Now that pretty much everybody's seen it, I thought it would be worth me putting down my thoughts on this as it's come up a lot recently on Twitter and it's not exactly the easiest thing to get into 140 characters. I'm not going to review the film, I'm going to point out how I personally feel about it both good and bad. So if this isn't something that interests you, have a click on this and perhaps I'll see you tomorrow.
My first issue has to be the Alien Franchise tie-in. What exactly is this film? We are currently being told it isn't a prequel to Alien and that it "shares some DNA". No. I'm sorry, but the first images released for Prometheus way back when were of the Space Jockey. It was sold as an Alien prequel right up until a few weeks before it came out. It's an Alien prequel. It just is. And unfortunately it's a bad one.
Shiny shiny. Some nice design in there but:
These creatures are not good enough. I know Fox has problems working with Giger but if they are going to go anywhere near Alien and do it right, you need Giger. Or some other untapped genius (like perhaps Alex Kozhanov to pick up the mantle. Surely when dealing with these sorts of things it is best to adopt the surgeon's mantra of "do no harm", and in this case the weird, new monsters did a lot of harm. They simply weren't as good as the original ones. So why make up some new stuff if it's not as good? That's a logical step backwards right? I'm all for new as long as it's good. James Cameron understood this when he took a risk and introduced the Alien Queen to the franchise. He was right because it was good. The new creature served the story beautifully and gave us the visual spectacle that expanded on the originals in such a contextually perfect way.
But these monsters are all over the place. Just what the hell are they? The original Alien brought us a clear life-cycle that despite being alien and very creepy, also makes complete sense. As the threat evolves, we understand it and so we can feel to at least some degree that we understand the danger the crew of the Nostromo are facing.
But what exactly is the threat in Prometheus? As far as I can tell it is this. There are worms that live in the oil on the floor of the "ampule" chamber. If they rise up like snakes they will try to get inside your suit and wrap themselves around your neck and choke you by going down your throat and living there for a bit whilst you die.
If you get acid on your face and fall in an oil puddle, you will die, your head goes all big and you come back as a super-strong zombie mutant who's only drives are to head back to the ship (using vestigal memory?), curl up like a spider outside the door breaking every bone and tearing every ligament in your body, somehow show up as a life reading even though you're dead with a smashed helmet in an unbreathable atmosphere, and then go on a superhumanly strong murdering spree, killing your former colleagues with your bare hands and smashing their skulls with your super strength. All that acid directly in the face didn't seem to even impact his vision. Actually, another problem I had with this scene is that three or four people are killed and I couldn't tell who they were. I was just watching who popped up again in the story and mentally marking off "oh, it wasn't them who died". All these people being killed had no emotional weight and very little dramatic punch apart from a brief, pointless action scene that failed to lead anywhere else.
If you get a drop of oil in your drink you will get worms in your eye which you should definately not bother seeing a doctor about. I'm sure a mission like this wouldn't have any specialised medical crew or equipment aboard anyway. Just leave it. In fact, whilst feeling under the weather, have a bit of sex with your girlfriend and accidentally infect her with a baby octopus who grows in ten hours. Then melt inside your space suit until you force another crew member (Vickers) to kill you directly in front of your traumatised girlfriend and burn your dissolving body to bits. I mean, couldn't he have just taken his helmet off? He made her kill him with fire right in front of a screaming Shaw. What a drama queen.
After having an alien abortion and killing the alien-octo-baby in the tank afterwards, it will become a zombie and grow to the size of a car over the next couple of hours. Just keep the door shut and make sure nobody else goes in there. And don't bother mentioning any of this to anybody else on the ship - they're probably all busy or something. And especially not the pair you battered with a metal bar just before you ran for the surgery-pod. They won't want to talk to you about anything. David won't be interested in checking up on how any of this is turning out. And don't worry about the horriffic injuries caused by the operation. Having all your frontal lower abdominal muscles cut won't stop your hectic action packed lifestyle because in the future... there are staples.
I could go on with all of this but I'm sure you get my point. No rules to anything and poor character logic, therefore nothing really matters. When David takes Shaw's crucifix in case it's contaminated he doesn't even think of shaving her hair for the same reason. So you're suddenly worried about contamination David? Anyway, you brought one of the ampules back to the ship in a bag without telling anybody and keep it in the fridge next to the milk. And you didn't do a very good job of pointing out the stupidity of the away team removing their helmets just becasue the air was breathable. There could have been any amount of hideous bio-horrors in the air. David being worried about contamination on a little metal cross at this point is just clunky writing to get the religious artifact away from Shaw so she can get it back later and close a circle. I'm always amazed that things like never get called out whilst it's still on the page as it just weakens the world that is being created. And if your sci-fi is going to end up good, that matters a whole shit of a lot.
