How Prometheus could have sucked less without changing the plot (or, why I’d like to rip Ridley Scott a new one)

***Warning – ranting ahead, and a few swears (in case the title didn’t give that away …)

If you’re a sci-fi fan, you probably eagerly anticipated Prometheus this year. I mean, hell, the trailer was awesome. It had Charlize. And lots of uber-in-space goodness. And it was part of the Alien franchise, in a prologue-y, know-it’s-going-to-muck-with-cannon way, but that was alright. Reloads are part of the fun of modern cinema. I lowered my expectations, though. That’s wise. And I did a little rotten tomatoes check – just the percentage, no reviews. 74% I think I recall … so, not as good as The Avengers, but supposedly still good.

So now I say, you suck, rotten tomatoes. I’ve lost faith in you. I should have learned after the cinema-going disaster that was True Grit (90-friggin percent my arse for unintelligible dialogue). Because Prometheus sucked the big one. I’m not even going to touch the plot – somewhat because it’s easy to criticise (and much of sci-fi plot sounds stupid when critiqued), but mostly because it wasn’t the problem. I’ll even say I enjoyed the clever integration of the original Alien style sets with our less-monochrome screened vision of the future. But that’s not enough to feel like Prometheus was anything like a good film.

So here’s my Pareto problems with the movie, and how they could have been fixed. They can even keep the gratuitous special effects.

1.  The unbelievably sucky characters – Part I. Ok, so this problem falls into two parts – the ensemble cast (this point) and the main protagonists. It should be pretty easy to see from the first two (excellent) Alien films that the secondary characters all knew each other in some capacity before the film began. In Alien, they were a ship’s crew. In Aliens, a colonial marine unit. Why does this matter? Because in the screenplay, relationships are assumed established. We don’t have to see very much interaction to get a flavour of how these people work together, what they think of each other, who is in command, and existing frictions. What happens in Prometheus? The whole crew apparently doesn’t know each other (except for the main protagonists) until the defrost out of cryo. Not only is this logically difficult to believe, but it forces the screenplay to try and develop these characters and, importantly, their relationships from scratch. Which means shitty scenes like Charlize giving them a ‘briefing’ (which gets taken over by Guy Pearce in bad make-up anyway), no sense of command (Charlize tries to make us think she has some, but evidence is to the contrary). It also means totally irrational rushing off into the foreign planet, which does nothing to create tension because there’s no command structure to defy (as well as being completely fricking illogical). I don’t care if random, strange people working together was the vibe they were going for – it didn’t work and that’s all that matters.

The fix – The film had three starts: 1) man-alien seeding primeval Earth with basic DNA building blocks, 2) Main protagonists in the cave finding star pics (you know, the Stargate bit), and 3) creepy android man on the ship. We didn’t need no.2 – that information could have been worked in later. We needed to start with the crew, just out of cryo, eagerly watching the surveying bots as they mapped the tunnels on the planet and prepping gear to go in. This gives opportunity to show their existing relationships (after all, this is a big mission and it would make sense they should know each other), tensions, specialties etc. The creepy android character stuff could be worked into this scene in flashbacks (potentially creepier in not being shown in full – ‘Hey, what did you do for 2 years’ *flash* *flash* … oooh, creepy). Then, we can have some genuine tension when there’s a dispute about when they’ll go in, who’ll go, and what they’ll take. Also, some young Guy Pierce company propaganda could be inserted – on the wall, in manuals, in computer boot processes (somewhere) to help that issue (see below). Flow on scenes could be altered to fit the new set-up. Not a huge amount would need to change.

2.  The unbelievably sucky characters – Part II. I didn’t believe the two main characters – I didn’t believe in them as scientists, or as a couple. The male character (their names were so memorable) was a bad-attitude poster boy (whose disinterest in the whole malarchy is palpable) and I wanted a whole cheer squad when his sorry arse was toasted fairly early on [not soon enough]. The female character was bland and the faith foundation for her science jarred with the whole franchise. Was Ridley reaching into the rebooted Clash of the Titans for inspiration? (over which I’ll take the original, stop-motion version any day). But I’m straying.

The fix: Different casting might help, but I reckon one of them needs to go. Choose one main protagonist. Loose the gratuitous sex scene, ffs. The sexual overtones again at odds with the franchise, and feels base (like The Fly II or Alien 4 [which I pretend doesn’t exist]) – horror for horror’s sake. Instead, could we have the android doing some freaky in-test-tube stuff? (which would have some nice circularity with the android/human dynamic that runs through all the franchise, including with Bishop in Aliens – after all, the android in Prometheus doesn’t really seem to find anything out before he starts experimenting. Weird.). Or something other than *oooh, the stupid non-science-y scientist character spawned the aliens after all*. FFS.

3. Lots of stuff chucked in and unrealised. A bunch of threads seemed to get a start in this film and weren’t carried, well, anywhere. Charlize Theron’s character, for example. So much potential. Almost no use. The intriguing depths of the android’s character – especially the boundary to his humanness. WTF Weyland was doing on the ship, really. Patrick Wilson’s 10 s cameo as the female protagonist’s father. Now, I know probably a sequel is coming, but that’s no excuse for fucking around with subthreads that have no place in this short arc.

The fix: Fixing the first point above would open up space to expand at least one descent subthread, because we don’t have to muck around trying to establish all those relationships with the viewer (especially because, let’s face it, they all die anyway).

4. Lack of realism. I know it’s sci-fi. I know. But look at Aliens. When Hicks gets sprayed with acid, it takes him out of the action. Out of it. And when Ripley runs around, you hear the effort in her breathing. She’s sweaty. She’s tired; cranky. There are no bras. What do we have in Prometheus? A female lead sans emotional swings, who cavorts around a Tough Mudder style obstacle course with a fresh abdominal wound, very occasionally grabbing her middle to remind us of said injury. JHC. If I wasn’t already rolling my eyes (and I was) that did it.

