as Martin puts it, Prometheus is "designed to make you think Big Ideas are on the table when they’re really not."

For me, though, the most irritating things about it are the preachy storytelling and the spiritual undertones masquerading as "deep" philosophy -- which are really just blind reinforcements of the same old religious values people already had when they came into the movie theatre.

First, there's this conflation of science and faith as a singular, mottled muddle. One of the main characters, Elizabeth Shaw (played by Noomi Rapace) discovers that a bunch of ancient cave paintings all over the world all contain similar patterns which resemble a particular star system. Like she's found the face of Jesus burned into her morning toast, she somehow convinces a mega-corporation that not only do they have to go there to see what it is, but that it must be a sign that aliens visited their planet ages ago and were the original creators of human life. So of course, when Doubting Thomas challenges her assumption and asks if she has any evidence to support her hypothesis, she literally answers: "No. But that's what I choose to believe." The self-satisfied smarm with which the movie portrays this idiotic line -- almost as if it's brave or strong -- is palpable. This character is supposed to be our heroine, and her faith a virtue.

I will say, it's kind of strange to see a scientist portrayed in this way, in a Hollywood movie. Usually, scientist characters are the skeptical ones, who won't believe in anything even when it's staring them in the face. They keep their noses in their books and test tubes, repeating the mantra that there's no such thing as ghosts, even as they get killed off by ghosts in the end. To see a scientist making professional judgments based on personal wish fulfillment like this is... well, not a step further, but at least the movies are now treating scientists like the good guys. Of course, they're still assuming that scientists make their decisions based on a kind of faith, or a hunch.

The best character in the movie is David, an android who is always just on the cusp of understanding what it means to be human, except that the humans around him keep doing stupid crap that doesn't make any rational sense. Throughout the story, he draws comparisons between the plights of he and his creators -- that they find themselves in similar existential situations and problems. When he asks "Why did humans make artificial intelligence?" he is told: "Because we could." Then he asks: what if humanity were to receive that answer from its creator? As if the movie were dangerously becoming too smart at that point, the question is just haughtily brushed off, because androids just don't get it. It's like part of the movie was written by someone who was trying to make a profound point, but then the plot was reworked at the last second because somebody in PR realized that it implied humanity didn't have a special place in the universe.

At the conclusion, we finally come to realize a harsh lesson: that the entire mission to make contact with humanity's creator was essentially just a retelling of the story of the tower of Babel. Mankind tried to artificially use their know-how to know God and arrive at his kingdom by their own means, and for that they just get senselessly smacked down. While I enjoyed the core installments of the Alien movies, and it's been a while since I've seen them, I do recall a faint strain of the theme of hubris permeating the core of it. Humanity made efforts to contain, restrain, use, or even clone the alien monsters in other movies -- but of course, the fallibility of their methods reliably results in disaster. In Prometheus, the theme of hubris is not so subtle -- they literally go visit their creator and demand answers to life's profound questions, resulting in the immediate deaths of most of them. It turns out that the facility they found was not the alien home world after all, but rather some sort of ship on a mission to wipe out humanity.

After discovering that their alien creators eventually changed their minds about the creation of humanity, and that the aliens wanted to destroy their creation, there is much deliberation and hand-wringing about why they would want to destroy us. Again, trying to raise the bar on the philosophical discussion a bit, David chimes in by asking whether it really matters why the aliens wanted to destroy humanity. Maybe we don't really need to know, and we should just get on with our lives. You can almost hear the director telling us how atheists can't be moral, when Shaw dismisses David's comments outright, because he's just a dumb robot. It's apparently the most important thing in the world, why God is mad at me. What did I do to make him angry? How can I make things better? The whole meaning of life is wrapped up in figuring out what some higher power wants, and the only true and noble way to do that is by having faith rather than investigating for yourself.

