I’ve been watching a lot of movies and reading one book that all have a common linking theme: the plot is driven by the stupid acts of major characters.
That is the linking theme between the movies Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, and the original Doctor Who novel Eternity Weeps.
The movies – the two prequels to the Alien series that has been going since 1979 – both feature people exploring alien worlds… in an incredibly amateurish and cack-handed way.
In Prometheus, faced with an alien life form, two scientists – scientists, mark you! – decide it’s cute and try to befriend it. No checking for contagion, for whether it’s composed of elements inimical to human life, or whether it’s feral.
So it wraps itself round one guy’s arm – breaking it, worms its way inside his spacesuit (at least he’s wearing one; more on that soon), and leaps down his throat.
Elsewhere, other scientists, on a mission to find the alien race that they believe created humanity, take the severed head of one of these beings back to their spacecraft for analysis.
They take it out of an enclosed, sterile environment to poke it with stuff to see if they can bring it back to life – only to find that it appears to have a disease of the conflagratory kind. In short, it explodes.
At least they have the good sense to pop it back in an airtight environment before it goes boom. Then it turns out that their resident android is a psycho; he takes a sample, mixes it into a drink and hands it to one of the crew – who then has it off with the heroine, who subsequently gives birth to the prototype face-hugger alien after an accelerated pregnancy.
Events spiral out of control from there.
In Alien: Covenant, the crew of a colony ship are awoken from the cryogenic sleep they enjoy on journeys between planets (due to the travelling time; this makes scientific sense, if we can only work out how to do it) to discover a transmission of John Denver’s Country Roads coming from an alien planet that nobody is supposed to have visited. So they have to go and check it out, don’t they?
Touching down on an Earth-like planet, they’re off to explore – without even bothering to put on any protective clothing. It isn’t long before two of them step on a weird plant (?) that releases spores into the air that they either breath in or absorb through an ear (!) – and then they start getting sick.
In short order, one of them is back in the landing-craft, spitting out a homicidal xenomorph that induces panic in the pilot. She grabs some light ordnance and tries to shoot it but – panicking – she tags some gas tanks instead and blows herself, the creature and the lander to Kingdom Come, trapping everybody else on this deathworld.
And then they meet its psychotic, solitary resident.
Eternity Weeps, although labelled as part of the Doctor Who sequence, is more about his companions and the trouble they get into without him (yes – him in this instance, I state for clarity in this modern age of gender-swapping Time Lords).
So we see that archaeologist companion Bernice Summerfield has joined an expedition seeking to find Noah’s Ark on (or near) Mount Ararat. Instead, she finds six billion year-old rocks (older than the Earth) that pretend to be uranium when you check their composition, together with soldiers from Iran and Iraq who are trying to claim this uranium for themselves… and a teleport to the moon.
There, she finds that an ancient alien race, seeking salvation from the imminent death of their home planet, launched a plan (all those billions of years ago) to terraform the Earth so they could live here. The problem is that they appear to be giant anemones that live in a sulphuric acid sea.
The greater problem is that Benny has brought an unwanted passenger to the moon with her – a soldier called Tammuz who triggers the terraforming process without understanding what it is.
Stupid things – done by stupid people who think they’re being intelligent.
It’s very hard to sympathise with characters like that. They bring their fate upon themselves and one tends to rejoice when events catch up with them.
The exception (for the most part) is the crew of the Nostromo in Alien – the film that started that particular movie series. It is malicious intent by someone else that triggers the story, and the characters are swept up in it unwillingly.
So the crew are awakened from cryo-sleep to find that their employer is ordering them to investigate a sign of intelligent alien life – a beacon on a nearby planet. We later discover that the company has intelligence suggesting that an alien life form may be found there, that it can exploit for commercial purposes.
Taking a landing craft to the surface, the crew discover a giant derelict spacecraft piloted by long-dead alien creatures (the Engineers of Prometheus and Alien: Covenant) and a chamber full of what appear to be eggs.
What happens next – triggering all subsequent events in the film – is an accident, not stupidity. The crew member exploring the chamber, Kane, slips and falls among the eggs. The top of one of them folds open and before he knows it, a face-hugger (an evolved version of the creature we see in Prometheus) leaps out, eats through his visor and acts as its name implies.
Before we know it, we find it has impregnated Kane with a creature that gestates in his chest and bursts out during a dinner party – creating the most famous bug infestation problem in movie history.
It isn’t the fault of the crew; they’re just pawns of their unscrupulous employers.
Come to think of it, this is a very left-wing flick!
No wonder the emphasis got changed in future films.