Howard Waldrop and Lawrence Person review Prometheus
Both: We really wanted to like this film, but the screenwriters made every character except the protagonist an idiot.
Lawrence Person: This is a prequel to Alien. It starts off in prehistory, depicting a very human-looking alien watching a saucer leave, then swallowing some icky living black goo, then dissolving into the rushing waters, where it’s replaced with animations of mutating DNA strands, presumably seeding Earth with life. Next we see scientists discover ancient pictograms in a cave that resemble those of many other ancient civilizations, each of which depict the same series of dots that match a real star system. Then we’re in the symbolically named spaceship of the title, crewed by android David while the rest of the crew remains in hypersleep. The improbably roomy interior of the ship recalls the Discovery in 2001 more than the cramped Nostromo from Alien. They get to the system, everyone wakes up, the mission to contact the mysterious Engineers is revealed, they discover an apparently artificial structure, land, and set out to explore it.
And then just about everyone undergoes a screenwriter-induced lobotomy. The next 30 minutes are taken up alternately exploring amazing, spooky alien structures that capture the H.R. Giger feel of the original, and making increasingly idiotic decisions as they interact with them. It starts with one of the main characters thinking it’s just a swell idea to take off his helmet, then goes downhill from there. Hey, let’s land and set off to explore without checking on local weather conditions! Hey, let’s just let the android press alien buttons activating things! Hey, let me scoop up some of this black goo! Hey, let me open the pod bay door without checking what’s on the other side!
Hey, let’s let stupid plot choices ruin a movie that had everything else going for it!
Howard Waldrop: Doug Potter says I only react to movies in terms of other movies. My first thought on this: Prometheus is a Quatermassian take on the concerns of 2001.
It tries to answer Gauguin’s old question: Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going?
LP: At the heart of the movie lies a question of truly existential dread: Why does our Creator hate us? It’s never answered.
HW: It’s pretty. Big and noisy. It is a prequel to Alien, which the filmmakers were being coy about in the hype leading up to its release. It leaves it open for a Prometheus II, etc.
LP: To talk about why the movie fails, we’re going to have to discuss some pretty honking big plot spoilers. You might want to check out now of you still want to see it despite our warnings.
HW: Let’s talk about its problems: Diegetical (stuff that happens within the narrative of the movie) and exegetical (stuff that happens outside the movie narrative.)
There’s nothing in Prometheus you haven’t seen before. (It’s usually done better but on a smaller scale.)
The template is Alien. The Weyland Corporation is there, there’s the nefarious/mysterious robot (moviemakers: time to end the Pinocchio analogies; they’re becoming cliché), who has a fixation on Lawrence of Arabia the movie, and dresses like O’Toole in the early scenes of that movie, a Company Person. This goes nowhere and doesn’t resonate. T. E. Lawrence found himself and who he was in the Arab Revolt; here it’s just character-dressing. In Prometheus they’re on a mission of a personal kind. The late head of the company has sent them to find the source of our origins.
Diegetical problem: we don’t know who the Ripley (the main protagonist) is. Because of that, what would otherwise be a bravura set-piece in another movie, falls somewhat flat.
LP: We’re in spoiler mode, so I can tell you that set-piece (our protagonist is a female scientist who, due to the inexplicable actions of other characters, has Something growing inside her, and it isn’t a tapeworm) has to rank among the more viscerally disturbing and horrifying scenes ever committed to film; it earns its R ranking there alone. In fact, the horror scenes themselves are generally well done, but not well done enough to make up for the stupidity it took to get to them.
HW: We don’t know if they’re Ripley or Yaphet Koto. The clues are only exegetical, their name comes first in the credits. In Alien we didn’t know whom to root for: when it turned out to be Ripley we were surprised and pleased. Here, we’re neither. All we know is they’re part of the ensemble, and the characters so far have been so bland we don’t care. (This is supposed to be a scary movie: the audience is rooting for the scares.)
LP: I figured out she was the protagonist, mainly because she’s the only one who doesn’t do something ridiculously stupid.
