Okay, well the email conversation that inspired these posts is sort of winding down and so I begin what will probably be the last part of my ramblings on Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus”. I just want to re-iterate that I really liked the movie. Some of the things I’ll have to say below, might make it seem like I didn’t. But that’s because I’m kind of picky when it comes to my science fiction. It comes down to an old trope called ‘AM/FM‘, “Actual Machines versus Freaking Magic”. Fantasy can get away with a ton. The creatures of fantasy can explain almost anything away by the old “A Wizard did it.” Bottom line: Freaking Magic doesn’t have to make sense at all. Actual Machines do! So I adored the following things about “Prometheus”, which is why I’m looking forward to seeing it again, the performances, the sound design, the art direction, the production design, the direction, the look of the movie. Uh oh, I didn’t mention screenplay did I? That’s because in this writer’s humble opinion, the screenplay was lazy, sloppy, and took the audience for granted. I have a low tolerance for these things, as do many other people, which is why the film has met with mixed reviews.
Spoilers abound from here on out, so stay away if you haven’t seen the film.
- Screenplay issue #1. Nothing makes sense. (okay, it’s not that bad, I was just channeling my inner Mr. Plinkett.)
There’s one thing with keeping key information from the audience to build a sense of mystery or suspense, so that when the information is later revealed people have that ‘Eureka’ moment, but it is a whole other thing to keep that information completely from the audience. (More on this below). “Prometheus” features what has to be the dumbest collection of professional scientists ever assembled. When the folks come out of hypersleep, the biggest impression one of them makes is by coming off as a near sociopath. I understand folks can be grumpy after hypersleep, but seriously, why is this guy on this mission? Ostensibly, because he’s the best geologist the company could hire since they are spending trillions of dollars to send him 35 light years from Earth for a potential first contact situation…. oh wait, that’s right… No one on this mission knows why they are there until they get to LV-223? That can’t be right (but it is, except for maybe Shaw, Holloway, and Vickers, and it makes no sense. Keep in mind, I think David is on his own mission). More on this later.
One of the biggest problems is the massive plot hole of the pictograms left behind by the Engineers. Let’s forget about the science behind trying to locate the 6 “dots” drawn by primitive peoples and early societies and using it as a map. The movie blew this off, so I will too. There are some severe leaps in logic made from this. Shaw assumes it is an invitation from her creators. When she’s challenged on this point during the briefing scene, she responds that she has no proof for her idea but it’s what she chooses to believe. Ugh. Because that’s how science works. Anyway, moving on from that. Weyland apparently puts up a trillion dollars to fund the expedition on this woman’s belief that a repeating six dot pictogram is: A.) an invitation containing an accurate map B.) sent by the creators of the human race and potentially all life on earth, and C.) (for Weyland’s motivation) that they have a cure for death.
Seriously? You’d think a board of directors or some primary shareholders in Weyland stock might have had a little problem with this. Then again, maybe that’s why they had to merge with Yutani Corp. Enter my alternate agenda theory again. Remember when Vickers is sending everyone out for their first exploration of the alien structure? She gives people very specific instructions. If they meet anything they are not to interact in any way, but are to report directly back to her. This is supposed to be a first contact mission and she’s telling them not to make first contact. It seems so weird, Holloway even calls her out on it and asks her if there’s an agenda she’s not telling them about. As an audience, we should be like, well it is Weyland Corp. So yeah…there’s something they’re not telling you. Except the script never really explores this.
For all we know, the 6 dots, might have been the Engineers way of telling early humans, never to go there. Given the evidence that Shaw uncovers, there is as much proof that it is a warning as an invitation.
Also, the timeline within the Aliens universe is somewhat messed up by what the film “Prometheus” reveals. IF the film is meant to stand alone, this is not really an issue, because there’s nothing to tie it to anything. IF it is an “Alien” prequel, there are some interesting problems. The creature born at the end from the Engineer is supposed to remind us of the creature in “Alien”. It is sort of a proto-Alien, if you will. Except that the Xenomorph from the alien franchise films is known to the Engineers already. It is not new, or something discovered by them, because of the events of Prometheus. Why can I say this? Well if you watch “Alien” again, when Dallas sees the Space Jockey he makes a comment that the body is fossilized. Now he could have been mistaking the Engineer exo-suit as part of the Space Jockey, but keep in mind, he’s looking into the guy’s chest cavity at the time. What does this mean? It means the ship on LV-426 is older than the base on LV-223. Okay, I might be stretching a bit for that one. But there’s evidence within “Prometheus” itself.
Check this out:
That mural in the Big Head Room on the alien base shows what looks like a stylized Queen, an alien warrior, and two facehuggers. Why would this be there? Who knows? For all we know it could be label for the chamber, like “don’t mess with this stuff or you’ll get this”.
There’s a dozen other questions that the movie brings up and doesn’t answer. Why were there any Engineers in cryo-stasis? Why did he attack the humans when woken up? (Could have just been cranky, I guess). Why are the ships in hangars but the goo is stored on top. Etc… etc… unless there’s a heck of a lot of missing footage, we’re not going to find out.