Science is hubristic and only leads to disaster. Human life is special, and only has meaning if a higher power created it with a special intention. Faith is a virtue, whereas skepticism and "Darwinism" are always wrong and the tools of immoral cretins. Those are the messages of this film, and as much as I would like to just enjoy the movie as a fun sci-fi horror thriller, it's just not possible to do so unless I completely shut off my brain. Maybe the overwrought, ham-fisted, Sunday School parables will strike a chord with a lot of people, I don't know -- but the more I think about this movie, the more of a horror it becomes -- so much more so than any of the monsters inhabiting it.
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Re: Prometheus (WARNING: SPOILERS)

Postby sepia » Wed Jun 13, 2012 12:42 pm

I have feared something like that, when I watched the trailer: It reminded me of pre astronautics.
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Re: Prometheus (WARNING: SPOILERS)

Postby DjVortex » Wed Jun 13, 2012 3:58 pm

Fyrebrand wrote:Science is hubristic and only leads to disaster. Human life is special, and only has meaning if a higher power created it with a special intention. Faith is a virtue, whereas skepticism and "Darwinism" are always wrong and the tools of immoral cretins.


Haven't yet seen the movie, but those sound like simply another instance of the unwritten rules of cinema making: the skeptic must always be wrong (and usually will die from the very thing that he was skeptical about), science, technology and progress are bad (in contrast to nature, which is always good), supernatural powers and magic are always real (especially in a setting where it's not at first clear if they are or not), and as you say, faith is always a virtue, and the faithful will always be right and win. (Another related trope is that if someone was religious in the past but has become an atheist by the time the film starts, it's always because something horrible happened to him, never because he came to that conclusion through rational thinking, and by the end of the film he always returns to his old religion.)

These unwritten laws are so strong that they seldom get subverted. Perhaps the closest thing I can think of is the movie Contact (which isn't surprising given that the novel was written by no other than Carl Sagan.)
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Re: Prometheus (WARNING: SPOILERS)

Postby Lausten » Thu Jun 14, 2012 1:57 pm

Fyrebrand wrote:Then he asks: what if humanity were to receive that answer from its creator? As if the movie were dangerously becoming too smart at that point, the question is just haughtily brushed off, because androids just don't get it. It's like part of the movie was written by someone who was trying to make a profound point, but then the plot was reworked at the last second because somebody in PR realized that it implied humanity didn't have a special place in the universe.

Not sure what alternative you might have put here??

Since the movie is called "Prometheus", I look at it as a Greek god story instead of a Christian one. Prometheus gave humans fire, and was punished for it by Zeus. Greek gods fought over what to do with the people all the time and apparently the engineers do too.

Some of the most ignored characters in all the reviews I've read are the pilots and captain. The captain has the great line, "Did you want them to be wrong?" when Vickers looks at the alien ruins and realizes the archaeologists were right. They also save humanity, like a Hercules rescuing Prometheus. They don't really weigh in on what is god or what does it all mean, they just look at the reality, that the engineers were destroyed by their own weapons. When their leaders screw things up, like Weyland waking up the alien, they just clean up the mess.

I don't get that the movie is trying to sell me on the idea that human life is meaningless without a higher power. Instead it is saying that a lot of people believe that and will unintentionally mess things up for the rest of us in their pursuit of finding that higher power. Brute strength always manages to keep us from complete annihilation, but brute strength can't eliminate stupidity.
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Re: Prometheus (WARNING: SPOILERS)

Postby Fyrebrand » Tue Jun 19, 2012 4:58 am

Lausten wrote: Not sure what alternative you might have put here??


Elizabeth Shaw attempts to draw a thick line between the possible "meaning" of the life of a human and the life of an android. One of the movie's more interesting themes is how (or if) the value of human life differs from that of synthetic life, like androids. When it's discovered that humanity had been created by aliens -- possibly without any deep purpose behind it -- David attempts to use this existential dilemma to draw a parallel between he and Shaw. But she just shrugs off the question, like David is just so stupid that he can't see how humans are way better than androids. Now, I would certainly understand (and expect) this kind of response from any given character, but Shaw is arguably the main protagonist of this movie, and thus her point of view is kind of the "moral" of the story. It's not ever shown that she makes any mistakes or wrongful assumptions, and none of her views is ever corrected or challenged seriously. She is never punished, she never has to learn any lessons, or see things in a new way that she didn't at the beginning. What she believes about humans being special, and ultimately being the subject of some divine purpose, doesn't change or evolve at any point, regardless of what new information she learns. And because nothing bad ever really happens to her, thematically the film is suggesting that her point of view is the correct one, or at least admirable. Heck, not only does she survive being impregnated by the monsters in an Alien movie, but she's actually better off for it. How often does that happen?