The science in this whole film is total bullshit. At one point Vickers says they're half a billion miles away from Earth. Although it fluctuates, that's pretty much Earth to Jupiter. Miss Vickers is leading this mission.
This is a nit-pick but it hilights the point that for whatever reason the writers didn't get their shit together and address how the science of this mission would work. And the film is about A SCIENCE MISSION. It's completely ridiculous. They arrive at the planet and test the composition of the atmosphere as they are descending. Good call science team. What if the rain is acid? What if there's no ground? Why not send down a probe from orbit? They would at least have to survey to select a landing site. All this sort of thing could be woven into the fabric of the film really nicely but as it is, they just charge in and drive around, conveniently locating the structures as they bimble around, totally by chance. Given that they found that lot randomly within five minutes of de-orbitting, what else could be on the surface of that planet that they haven't explored yet? And all the cocky, excited whooping and feet up on consoles coming from Holloway? He's supposed to be a fucking archaeologist. I was glad when he died.
Again, I might sound like I'm nit-picking, but these sorts of things are easy to avoid if there was a serious attempt at a portrayal of a scientific mission. But there just isn't. And that causes other problems. And they keep getting bigger.
Such as the chain of command. There really isn't one. When the away team finds the headless engineer, Fifield's reaction is to tell everybody very loudly that he's going home. Which he does, taking the bioligist (Milburn) with him. This is the first contact with the body of a dead alien and the biologist wants to go back to the ship because the punk man got all shouty? Good hire there miss Vickers. Since this team are on the most important mission ever in the history of everything, ever, we should presume these people are literally the best in the world at their jobs. And the biologist, upon finding a real-life alien body, just walks off and goes back to the ship. Shaw (who was explicitly put in charge by the holographic Weylan) doesn't assert any authority regarding their mission.
There's no attempt at a command structure and the whole thing plays out like kids on a school trip. As they land, the captain is cocking around putting up a christmas tree and complaining about wanting breakfast. He's the best captain in the world. This mission should be run super-strictly and everybody should start off like super-professional robots. This could have worked so well because you could have people straining to keep the unit conhesion as it all starts to go tits-up, offering all sorts of opportunities for drama and tension as people are killed and it becomes more important than ever for them to stick together. We should have been watching a perfect, tight thing unravel and going wrong.
This card was squandered immediately and it kept getting worse. Such as when Captain Janek realises he's got two men left behind in the alien structure during the storm. Despite the fact he's not really arsed about their CCTV images coming back from their helmet cams of piles of alien bodies, he makes a joke about them keeping each other warm and then turns the comms off and leaves the bridge unattended. He's the best captain in the world. Again, a completely rubbish attempt at the portrayal of a science mission. So much stuff goes on that nobody is watching over or attending to. All the time the away team are in inside the alien structure, there's barely anybody even watching the monitors. There should be a team on board the Prometheus backing them up numbering at least the same as those that went out and they would be in constant communications, feeding data back and forth.
There are so many instances of a crummy portrayal of a science mission that I'm bound to be forgetting some, but lets look at the biologist, Milburn. He's the first team member to actually come face to face with a live alien creature. And he doesn't even stop to take a photograph or anything. Nothing. No sense of procedure, of training. All of these elements would only have re-enforced his character's relevance and wouldn't have done any damage to the story. But no, he just walks up to it and tries to pet it. And gets himself killed. Because he's an idiot. Bearing in mind, this is the guy who got shat up and ran when he saw the 2000 year old headless body earlier. Ladies and gentlemen; the best biologist Meredith Vickers could find. It looks like she did all her hiring via Craigslist the day before they left.
Fifield gets himself and Milburn trapped overnight because he can't find the exit. This excellent hire was the chap who brought the mapping drones. And although the rest of the team can, apparently he can't find the door to get back out. He's the best mapping chap in the world. Besides, wouldn't they send the drones in first? I'd want a map made before I sent anybody inside there, surely this would be a matter of procedure? This could have been a brilliant scene, where a pair of brave explorers get up to the front door and chuck the drones in before running back to the ship. It could have been super scary and built up the threat and tension of having to go back and enter the alien structure in earnest.