HW: An exegetical problem (caused by filmmaking itself, not just this script): The movie is set in 2094. The technology is more advanced than the technology in Alien (1979), which comes later, chronologically. This is because visual technology has advanced in the intervening years (Yeah, I know the Nostromo was a beat-up outdated freighter, but even the leftover technology is nowhere near that of Prometheus.) A more careful guy would have matched them up better, but that wouldn’t have looked good to today’s viewers who pay the bucks, so it wasn’t done.
Diegetical: You have an interstellar ship, with ion drive for the long hauls, that can land on a planet like a Harrier jet with rotating engines. This is dumb-ass thinking; I assume they didn’t want a bunch of shuttle-craft. There’s a scene where someone outside tries to contact the ship and can’t reach them because the captain is off snogging. (This isn’t Rocky Jones; someone would be on watch.)
There’s a scene where some crewmember’s suits are invaded by something nasty. This has none of the impact of Spoor and Beckett’s suits filling up with shit from Brazil, which is the image you’re trying to top. If you can’t, don’t try.
We are told the race of giant aliens who created us (our DNA is just like theirs!), then set out to destroy us. A crewmember asks why? In this movie, I didn’t care and she couldn’t make me.
LP: That question drives the movie, but is never answered. I can’t help thinking almost all the elements in this movie (the star seed beginning, the alien star chart, the not-quite-dead gods, and even the xenomorphs) could have been combined into a much more compelling, terrifying whole in a movie with a decent script. I’m even down with the whole Von Danikenian setup, which was pretty scary back when you could get perfectly rational people to believe that crap. It almost touches on the cosmic dread of H.P. Lovecraft’s best work. We’re not just a cosmic accident, we’re something so horrific our own creators feel compelled to wipe us out.
But we’ll never get that movie, because we’ve got this one instead.
The closest explanation we have is the ship captain (Idris Elba, good as always) speculating that this planet is a weapons of mass destruction research installation, because the Engineers were too smart to do it on their own world, and some of their research got lose and ate them. That’s as good a guess as we’re given for the entire film. The problem is: Why would you point your seed-races to your WMD factory rather than a homeworld or diplomatic outpost? Just so you can wipe out their worlds with bomb holds full of alien-maker goo just for a laugh? “Man, I can’t wait to see the faces on those hicks when they show up here in about 30,000 years!” Galactus as cosmic joke.
Another problem: the icky black goo the progenitor Engineer seeds our planet with looks remarkably like the icky black goo that leads to the xenomorphs. But we don’t seem to share any DNA with the acid-blood-based xenomorphs. So why the similarity?
(At this point I should probably point out that I checked out of the Alien franchise after Alien3. So if any of this was explained in Alien: Resurrection or one of the Predator crossover movies, well, sorry.)
And still another problem: Even if you limit it to the xenomorphic side of things, the icky black goo (even more so than the icky black fluid in District 9) does too many things: It spawns the original face-hugger (which begets the chest-burster), it infects you if ingested, allowing you to (spoiler!) infect others through transmissions of certain bodily fluids. It also creates human-hunting rage zombies (no explanation given). And it allows creation of a weird, evil-looking pentagonally symmetrically radiant form, which looks an awful lot like Ozymandias’ constructed monster at the end of Watchman (the comic, dropped from the movie), which then seems to be able to (spoiler!) produce xenomorphs directly by infecting an Engineer, no face-hugger or chest-burster needed. And grow as big as a grizzly bear without a visible food source.
HW: For a Ridley Scott movie, some of the editing, especially in the middle, is confusing: you can’t tell where people are in relation to each other, a fault it shares with Cowboys and Aliens. I was genuinely surprised to be cut adrift by the screen and be on my own. I mean, this guy has made movies before.
