Irradiated by LabRat
Whether or not you go see this movie in the theater should be calculated by how much you liked Blade Runner times how delighted you are with epic visuals, divided by your tendency to analyze movies as you go along rather than just taking them in plus how many horror movies you’ve seen. Weight as you see fit, and by the time you’ve finished doing that you’ll already have your answer.
I was going to do a much more extensive breakdown, then discovered that Rob Bricken has already done so, and his internal dialogue watching the movie matched mine to a rather scary degree.
Put briefly, it’s an extraordinarily pretty movie containing an extraordinary performance by Michael Fassbender that suffers from the problem that the entire plot is like watching the Harlem Globetrotters play with the Idiot Ball. It is vastly easier to name the number of times a character made an intelligent decision rather than making an incredibly stupid one for basically no reason. David the android (Fassbender) is the only one who seems bright enough to realize how insane the whole thing is, and given as he’s under direct programmed orders from Weyland the entire time (and implied to really, really resent it), he’s the only character who has an excuse.
Most of what the movie is good for other than admiring Michael Fassbender’s performance is in coming up with various fan theories to explain the overarching plots and themes of the movie, because Ridley Scott apparently felt that should be up to us. (Or, less charitably, his original plan was insanely stupid, someone got up the courage to tell him that, and now there’s basically a void in the movie where the plan was that you can fill in as you please.)
So here’s my fan theories, meant to encompass the four Alien movies that weren’t explicitly gimmicks plus Prometheus:
The entire business plan of Weyland-Yutani, buried in its corporate DNA from when it was just Weyland Corp and its founder was still alive, goes like this:
1) Find a monster. If you have to do this via Instant Monster, Just Add Water or open a sealed can of monster to accomplish this goal, that’s fine, just be sure to go get a monster and set it loose. Depending on position and corporate resources you may be able to build the monsters from scratch before setting them loose.
2) Feed your employees to the monster until the monster is either destroyed or satiated.
And clearly it is profitable, because Weyland has apparently limitless resources to put toward the goal of finding or creating monsters to eat their employees, that only grow as the timeline of the movies continues. How, exactly, it is profitable will have to be left to better minds than me.
In order to execute this plan, there are rules that must be followed when selecting and deploying employees. If you don’t have the luxury of having a monster ready to go and a plausible excuse to send some lower-level people to feed it, you might have to actually build a team.
First, you need to find the stupidest and least observant scientists on Earth who have still somehow managed to earn credentials in their field. They need to be very, very stupid and unobservant, because if they weren’t they might notice that their stated mission goals are to go to somewhere for no particularly good reason and poke things until something, anything, happens, with as few protective protocols as possible in place, and also that your actual stated policy is for them to be as unprepared for their mission as humanly possible. It also helps for them to be blatantly unstable. If they are not already unstable, you can get them drunk. You can also traumatize them until they are.
The keys here are “unprepared”, and “unstable”. No matter what your monster availability is or what your human resources options are, you need to have a nice fat lot of unprepared and unstable people to feed to the monster, and send an android who IS prepared along to make sure they make the correct stupid decisions. If you just sent a team of androids or people who knew what they were doing and were being paid a lot of money to fetch the monster, it wouldn’t get adequately fed or do the requisite amount of property damage for the Profit conditions.
And, more seriously, my preferred answer to the central question of the movie, why would the Engineers create humanity only to change their minds and destroy it, if not Space Jesus:
The answer to the question is actually stated outright in another movie directed by someone who handled another installment of Alien: “You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you.”
For me the only elements of plot and theme that actually held together seamlessly throughout the movie involved David the android. Between comments he makes and the absolutely pointless spite both Weyland and many of the other characters show him, it’s pretty obvious his creators made him for some reason that is probably just “because they could”, then somewhere along the line came to regret it and to dislike him, for no particular reason stated other than they find him a little creepy. (And given some of the things he does, perhaps they should, but everything actively bad he does, he does under direct orders that he is incapable of refusing, from a human. He seems subtly bitter about it.)
As with David, so with humanity: the Engineers made life on Earth because they could, somewhere down the line they weren’t entirely pleased with the results, and they decided to start over. Why? Also because they could. Because God does not like you. And also because androids are Ridley Scott’s comfort zone.
The xenomorphs, and why they don’t behave consistently across the movies:
The black goop isn’t a mood fluid, it’s a bio-engineered colonizing agent. Anything alive it infects, it breaks down and re-forms. If there isn’t anything else alive around it, it does what it did on earth and rapidly creates the conditions for life, seeded by the suggestion of the host’s DNA, and spreads it. If there is, it mutates to become the dominant colonizer and starts a seed-and-consume-and-seed cycle. The hivelike xenomorphs are one option out of many to settle into a stable life cycle of a rapidly, dominantly colonizing species. In all conditions it destroys whatever life was there to start with and rapidly spreads a new version, it’s just what that represents is rather contextual.