Prometheus is Worse Than a Bad Film It Undercuts the Franchise
Back in Dec. 2011 I wrote this after viewing the Prometheus trailer:
I’m looking forward to this and yet I’m not sure this isn’t messing up the mythology a bit. Part of what was so cool in Alien was that the Space Jockey (as he’s
come to be called) and his ship were both mysterious and also
unimportant in a way. It suggested that the universe was a very big
place where something as big as this massive spacecraft could just be
found lying about.
Now we’re about to suggest that the spacecraft is a very big deal
indeed. And not only that but it, apparently, has been the subject of
human attention before. So I don’t see how that sense that we’re a small
part of the story can be maintained. It’s not even that I personally
believe that story it’s just that it seemed like an important part of
the Alien mythology, i.e. space is a vast cold place where no one can
hear you scream. Why? Because you don’t matter very much. It’s a very
nihilistic film in many ways. You don’t have to be a nihilist to
appreciate a very pure distillation of a certain ethos.
As it turns out I underestimated just how badly they would ruin the feel of the previous films. Not only have humans interacted with the Space Jockey before, they created us! And this giant derelict space ship on a distant planet was intended to destroy the human race. It turns out the universe is a very small place where everything everywhere is directly connected and ultimately concerned with the human race.
To philosophize a bit, the first two films had as a backdrop the Copernican principle which is a scientific metaphor based on the fact that Earth is not, as originally believed, the center of the universe. This is fitting since every horror film, almost without exception, is about isolation. As noted above, the tag line for the first film was "In space no one can hear you scream." And that sense was continued in the 2nd film. In fact here are the opening lines of Aliens by James Cameron:
Silent and endless. The stars shine like the love of God...cold and remote. Against them drifts a tiny chip of technology.
That's a poetic statement of the Copernican principle and it defines the bleak mood of the first two films.
But suddenly in Prometheus mankind is the center of the universe once again and everything in this film and in the prior films is revealed to be all about us. It's possible to write a good horror film with this kind of perspective. You could say that Cabin in the Woods had a very twisted but human-centered world view. But that's not what the Alien films were about. Ultimately the franchise can survive a bad film. It has survived about 3-4 since Aliens. What it can't survive is a film which undercuts the tone of the two very good films which made people like the franchise in the first place.