The fix: Refer to point 2. Or, if you want to cheat, at least put in some kind of fast-healing technology. It’s the future, FFS. I don’t believe it when they’ve got an automated surgical unit (which doesn’t administer anaesthetic, FFS) that still uses 2012 era surgical staples.

5. Guy Pearce made to look like an old person. One of the things that shitted me the most was why a film would cast a young person as an old person, and then make them up. Ok, you want a celebrity, but why a young one? The problem: even with the make-up, they still look like they have a 40-year-old body, tops!! Oh, I’m so old (yet my body is spritely). Now, I know that the reason for this is that some associated promo material had Guy as the young Weyland spruiking the company, but that’s not an excuse in my book. Look at Captain America, where they managed to make Chris Evans look scrawny and weak. The Curious Case of Brad Pitt (I think that’s the correct title), did a better job.

The fix: Cast an actual old actor and save on make-up. Or, trade a few seconds of that ghastily overdone ooooh-android-discovering-the-alien-maps special effects to make Guy Pearce look scrawny and weak.

*****Rant truncated*****

Sigh. There are many ways to fix poorly told stories. These are mine, and I acknowledge they could be refined if I saw the film again. But I simply won’t pay to do so. Is this highly personal? Sure. Tell me how you’d fix it.

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About Charlotte Nash

Writer and editor, loves Australia

Posted on June 29, 2012, in Charlotte Nash. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. You are the second to say this about the film (which I haven’t seen) but your critique is more detailed. I will not bother seeing it!

  2. “We didn’t need no.2”

    Rather than pretend that cave paintings and ancient glyphs provide a star map, I’d insert into the story an imaginary telescope array of the future that can spectroscopically identify all planets within 100 light years that have an oxygen-rich atmosphere. David 7 has already done a robotic reconnaissance of LV-223 and returned to Earth with a map of that distant planet and evidence suggesting that it is a long-abandoned alien outpost. David scooped up an alien satellite from stationary orbit around LV-223 and has been studying its technology during the 2 year trip back to Earth. I’d throw in the idea that Weyland Corp has a wizbang mind-transfer technology. Show David 7 transfer its mind into the new upgrade body of David 8. Also, show Weyland transfer his mind into the body of Vickers, but he really wants to be able to do a mind transfer into a new version of his own body. The Prometheus is sent out to investigate the abandoned outpost on LV-223 and Weyland wants to take along Earth’s leading proponent of the idea that archeological evidence suggests there were alien visitors on Earth long ago.

    “tensions, specialties etc.”

    The biologist and the geologist want to go this way, but the archeologist wants to go that way. Noomi and Charlize have a slap down to settle the chain of command. Noomi: “If you want to give orders then put on a suit and lead the way. Otherwise, shut up and go back to your corporate first class cabin.” Charlize winks at David: “Scew her; just go out and find us some alien biotech.” Right from the start the away team splits up and if you insist on killing someone then just say that the biologist and geologist wandered off and were too far away from the ship when the storm hits. Sux to be a redshirt.

    “some freaky in-test-tube stuff”

    David takes one of the mysterious canisters back to the Prometheus. Inside the canister are vials of nanites. He combines some cells from Weyland with samples of the alien nanites. In one of David’s test tubes, the decrepit Weyland cells act as a template for the nanites and David is at first pleased to see more cells being rapidly constructed by the nanites. But the in vitro cell replication soon stops. David decides to first try culturing the nanite-accelerated cells inside the bodies of immuno-suppressed nude mice. The artificial blastulas die in male mice but take the fallopian express to the uterus in females and they aggressively implant. After a period of rapid in utero growth, the tissue masses burst open the poor little mice. Since this is a Hollywood horror flick, Weyland (on his death bed and eager for the Fountain of Youth…..he hopes the nanites can grow him a new copy of his body) can be extra evil and order David to try culturing the nanite-accelerated cells in a semi-nude Noomi. I’d vote for allowing “fully functional” David to transfer the nanite-accelerated cells into Noomi during a robot-human sex scene, but I’m probably too twisted for Hollywood.

    “if you want to cheat”

    I do. You don’t need to actually do the Cesarean, just get ready for the incision, then abandon all the Gigeresque horror pseudo genitalia and go for the real thing. David has found that there are several different vials of nanites in the canister. One type of nanite gets the bio-transformation going. Another vial contains “stop” nanites that are programmed to shut down the cell-growth-accelerating-nanites. (Other vials contain the codes for how to program nanites to build various creatures, but that is a detail that need not be understood by David at this point.) Noomi is ready to cut her growing squid baby out of her body, but David injects her with a dose of the “stop” nanites. Squid baby freaks and says “abandon host” and crawls out of Noomi. This could be a Hollywood first. The first CGI scene of a mutli-tentacular creature crawling out of a human birth canal. The robo-surgeon would then stitch up Noomi’s exploded cervix and she’d be ready to start running around again looking for God. Squid baby would grow up to star in future Alien flicks.

  3. asdf@asdf.tld

    This review hit upon points that crossed my mind as I washed the film in the theater. The actors were given crap lines, that they lamely acted out, in scenarios that just didn’t seem realistic. Think about in real life, the first humans we send to mars. It will likely be a one way mission. They will be some of the smartest, most adaptable, most stress tolerant, and reasoned individuals this planet has to offer. The words that come out of their mouths, and their reactions would looks NOTHING like any of the Prometheus dialogue. Prometheus was a bad joke. The horrible score was just the dagger between the shoulder blades.

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