So I paid my money and went and watched Prometheus on the weekend and it came home to me, more strongly than ever before, why I prefer books to television or movies. Don’t get me wrong, Prometheus is a visually stunning two-hour tour-de-force. Even the scary bits are beautiful in an H.R. Giger’esque kind of way. The problems I had with it came down to those problems that infect most modern CGI-infused movies: plot coherence, realistic characterisation and scientific accuracy.
Perhaps the scope of the movie was simply too big to be delivered in two hours. Maybe Ridley Scott has something special for us an a later director’s cut or prequel-sequel. With oodles of slick visuals I could almost forgive the plot and character inconsistencies. What I can’t forgive, because it’s science-fiction and a genre I love, is crap science and crap fiction.
The movie aftertaste I was left with was that Ridley Scott knew how he wanted the movie to start, knew how he wanted it to end, and then took a big clumsy hammer to the middle bits to make it all fit together.
As a critique, here are some of the things I felt were particularly poorly done:
- For years the space jockeys have been the subject of so much speculation: how did they fit into the original movie, who were they, how did they come to be infected by the Xenomorphs? Fans have spent the better part of two decades pondering this question and coming up with a number of interesting hypotheses. So what does Mr. Scott do with them in Prometheus? Basically turns them into aggressive, mindless, albino Hulk-Hogans. Poorly done Mr. Scott, poorly done indeed.
- Prometheus saw Weyland and his daughter Vickers along on the same trip. Company succession planning aside the story introduces the animosity between the two but never takes it further. Plot demands, for some reason, father and daughter hate each other … done. I think a more empathic Vickers in contrast to Weyland’s cold narcissism would have been more interesting but so be it. Vickers is portrayed as a cold, emotionally blunt and intelligent contrast to Elizabeth’s emotional, somewhat nauseating crisis-of-faith scientist character. Overall she comes across as someone who’s got where she’s got but being quite smart and manipulative but then, in the end, can’t figure out that if she took two steps to the left (or right) the giant alien ship would not run her over. Like really, she tries to outrun a huge building-sized rolling disk. Plot demands she gets squashed so she does. Poorly done Mr. Scott, couldn’t she at least have broken an ankle so we could believe she couldn’t get out of the way?
- The wakened engineer doesn’t bother to find out what happened to his kin. He goes into a mindless rage at some gobbled-gook the android says and then beats them all to a pulp – bar Elizabeth that is, who is still able to leap and run and jump about like a kangaroo after the equivalent of a caesarean section. So keen is this big guy to get his big ship off to destroy earth, or whatever he wants to do, that when his ship is destroyed in the crash he doesn’t think to walk 500 meters to the next buried ship and try again. That would have really thrown a spanner in the works wouldn’t it? – Elizabeth watching a second ship soaring away into space before getting eaten by her giant Freudian face-hugger-baby. No, in another fit of albino-giant rage this supposedly superior intellect not only knows where Elizabeth has scampered off to but he comes after her tearing open metal doors built to withstand the hostilities of space. He must have whispered in David’s ear before he left though: ‘Only warn her when I’m at the door of the life-pod, it’ll give the audience more of a surprise.’ Also, the plot needed a vessel for the epic giant-face-hugger-baby battle, subsequent infection and cheesy Xenomorph scene so the big guy had to be there to join those dots. The only thing that would have made this part of the movie better would have been Elizabeth in a big yellow Ridley mech-forklift, after all we’d already seen her in her white Ridley undies for a large part of the movie.
- Douch-bag Holloway – who has just made one of the most remarkable discoveries in the history of mankind and has witnessed amazing, cryptic holographic snippets about the fate of the engineers/space jockeys/albino rage giants – is sitting drunk and inconsolable banging silver snooker balls and being a total dick to the android because the plot demands he needs to be a sad, drunk, technology racist so we can feel okay with David using him as a human petri dish. Then, in the next scene, not a trace of a hangover as he gets down and dirty with Elizabeth because the plot demands she becomes infected with his alien infused offspring. Really?