I wouldn't expect the movie to be some kind of secular breakthrough for Hollywood, where humanity finally learns that their creation isn't anything special and they have to eke out whatever meaning they can in an indifferent universe -- it's just that that's what the nuts and bolts of the plot kind of implies, yet the thematic message of the movie so desperately fights against it. At the end of the movie, Shaw decides to take David with her on one of the remaining alien ships, to seek out the alien home world. I just sort of have to throw up my hands in frustration, because I literally have no idea what she hopes to find there. She knows the aliens want to destroy all of humanity, and she can't even speak their language, but she thinks by going there she will find "answers."

Perhaps I veered off the usual atheism/religion subject matter there, but as I see it, the alien creators inhabit this philosophically confused space where they serve as metaphors for God (in the Tower of Babel analogy I described in my first post) -- yet Shaw also still believes in an even higher God than them which will somehow lend meaning to her existence. Yet still, it remains terribly important what reason the aliens had for creating humanity in the first place, and why they would want to destroy us -- as if their decisions carried divine importance after all. It's stuff like this that renders the movie's "philosophical" and "spiritual" themes toothless -- it can't make a point without constantly genuflecting in reverence to traditional theology, becoming a recipe for flavourless gruel. I feel like the entire plot of the movie got us nowhere.


Lausten wrote: Since the movie is called "Prometheus", I look at it as a Greek god story instead of a Christian one. Prometheus gave humans fire, and was punished for it by Zeus. Greek gods fought over what to do with the people all the time and apparently the engineers do too.

Yeah, although it's actually the humans' spaceship that's called "Prometheus" in the movie, thereby completely ruining the metaphor. Besides, the movie doesn't bother to delve into the alien race in any great detail -- we only meet one of them, and even then we have no idea what he's saying before he kills off most everyone in the room. It's not suggested that there were aliens with conflicting opinions, where some saw value in us while others wanted us wiped out. The aliens are essentially treated as one entity, and Shaw sees profound significance into what "they" think, and why "they" do what they do. At no point is it ever suggested that they are just a bunch of vindictive, selfish space-bastards -- their will is treated with as much reverence and awe as we'd expect if they had discovered Yahweh himself. There's never any question whatsoever whether or not these guys have less than all the answers to life's mysteries. They are characterized as vengeful, but never petty. No matter what they do -- even if they want to destroy us -- clearly they must have a damn good reason. Really? A good reason to wipe out an entire planet?


Lausten wrote:I don't get that the movie is trying to sell me on the idea that human life is meaningless without a higher power. Instead it is saying that a lot of people believe that and will unintentionally mess things up for the rest of us in their pursuit of finding that higher power. Brute strength always manages to keep us from complete annihilation, but brute strength can't eliminate stupidity.

Sure, though the one "good" and "right" character of the movie also assumedly believes human life is meaningless without a higher power. She goes on the mission just like any of the rest of them, with similar intentions. The ones who are punished are the ones who funded and set up a mission of space exploration -- and who literally went into alien territory and woke up one of those beings, and attempted to converse with it. Is that not okay? According to the movie, no -- they are bad people, for demanding first-hand experience of greater things. I don't know what would have been the nobler pursuit -- sit outside the alien base and pray, maybe.
To be fair, they eventually do decide to prevent a global catastrophe and save their planet from the aliens. Yet, the only characters who survive in the end are Shaw and David -- and he at her mercy, being without his head. For some reason she makes a big deal of finding her little cross necklace, and the two of them venture off for the alien home world, to find out why humans were supposed to be destroyed, or something. I dunno, given the circumstances of their predicament, I just don't get her motives at all, and I think the movie is extremely confused altogether.
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Re: Prometheus (WARNING: SPOILERS)

Postby Lausten » Tue Jun 19, 2012 9:26 pm

Fryebrand wrote:And because nothing bad ever really happens to her, thematically the film is suggesting that her point of view is the correct one, or at least admirable.
Could not disagree with this more, even though I find myself in the minority. I said something about this on Freethoughts and got no response.