LP: The directing is not the problem. Neither is the acting (though Logan Marshall-Green and Sean Harris’ characters seem ill-conceived), nor the art direction, nor the special effects, all of which are first rate. Noomi Rapace is fine as our scientist protagonist. Charlize Theron is fine as the Hitchcockian ice queen commander with the Obvious Family Secret reveal. Michael Fassbender is endearingly creepy as the android with motivations programming that makes absolutely no sense.
Ridley Scott only made one mistake: He chose to film this script.
A short list of further idiocies on display (including more spoilers):
- So most of the crew members don’t even know the purpose of the space mission they signed up for that’s going to take at least four years? Weyland Corporation must have one hell of a benefits package.
- So why does the guy with the magic mapping balls not have a heads-up display so he could find his way out? We see David using a HUD, why wouldn’t the others have one when needed?
- That same guy tries to take a flamethrower with him the first time he leaves the ship, and is told it’s a scientific expedition and thus no weapons are necessary. Well then, why do they even have not only a flamethrower, but all sorts of other weapons they break out (mostly ineffectively) later?
- You have anti-gravity technology for the ship and the magic mapping balls, but not a surface transport sled?
- One staple of the Aliens universe is that androids have evil secret agendas. But there’s absolutely no reason for David to act the way he does here. I can see no circumstances under which “If you happen to find a potentially dangerous life form, try infecting crew members with it” would be included in his operating instructions. And how would it even know to look for alien life, since this mission predates the original Alien?
- Hey, I’m a member of a galaxy-spanning, near-god-like race who just woke up from a millennium of cryosleep, and there are a bunch of beings that look like me standing around me asking me questions. What should I do? The movie’s answer: Hulk smash!
- And what does he do after the smashing awakening? Immediately rev up the ship to head off and wipe out Earth. I was thinking he might want some coffee first.
- And later he’s essentially Jason from Friday the 13th, but with less intelligence and motivation.
- Hey, someone I’ve barely known for three days tells me that I’ve got to stop this ship from taking off to save Earth. Your 30 seconds of dialog have convinced me! Heroic martyrdom here I come!
There are good things in this film: There are awesome images (most of which are in the trailer), tautly-directed scenes, some truly harrowing horror, and some really Big Questions looming in the background. Which makes me all the more pissed-off that the script has its characters do things so stupid the average horror movie victims looks smart by comparison.
HW: To reiterate: This is a big noisy mess with un-engaging characters, and is nothing you haven’t seen before. It’ll only wow the rubes who haven’t seen or read much SF. The questions asked in this movie aren’t worth answering. They’re only questions this movie would ask.
21 thoughts on “Howard Waldrop and Lawrence Person review Prometheus”
This. This this this this this. I walked out of the theater foaming at the mouth and gesticulating wildly at the sheer waste of so much money, talent, and superb SFX on such a stupid movie. Also, that “should have been central” set-piece? I assure you, no one who’s had an emergency C-section that was stapled back together (no bioglue, no magic handwaving medical fix, note) would be able to stand up, much less indulge in La Shaw’s Xena-esque behavior.
Feh, and feh again.
Wow, this review is depressing. I thought the movie was great.
You guys are paid to write this? I’m really lost. Sorry the movie wasn’t the movie you had mapped out in your head. These complaints, and the manner in which this is written, are childish. Someone pointed out that a charcter taking off his helmet was an act of stupidity. In what way? We’re there any negative effects of that action? Didn’t think so. How did I get here? I was looking for real reviews, not whiny drivel written by men trying to be witty and sharp by putting down a movie that didn’t turn out the way the wanted it to when they sat down in the theatre. This is quite funny to read. I’d love a response. Seeing as how you are all so clever and funny.
Oy vey. So many lost opportunities at a good movie. Actually you guys are missing the point… Ridley Scott is pioneering a new format of storytelling: Splatterfest of Ideas (with forcible probiscus-to-mouth action). It was meant to be, fundamentally, a movie with no consistency of science, genre or motivation, only ideas that were never meant to be flushed out in any particular direction. Great idea splatter that nearly wriggled into my mouth was as follows:
1. Who didn’t love the immolation of the protagonist Holloway we thought we were supposed to like??? I would think that logically he would transform into something cooler than human and maybe show up later to save his chick. The engineers drink the black goo and seed the world with life. Instead it is better to make the actually interesting male protagonist who wants to speak to his maker just flail around until asking Vickers to kill him.