Science is actually the biggest loser in this rivet-infused-fantasy movie:
- The engineer ship has only one vital crumple zone The Prometheus rams into it, and the crippled alien ship falls from the sky to hit the ground. It doesn’t at this point continue to crumple, or create a giant crater in the ground. No, it bounces along like an oversized alien Oreo because some inane script writer, I really hope it wasn’t Mr. Scott, thought it’d be dramatic for Vickers to be squashed by it.
- Ridley Scott just joined the Creationist Kansas School Board The giant, super strong, apparently super intelligent engineers who can breathe toxic air without their helmets have identical DNA to us. We all saw the cheesy DNA match HUD on the computer screen. So we’ll just get the audience to suspend disbelief, throw the theory of evolution by means of natural selection out the window (along with mankind’s 98% DNA match to Chimps.) It’s okay, evolution is just a theory in large parts of America anyway and we’ll gloss it over with Elizabeth’s faith-infused-apologist line about ‘who built the engineers?’ Deep? More like barf.
- The law of conservation of mass The critters in Mr. Scott’s movies can clearly create mass out of thin air. This was an issue I had with the original Alien movie. The xenomorph goes from squirrel size to bigger than a man without eating anything. Queue the new and improved face-hugger-foetus. it goes from squid sized to something that can tackle the Herculean engineer in a matter of hours because the plot demanded something inadvertently save Elizabeth from giant rage. What, pray tell, did squidy eat in the sterile med-bay to get that big or that strong? Nutrient absorption from the air? The particularly tasty looking placenta Elizabeth rips from her abdomen without bleeding to death. Lab-light photosynthesis? Weyland-roids?
- So biometric readouts are just for show We see the fancy helmets with biometric readouts on each character streaming HD video back to Prometheus. Then the obligatory monster fodder, in the form of the geologist & biologist get lost in what is essentially a big horse-shoe and they get stranded overnight in the alien craft during a super-storm where nobody can rescue them. Phew, stack the improbabilities. Then the captain goes to do the naughty with Vickers (who turns out to be human after all) while the two stranded men die gruesomely. Question? Are those biometric suit readouts not attached to ship-wide alarms? Is the ship not recording everything they see? When the crew cannot reach the two dead men in the morning, do they not think of hitting the rewind button to see what happened to them? For fuck-sake? really?
- No such things as microbes On the first outing to the alien structure Holloway gets excited that it has a breathable atmosphere and whips off his helmet to shower under all the dripping watery goodness. The biologist fails to mention there might actually be god-awful microbes in the water. It’s breathable so we all follow suit. Surely that’s court-martial 101?
- Cardboard cutout “scientists” A ‘biologist’, who’s just seen a whole pile of alien corpses exploded from the inside, wanders into a room full of toxic containers seeping black goop and is confronted by a pale anaconda-like snake hissing and flapping it’s flappity flaps in a threatening manner. This is behaviour familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a pissed off snake, it means fuck off. His love of ‘biology’ (forget the branch or discipline, he’s monster fodder, it doesn’t matter) then overwhelms common sense and he decides this disgusting creature is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen and he must be in an alien petting zoo. Seriously, this dumb-ass is the best biologist the human race could send? Can you imagine David Attenborough playing pet the hissing, aggressive, alien snake? No … neither can I.
So what? I hear you say. You’ve already admitted you enjoyed the movie in spite of the gaping plot and character holes, in spite of the re-hashed material, in spite of the gross horror flick cliches. Yes, yes I did but it still matters. It matters because, strip all the CGI and eye-candy away and you’d have a story that wouldn’t pass as two-dollar shop pulp-fiction. It matters because this seems to be the overwhelming trend with movies, let alone epic sci-fi reprisals by well respected directors. It matters because these are the things that have remained when the glam has worn off.
It matters because lazy writing is lazy writing, no matter how much lipstick you slap on it.