To make a short story long: I went to a talk by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. for young writers. He drew a graph, the X axis was time and the Y was good and bad. He mapped out the standard hollywood movie and called it the "man fell in a hole" scenario; man starts out ok, something bad happens, he learns from it and ends up better. He mapped out Hamlet and it was flat line. No matter what happened to Hamlet, nothing much changed. Vonnegut said this is more like real life. You're analyzing Shaw based on standard Hollywood. I'm seeing her as Hamlet (except she gets a sequel). Her faith is solid, just like over half the people in America, you can't shake it. Her boyfriend dying almost did her in, with the lost cross representing her crisis of faith, but she gets it back. Okay that much is standard Hollywood.

Fryebrand wrote:To be fair, they eventually do decide to prevent a global catastrophe and save their planet from the aliens.
Very important exactly who "they" are here. They are the atheist, morally neutral, non-chaotic, put in a good day's work and "love the one your with" guys. The Captain DOES point out that this a remote outpost, specifically because of the dangerous weapon and apparently abandoned by some others. So I disagree with this:
Fryebrand wrote:There's never any question whatsoever whether or not these guys have less than all the answers to life's mysteries.
He quite clearly states that once again we have gone searching for answers and found more questions, just like science is supposed to work. But it is the dreamers, the visionaries that always get the spotlight right? And often they survive to screw things for another excellent Capt and crew. Again, real life. I think this is what is upsetting to so many in the atheist forums, we want an atheist hero in our fantasy, we don't want reality staring us in the face in 3D.
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Re: Prometheus (WARNING: SPOILERS)

Postby sepia » Wed Aug 08, 2012 10:11 pm

Now I have seen the movie too and yes, many characters are arguing stupid. Not just in religious and esoteric way, but also in other cases.

For Example: A geologist wants to go back to the station. So he claims, that he is just a geologist and has no idea about lifeforms. The crew lets him go and nobody says something about the possibility, that they could need him later on!
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Re: Prometheus (WARNING: SPOILERS)

Postby eimerian » Fri Aug 10, 2012 8:26 am

Just one more thing wrong with this movie: The carbon dating of the alien head.

I don't mind that the dating is done with a small hand-held device or that it takes merely some seconds. I can suspend my disbelief on that - it's science fiction after all.
What bothers me is that it is impossible to reliably date an alien lifeform on an alien planet, no matter what equipment you have, if you don't know anything about this lifeform and the planet (like if you just landed there a few hours ago, like they did in this movie).
Carbon dating works here on earth because we know the ratio of Carbon-14 to Carbon-12 in the earth's atmosphere (and how it varied over time), and we know how earth-plants incorporate atmospheric carbon, and we kow how animals incorporate the carbon of plants and other animals they eat.

If you find an alien corpse on an alien planet, you don't know any of this. Of course you can measure the ratio of C14 to C12 but you can never translate that into years.
You dont know how much C14 is produced in this planets atmosphere (even if the ship had scanned that when they entered orbit, you have no idea how much and if this would have varied in the past).
You don't know anything about this alien's metabolism. Does it even have a carbon-based metabolism? Does it need to feed on sugar or proteins?
You don't know anything about this alien's diet. Vegan? Carnivore?
Since this is supposed to have been a weapon testing facility on a barren planet, I guess it's possible that those engineers lived off provisions from another planet. So let's say they imported steaks from their home planet. You would have to know all the stuff mentioned above (atmosperic carbon ratio, metabolism, and so on...) about their home planet.