Now, as a writer myself, I know it annoys me when my beta readers point out plot holes. But that’s why we have beta readers, so they can point out things we can’t see because we’re too close to the work. Also, that’s usually in my first or second draft. Not in my $200 million dollar movie that has hundreds of people working on it. I can’t believe that the filmmaker’s weren’t aware of these issues before the cameras started rolling (more on that later).
- Screenplay issue # 2. Structure.
There a pretty major problem with the structure of the screenplay. And this works out to the briefing scene. This scene should have happened before the Prometheus ever left. I understand the Captain and the ship’s crew not knowing about the mission. But you’d think that if we’re going to put together a potential first contact mission, you’d hand-pick your team and ensure that everyone would have characteristics which complemented one another in order to secure the maximum chance of mission success. Instead, they let someone like the geologist get onboard and he’s a prick to everyone. He’d have been eliminated in the first round of choosing, unless he was the greatest geologist ever. The other members of the team aren’t much better. Holloway is allowed to go presumably because he’s Shaw’s boyfriend. The biologist proves himself to be inept by trying to pet a space-cobra. It goes on and on. Having the briefing scene once they arrive at LV-223 makes for a very clumsy reveal and the exposition just makes most folks in the audience go, “WTF? They are only finding out about this now?” Having the crew meet one another for the first time when they are waking up from hypersleep is equally clumsy. The introductions are meant to mirror the crew interaction scenes from “Alien”. But while the whole working-class blue-collar space workers worked very well in “Alien”. It doesn’t ring true for “Prometheus”. The crew of the Nostromo were essentially tug-boat operators. The crew of the Prometheus is supposed to be a scientific mission with the possibility of first contact. It just doesn’t make sense. I won’t harp on this too much more, except to say that the briefing scene should have happened on Earth and then the movie could have segued into the montage of David on board the Prometheus. Just my opinion.
- Screenplay issue #3, (and the biggest one in my opinion). It is the magnificent smug bastard known as Damon Lindelof.
It is like the black goo, we don’t know what it is. And it can be argued that as a piece of Engineer tech, we probably shouldn’t know how it works beyond deducing that it is a mutagen of some kind and a catalyst for the engineers’ particular type of bio-engineering. There are discussions all over the internet about the nature of the black goo and what it does and how it works. I won’t be sucked in this time. I’ve learned my lesson trying to analyze anything with Lindelof’s fingerprints on it looking for a solution.
Lindelof loves a MacGuffin. (A MacGuffin is a plot device that people use in a story when it doesn’t really matter what the stuff is or does. It just makes the plot work. “Unobtanium” in AVATAR, the briefcase in RONIN and PULP FICTION, a ton of stuff on LOST, the RABBIT’s FOOT in Mission Impossible 3. The list goes on and on…) A perfect Lindelof example of this is the “red matter” in J.J.Trek. No one bothers to explain how any of it works, but it is powerful enough to create black holes in the middle of planets. Also, if you only need a little dollop of it to create a singularity to divert the Supernova that was going to wipe out Romulus and Remus, then why does Spock have a space ship with about 500 gallons of the stuff. Also, you’d think this stuff was pretty rare and hard to get a hold of, considering it can wipe out planets, but apparently not. Spock is alone with a spaceship full of the stuff, no security escort,nothing. These are the kinds of questions that Lindelof and his kind don’t expect that the audience will ask. But we always do. And I feel a bit insulted when the writer thinks he can pull something over on me. Which is why I don’t like J.J. Trek. (Science fiction is supposed to be about HOW things work. Not magic.) But anyway…back to the black goo in Prometheus. It is a Lindelof MacGuffin. All we can derive from the film is that the Engineers use it to aid in bio-engineering. Nothing more. It is essentially FM, Freaking Magic, in a science fiction film. And it doesn’t belong there. And that’s why a lot of the audience doesn’t like the film.
Now I could be wrong and maybe Damon knows all the answers to all the questions in Prometheus. But I doubt it. I know I wasn’t going to bring outside stuff in here, but this is part of quote from Lindelof on IGN.
“Lindelof: That’s an excellent question and one that I’m not going to answer. But I will say that there’s something fascinating about…” That can pretty much sum up anything ever written by Damon Lindelof. I don’t think he thinks enough about the audience to think that we might actually care about answers to his questions or even notice what he’s doing. I won’t get pulled into the trap of trying to figure out more of this film because I know in the end, there are no answers. They’ve never bothered to figure them out. They have no intention to. And if there is a sequel, the answers, if we get any at all, will probably be half-baked simple affairs lacking any real depth, logic, or resolution and then the creators will argue that it was always “about the characters” and that the answers don’t matter. But they do Mr. Lindelof. The answers matter.
There’s no point leaving a breadcrumb trail for the audience to follow if it doesn’t lead anywhere. The audience is as smart as you are. Some of us might be smarter. We love to analyze and dissect stories, in fact, we crave it. We don’t like it when we’re cheated. Give us what we want, coherent mysteries with logical well-thought-out solutions. We know you’ve got it in you, just don’t take the lazy way out. We are watching you.