After running back to the Prometheus, they'd all stay up through the night drinking coffee, fascinatedly watching the map being created around the holographic table and watching all the CCTV images and trying to make sense of it all. It would have been great and super tense, they are all so excited they can't sleep and are up all night making adjustments to their plan according to the probe data. This could have been really good as the probes throw up anomalies, perhaps a couple of them mysteriously vanish. Next morning they have to go back through the big, scary front door and explore inside. Tension, drama, steady build; all good film stuff. It could have really helped out with the structure too as the back and forth between the alien tunnels and the Prometheus made the film feel too fractured and it really put a kink in the structural arc of the story. There should have been an initial probe to map and then one big mission to the alien structure that starts off well and then goes horribly wrong.
The holograms were pure exposition. They looked pretty good but were such a cheap shot. Why didn't we see what the engineers werre running from? Why did they run into the ampule chamber, the most dangerous part of the ship? Why did one of them stay in bed?
As far as missing Giger goes, to be completely honest the Alien ship start-up sequence was fucking RIDICULOUS. You play a little flute and push some hard boiled eggs. Bingo bongo, where in the universe would you like to go today? I'd love to hear what Giger thought when he saw that in there, bet he was pissing himself.
The "Re-animated" exploding head was just a thing that I don't even know what it was. They put some electricity into it to "trick it into thinking it's alive" (after lying there for 2000 years), it looks around like it's going to speak and then bursts. How come? What? Who goes where now?
Vickers should have been a robot. They missed this trick. I also think David should have been doing good. I think it would have been great if they played him as ambiguous as you like whilst the film's unravelling, but at the end I think David should have been doing the right thing all along. I think they missed a HUGE trick with this one as everybody was waiting for the robot to be a bad man. It's a perfect set up for distracting evrybody whilst you do something else and take the story off somewhere unexpected. But no. I'd say David had an evil agenda, but to be honest I don't really know what he was or why he did what he did. Why did he put the oil blob in Holloways drink? Why did he recover the ampule? Why was he doing anything without instructions? Or is it that he was being spoon fed directives from P. Weylan all the time? Because I didn't get that, if that's what was going on. I know he spoke to him once via his special space helmet that performed only that one function.
I loved watching Fassbender, but his character was all over the place. Why did he do all these things? We just don't know. And that is a waste of a perfectly good Fassbender, because without the context it's just shallow cheap shots playing on audience expectations.
The old man make up on Guy Pearce makes him look like Biff Tannen from Back to the Future 2. They should have just got an older actor in - the eyes are always too shiny when they age people with makeup - it's a dead giveaway and it never looks good. And this was the best makeup.
Why did the engineer come back to get Shaw in the pod at the end? He'd just crashed his ship and gotten out alive - how would he even know where she was? How come his ship crashed in the exact same spot it was parked? Why did he attack them all anyway? And he took a couple of shotgun rounds to the chest - if they shared a 100% DNA match with humans, that would have put him back to sleep. All the guns were crap in this film. When mutant Fifield comes back to the ship and goes murder-mental in the cargo bay, he's getting hammered with small arms fire and it doesn't do anything to him. Anyway - going back to the 100% DNA match. Again, science bullshit. If we had a 100% DNA match we would look exactly the same. Not like an albino giant. And if his DNA started all life on earth, wouldn't the whole planet be populated only with engineers and evolutionary adaptations thereof? So where did my puppy come from?
A good example of how shoddily handled most of the character development in this film was, is the wake-up scene where Milburn introduces himself to Fifield nice and politely and gets a load of aggro back in his face with gruff comments like "I'm only here for the money". Compare this to the scene in the original Alien where the crew are having their wake-up meal and Dallas comes back from talking to Mother. He fills them in on the fact that they are still ten months from home and explains they have an obligation to go and check out the signal the computer has picked up. This leads them into a bitch about money where so much is revealed. We get a great sense of the upstairs/downstairs aspect of the ships crew, who questions who, who shuts up and puts up, everything. And all in a very natural conversation that lasts about a minute, it really is a beautifully crafted scene. And now, 33 years later, we get this pap. RIP Dan O'Bannon. He may be gone, but is very much not forgotten.
How come most of the crew don't know each other? They are a hand-picked team on the most expensive, ambitious mission mankind has ever undertaken and they haven't even met each other before. Who would run a mission like this? Imagine the psych profiling and training that would be involved; these people would have had to have been living and training together for years to run a mission like this. But think about the tension that would be lost when it turns out one of them is a grumpy arsehole. Actually, another thing I noticed is that almost everybody is speaking in another voice/accent than their own. It's only a little thing but it's pretty weird when you think about it.