So much wrong. And I don't even know that much about carbon dating! That tells me that this movie was written by people who just didn't care.
"What is carbon dating?" "It's some kind of magic thingy that tells you how old corpses are." "Awesome!"
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Re: Prometheus (WARNING: SPOILERS)

Postby sepia » Sat Aug 11, 2012 10:22 am

Good idea!

I had a similar one about the "proof", that we descended from aliens: Elisabeth Shaw compares the alien DNA to human DNA and concludes: "They match (as far as I remember 100%)! So we descended from them." She does it with a (science fiction) computer and I didn't exactly understand, what the computer shows. But since she is just talking about DNA she seems not to consider chromosomes and of course transitional fossils. I reality we have all of them to support that we descended from earlier primates. So even if we count the DNA match as evidence, it would just be a curiosity and no proof, that aliens are our ancestors.
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Re: Prometheus (WARNING: SPOILERS)

Postby sepia » Thu Aug 16, 2012 1:58 pm

Can someone explain me what exactly the engineers have created? At first I thought, they just have created humans (Homo or Homo sapiens) while other primates have been evolved, but them I have read in an other community, that they have created all life on earth.

Both explanations leave me with unanswered questions:

1) If the engineers just have created humans, why does the opening sequence show such paltry landscapes? Yes, they look cool, but beside it should be compatible with the story. My first guess was the end of an ice age.

2) If the engineers created more, than just humans, why do we see grass in the opening sequence? Why do they look like primates and why does there DNA conform to our one?
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Re: Prometheus (WARNING: SPOILERS)

Postby Lausten » Fri Aug 17, 2012 1:08 pm

paltry? It looked quite magnificent to me. Not sure what you mean by "paltry".

I think it is pretty clear that the engineers are not much closer to a creator than we are. They manipulate DNA, but they did not invent it. They aren't the source of it. They didn't create grass.

That they look like primates is a problem for the movie. Assuming the opening sequence is at least many millions of years ago, to account for the creation of humans, then why didn't they change much over the course of those millions of years. Given that the human body has many flaws, and they can manipulate DNA, why haven't they come up with something better? It is an old Sci-Fi dilemma that creatures need to be different for the story but they have to be recognizable so we can relate to them and at least in some ways similar to us so the characters can move around in the same environment.
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Re: Prometheus (WARNING: SPOILERS)

Postby sepia » Sat Aug 18, 2012 11:58 am

Lausten wrote:paltry? It looked quite magnificent to me. Not sure what you mean by "paltry".

I mean without much vegetation or animals or artefacts. There was much stone and water to see.

I still don't understand, whom of us or our ancestors they have created. The first Homo sapiens? The first promates?

Beside this I wonder if the scientists in the movie came to a scientific accurate conclusion. I mean, if the aliens look like humans and their DNA matches about 100%, they might be closely related to us. So I would conclude, that we are their ancestors, not the other way around. Maybe they are time travellers, maybe they were humans, abducted and breeded by other aliens. Because, if we are there ancestors we have not the dilemma of 2 possible human ancestries.
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Re: Prometheus (WARNING: SPOILERS)

Postby eimerian » Wed Aug 22, 2012 11:12 am

The 100% DNA match:
Another stupid thing. If you have two DNA samples and they match 100%, that means they are from the same individual!
That's so basic that even the writers of CSI understand this!
Oh and by the way: engineers are 8 foot tall, white as snow, have superhuman strength and their corpses do not decay for thousands of year. Something tells me that they are not 100% human...

I guess what they meant to say was that they are genetically similar to humans and then someone had the idea to add 100% to make it sound more sciency or something...
The only way I can make sense of this is that the engineers are "modified" humans, created by alien visitors when they came to earth thousands of years ago (but this may or may not contradict with the intro scene).

If this was written by people who knew anything about science, the mere fact that these alien lifeform has DNA as carrier for genetic information and uses the same genetic code as life on earth would be regarded as a great discovery. But of course this is not mentioned.
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