2. I actually did enjoy the surgery machine with no regards to asepsis or minimally invasive techniques available today. Makes sense, and gives a real Toy Story Saved-by-the Claw moment!
3. Why would contact with a progenitor species of the human race that she knew was more than 37,000 years old solidify Dr. Shaw’s faith in Christianity? I’ll tell you why. Who needs science when you have faith? We’re all a good alien mouth-raping away from converting anyway.
4. Also I hate near-term sci-fi that pretends that there is no popular culture in the intervening decades between 2012 and 2089. Why would an android take a fancy to a 170 year old movie that hardly anyone would watch today? There’s no good reason that he would pick Lawrence of Arabia over Rocky Horror Picture Show. At least that movie has some creator/creature interactions…
5. Why constant forcible alien mouth-raping in the future? Clearly no one is afraid of going in a dark alien infested hole with no plan on a distant planet without any redundant systems or drone technology. Gotta be afraid of something in 2089.
6. What is wrong with your music editor? I don’t like my alien mouth-raping movies scored to that Star Trek/Avatar theme. It was as if the music was constantly trying to remind us about how grand the epic was that we were witnessing or maybe missing.
I love your review, you hit exactly the points I was questioning while watching the movie. There were a few points that I felt were also important. Point # 1.) In the movie Alien vs. Predator, I believe the very last Alien movie made recently, the movie points out that the Predators were the ones who created the final black alien like beings, but in this movie, the ending shows the precursor beings to the original alien movie, was created from meshing those snake like things with the white alien-like creature, who were supposedly our ancestors. In predator vs. aliens, the predators made the alien like product as an ultimate game of prey and hunting. This movie conflicted with that. This point I felt was completely off. Also, a lot of points in this movie doesn’t make sense like point 2.) why the Humanoid, David, would try to kill the Protagonist boyfriend. Was it out of spite because the guy kept being insensitive towards him not being human? Point 3.) Also, I found it a bit bizarre that the protagonist could just leave like that on another like space ship. Why wasn’t that spaceship discovered? Why didn’t the last alien who survived had just ran off to that spaceship instead of going after the protagonist, wasting time? Wouldn’t he had known about the other ships rather than wasting time hunting the protagonist at the end. Also, you would think that after being asleep for 2000 years, and after someone revives and talks to you, being so sophisticated and having such technology, a race like that, would have more reason to talk and give out some more information to the earthlings rather than immediately pulling off David’s head. This was just terrible plot right there. And when he did, he wasn’t even surprised when David turned out to be an android like being rather than being human. These points made the movie so bad, I thought. And exactly what you guys said, I only know these guys for 3 days and in 30 seconds I’m supposed to persuade the black captain to ram his ship into the other ship? The black captain (pilot is more appropriate) made it clear he wasn’t interested in helping in the expedition and he didn’t care. So why would his character be so obliged to suicide in 30 seconds. Didn’t make sense right? And like all the rest of the movies, this movie didn’t answer the question of exactly where the aliens (the white ones with out DNA) come from? I thought it would be great for a change if at least one movie did this or at least give us more insight as to where exactly in the cosmos are there other life. It should have done this to some degree. It made the movie just like any other movie, leaving you guessing and wondering for more. So, if there isn’t a sequel to this movie, that’s it. The movie has just failed, in my opinion. The plots was terrible. Yeah, the action and suspense was great, but the movie wasn’t even scary. Most of the characters besides the Female Captain, and perhaps the protagonist were stupid. Yeah, David can just touch a few markers on the wall and boom, everything just opened up so easily. No intrigue or wondering about anything. And another point, perhaps I missed it, but how did the people in this movie, us, the earthlings, figure out that that last alien was going to go to planet earth and do us harm? Perhaps he was just upset and trying to escape? Where did they come up with the notion that the alien was going to destroy us? Also another important point, if they wanted to, wouldn’t other beings on their planet had come by this time to destroy us already? I mean it’s been 2000 years since they crashed. I love the alien movies and the idea behind this movie, but the plot was terrible and I didn’t think they conveyed their message well. It was ordinary, if you ask me. And yes, they should have picked another script.