I do think that Ridley Scott as a film-maker suffers from a strange problem. Being the legendary titan of cinema that he is must make him intimidating to work with. I can see how, through nodoby's actual fault, people might tend to be quieter than usual around him when he's engaging with people to tell them what he wants. I could see how if Sir Ridley likes what's on the page, then that's what everybody's happy to go with. Who wants to challenge the guy who directed Alien and Blade Runner? He must know what's going to be good, right? So what happened here?
When I look at Prometheus, I see skills and talent EVERYWHERE. There are some good people working on this show; surely some of the best. But the writing puts a glass ceiling over it all and stops it from collectively being good. And it makes me write big moany blog posts like this when I would much rather be gushing about how brilliant it was. I really would. But I can't, because is isn't.
It seems that by touching on the epic notions of gods and eternal life, the film's creators are playing a rather cheap game where they are leaving it up to us to "figure it all out". I've seen all sorts of discussions on internet forums recently where people are looking into ancient myths and thinly stretching things together so it makes more sense and the film seems to gain a greater sense of worth. Generally I have no problem with this sort of thing, and I certainly do it myself occasionally, but I do feel that any film has a responsibility to it's audience to establish that sense of worth in it's own right. In this case, it feels like they are encouraging people to fill over the holes that have been exposed in the reviews. A good example of this is Ridley Scott saying in an interview recently that Jesus was an engineer. What the effing what now? Did I go to the loo and miss a scene? No I didn't, I held it in. And there weren't no Jesus scenes in there. So what does it matter after the fact? Never mind, moving swiftly on... Blade Runner 2.
I'm well aware of the fact that I sound rather cynical in all of this and to be honest, I do resent the fact that the experience of trying to enjoy this film has made me react like this.
Today I saw another viral, which is trying to be mystical and deep, whilst remaining vague. No surprise there, coming from the writer of LOST. In the entertainment media right now, we are now being fed the line that the film we paid to see isn't actually the "proper" one, and that the Directors Cut is going to feature an extra 20 minutes that will make everything brilliant. If you ask me, this is the movie equivalent of where DLC is in games right now: Release the product and then get your loyal customers to pay more for the "complete" version. Forget it Prometheus, we're done here.
I've never met him, but I am pretty sure that Damon Lindelof is a really nice chap. I also think he can hold a good meeting. He's doing something right and obviously got a lot of friends in the industry because he keeps getting hired. He's gotten his hands on the steering wheel of some of the biggest recent sci-fi films around, including Cowboys and Aliens, Prometheus and now Star Trek. However, I have a problem with his craft, and my problem is how much I used to love LOST. I adored that show, It was just so mysterious and enigmatic. The mystery was so deep and complex that I used to spend evenings down the pub with friends dissecting episodes and trying to piece it all together.
During the first season break, the internet was abuzz with specualtion as to where this amazing show might be going. What did this all mean? The general consensus was that everybody was dead and in some kind of purgatory, and all the mysterious elements on the island were manifestations of myths and legends related to this. Mr Lindelof appeared in interviews debunking this and explaining that there was in fact something altogether much more interesting going on. He assured us that they weren't dead and weren't in purgatory and there was a mystery afoot that was explicitly mapped out and would all be tied up. Everything would be relevant and when the final cards were laid down, all the pieces would be seen to fit together and this epic reveal would explain everything. it was all carefully planned out we were told. Just stick with us.
Well I did stick with it. Every season break I would voice my doubts down the pub. How can this all tie up? There's too many loose ends! It's just so deep and interwoven. What on earth could it be if it's not purgatory and they aren't dead? How can all this tidily come to a head? Because that's what we were told. It must be the bestest, most exciting mystery ever! Every time I told myself I must trust the shows creators. They wouldn't bullshit us would they? I couldn't wait to see how everything tied together. They surely wouldn't make mugs of us all by making it up as they went along? They would never do this! So I kept watching. For all seven seasons. Today is the 12th of June, 2012. Let's take a look at Damon Lindelof's Twitter profile. Check out the way he chooses to describe himself.
"Yeah, I'm one of the idiots behind LOST. And no, I don't understand it either"
I like to think I'm not an unreasonable man. But so much of what I have just written about stems directly from this mans input into the project. So please, somebody try to explain to me why I should ever give a shit about anything this guy writes ever again? I'm listening.