Science fiction used to be almost synonymous with "competence porn," stories about smart people who solve challenges by knowing what they're doing. But lately when it comes to movies and TV, it seems like Americans love competence porn, and they love science fiction... they just don't love them together. What happened?
Consider: Science fiction TV shows and movies used to feature heroic scientist characters pretty often. We had heroic inventors, scientific explorers, and sympathetic scientist supporting characters who would explain to the main hero what was going on. Heroes included Reed Richards, but also second leads like Hans Zarkov.
No scientists, please
But at some point, including scientists as heroes became a bit of a taboo in science fiction, with the notable exception of Walter Bishop in Fringe. (And in the U.K., Doctor Who is a holdout.) We're only allowed to explore new science or strange ideas if our hero is an "everyman" who has no clue what's going on.
Case in point: when ABC turned Robert J. Sawyer's novel Flashforward into a TV series, the heroes were changed from a team of physicists to a group of FBI agents.
Nothing exposes the shift from competence porn to "heroes out of their depth" as sharply as a comparison of Ridley Scott's Prometheus to the original Alien. In Alien, Ripley doesn't survive because she's a nice person — she survives because she's the one person who is good at her job and keeps reminding the others about things like quarantine and safety procedures. In Prometheus, absolutely nobody is good at his or her job — just watch this training video.