Now that all the hype has died down, you may still like Prometheus, but as far as I’m concerned, Damon Lindelhof, Ridley Scott, and anyone who gave Prometheus a positive review owes me a refund.
Prometheus does seem to be a film which divides opinion. Some people, including the usually excellent Mr. Mark Wallace, think it’s a flawed masterpiece; some people think it’s so flawed it’s worth personally attacking the man who wrote it, Damon Lindelhof. The tide of acidic bile (see what I did there?) sprayed at Lindelhof is nasty, spiteful, hurtful and cruel. It’s clearly over the top. But (and here’s the controversial bit) I think these people are right to feel angry, almost cheated by him.
The vast bulk of the reviews don’t reflect the fact that the movie was dire; it’s praised for having “big ideas” and, particularly for Michael Fassbender‘s spell-binding performance as David the Android. In my opinion, that’s not good enough. Big ideas are fine in concept, but are frustrating if they are not paid off in the narrative; a great performance in the one good role in the film merely highlights how badly written the rest of the characters are. It must say something when the most interesting and well-drawn character in the whole film is a man made of plastic who is incapable of feeling or showing emotion.
The criteria by which these reviewers are judging a film barely touches on the writing that damns the whole project. The script is the problem – it’s why the film is a mess rather than a massive triumph. I’m just going to go through the film, and break down exactly why the script is so bad. Obviously, this will contain “spoilers”, inasmuch as it would be possible to “spoil” something which is already awful.
1. Very few of the characters acted in a rational, competent or understandable fashion – this was particularly the case with the scientists.
This basically comes down to the fact that staff on the Prometheus are crap at their jobs. A geologist who owns and loves his mapping robots somehow gets lost. Yes. He owns and operates robots that make maps. He still has access to these robots. Yet gets lost. Improbable. This is particularly noticeable as it’s a key plot point in the film that he gets lost. Why establish competence at a thing then erode it? If there was one person on that ship who shouldn’t have got lost, it was him. Writing like that just makes it seem like you haven’t read your own script.
There’s a briefing scene at the beginning where everyone is (rightly) dubious of the theory that ancient aliens visited earth and left signs pointing us to this special planet. Once you get to the planet, and find an alien corpse, absolutely no-one is excited AT ALL. No-one pointed out that they could take that body, go home, and all be famous and probably rich. This doesn’t stack up for me. Finding an alien is clearly a big deal. No-one, on making one of the greatest discoveries in history, is downcast and a bit bored. You’d expect them to be at least mildly interested. Instead, Dr. Holloway, the archeologist who let’s not forget, is the one who is going to have his name on this forever, exclaims “it’s just another tomb”. Can you imagine Howard Carter, on finding Tutankhamun’s tomb, exclaiming, “Pffft, just another tomb.”? Only in this case, Tutankhamun is a member of a vastly advanced alien no-one believed you about. Yeah, sure, I’d be disappointed. Come on. There is absolutely no way this rings true.
I already complained about the lost map man? Well, later, while lost, he is joined by a zoologist. Between them, they decide to camp in the creepiest room in the whole tomb, the one with the bleeding vases and huge statue of a head. While in there, they see big white worms sliding around. This zoologist looks at a big white phallic alien worm and says to his mate “it looks like a girl” (it’s possibly the most cock-shaped object in the movie – quite a feat in anything with Geiger design work involved). When the arm-breaking blowjob attack worm rears up into an obvious attack pose, he moves towards it. He’s a zoologist, right? If I could tell the beast was about to attack, surely he should spot those obvious cues? Incidentally, he gets excited about finding it. While he notably didn’t get excited about the humanoid, intelligent alien they found earlier. Shouldn’t he either care or not care?
2. The back plot – the much vaunted “big idea” – makes no sense at all, if you even stop to think about it for a moment.
Apparently, the Space Jockeys (the things strapped into the telescope in the first Alien film) planted clues in ancient cave paintings, encouraging humans to visit the planet in Prometheus. So far, so Chariot of the Gods.
Later on in the film, we discover that the planet is in fact a weapon vault, containing vases full of black sex assault juice. So, their plan is to lure spacefaring humans to their doom? Why on earth would they bother? If they wanted to wipe out humanity, couldn’t they have done it ages ago, by dropping the death juice all over Scotland in 5000BC? It seems an extremely convoluted way of going about things; stories require things to be intuitive and understanable. I realise this is a film with space rockets and suspended animation and alien monsters, but at least all that is internally consistent.
3. One key plot point revolves around an automatic surgery pod, which is introduced with all the thudding subtlety of a steamroller covered in blaring loudhailers.
It’s clear as day as the characters loudly talk about how it works that someone is going to end up under the roboknife later on.
The exposition is ladled on with a trowel. However, in a shock twist, when it finally happens, the machine can’t operate on women.
WHAT?! I find it hilarious that no-one installed the woman app on the billion dollar medical machine. There are a fair few women on the crew (one of whom is the owner’s hyper-paranoid daughter) and given the machine can perform surgery/make toast etc the fact it can’t do girls is laughable. What happened, did the android’s old movie collection make them run out of hard disk space? Was someone streaming too much porn?
4. The monster in Alien is one of the classics – one of the best monsters in cinema history.
It is the reason we are buying a ticket to Prometheus. Do we see that monster? No. Instead, we see by my count, six other much shitter monsters, all vaguely connected to the original.
We see the Space Jockeys, then the worm things in the vase room, the zombie thing the map lover turns into when exposed to the black ooze, the squid baby, the giant tentacled blowjob monster the squid baby turns into, and then finally, a version of the classic HR Giger monster that looks like it’s been sculpted by someone who has had the monster described to them quite well, but has never actually seen the original thing. None of the six new monsters are iconic, interesting or even well designed – but they are inevitably going to be compared to the Giger original.
None of them have anything like the fascinating yet intuitive life cycle of the original Dan O’Bannon creation. The most interesting quirk any of these possess is that the Space Jockey’s decapitated heads explode when examined – but for no good reason that is ever explained. It’s a completely random sympathetic head explosion, which seems to happen because the plot requires X number of shocks per ten minutes.
Yet, at some point, Lindelhof sat down and must have thought these were an improvement on the original creature. I mean, what long dark night of the soul are you having when you think “a super strong zombie in a spacesuit” is more interesting than the original Giger alien? Put it this way – if I buy a ticket to a Dracula movie, I expect to see Dracula, not some random bunch of ideas saved from Bram Stoker’s waste paper basket.
So, in conclusion, there’s no clear story, no meaningful narrative arcs nor any attempts to realistically flesh out the characters. Add that to the rubbish monsters, rubbish plot, rubbish metaplot and abject lack of meaningful dialogue for anyone apart from one major character (David the robot) and two minor characters (Charlize Theron’s icy corporate exec and Idris Elba’s laid back Captain). This is a recipe for a script that someone should have rejected.
Yet the movie is currently riding at 73% on Rotten Tomatoes. Is cinema now so debased that this is a good movie? The reason I’m writing this is I think unless people challenge writing like this, we will keep getting shit like it churned out. The job of a reviewer is to challenge the quality of their work. Unless reviewers draw a line in the sand and say, “Well no, sorry Mr.Lindelhof, this was rubbish,” then writers are allowed to turn out shit and call it a job well done.
Lindelhof who wrote Lost, seems like a nice chap. I quite like some of his work (yes, I quite like Lost) but I do feel that Prometheus was absolutely dreadful. And it is the job of reviewers to tell him, and us, that this really isn’t good enough.