Really boring movie. Another “Hugo”, if you will. People want to be entertained when they go see a movie–on this point alone Prometheus fails miserably.
The worst part of this movie is that the story is so stupid and riddled with plotholes that it insults your intelligence and just kills your suspension of disbelief.
Ridley Scott hasn’t made a good movie since Black Hawk Down. I think part of the problem is that he has not chosen good scripts lately. Visually, Ridley Scott is a genius but movie audiences want a story and characters they can relate to–Prometheus is such a huge disappointment in this respect. Nice visuals but no heart. Prometheus never connects with the audience at any point, and this is a real problem. Even the corny Dances with Smurfs by James Cameron was miles better than Prometheus because audiences could relate to some aspects of the story and characters.
Honestly, since 1986′s Aliens, there hasn’t been a truly great sci-fi movie. Aliens just hit all the right buttons–great characters, solid plot, great suspense and thrills, and great action. Who can forget Ripley in mum mode kicking the alien queen’s ass? It just connects instantly with audiences–there was no need for tons of meaningless semi-mysterious dialogue like in Prometheus. Everyone understands how ferocious a mum can get when defending her child, people get this instantly. There is nothing like this in Prometheus, just emotionless dialogue and characters doing stupid irrational things.
Wish that movie directors in general would study Aliens and get back to basics. Seriously folks, this is not rocket science–people just want to be entertained. If you’re going to spend hundreds of millions on a movie, (1)don’t insult the audience’s intelligence and (2)make sure the movie is entertaining. Look at Avengers 2012, not a classic by any means but entertaining and it cleaned out at the box-office.
Heck, even The Artist 2011 was way more entertaining and thought-provoking than Prometheus–and it was made on a $15 million budget in black and white! If Blade Runner 2 is going to be more drivel like Prometheus, seriously Scott–don’t bother.
The best science fiction movie in the past 3 years remains District 9–made on a small budget yet was superbly entertaining and thought-provoking. Even “Moon” by Duncan Jones (another sci-fi movie made on a small budget) kicks Prometheus’ ass bigtime.
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You guys nailed this review. I had a day off and ran out to see Prometheus on Friday afternoon. I liked it OK but was bothered by dozens of things that didn’t sense to me. I thought it was just me who couldn’t figure out the one remaining Engineer’s motivations or actions, ditto for the android. Also the effects of the black goop, the different reptilian aliens, etc. etc. All the stuff you named. Nice to know I haven’t lost all my marbles. Thanks for a great review.
Your review doesn’t begin to catalog the deficiencies in this movie. I cite the bad science – bad archaeology, bad astronomy, bad biology. (The stars are in motion; there is no “configuration” that lasts for millenia.) Then there’s the basic concept, that mankind was created or introduced by an alien species. The crewman in the beginning had it right: ignoring out 300 years of Darwin. If I can say anything about the human condition, it is that we are of this planet, not a intrusive species. Using this plot device is like making an SF movie based on the flat-earth concept. Could be done, might even be good, but it would be bad science.
You guys nailed it. Except you missed about a score of other idiocies. A movie like this is extremely annoying, when you see the resources and potential. Millions for production and an idiot script. *sigh*
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it really bothers me that this pile of junk is going to cost the franchise from moving forward.. i mean no weapons for a race/planet you know nothing about.. A scientist that trys to bet a ALIEN snake like create.. was that a JOKE? i mean what in the world was ridley thinking.. UGH
Excellent review/discussion of a ridiculous film. I have to wonder if maybe I missed something and Scott/Spaights/Lindelof were actually comic geniuses.
In one scene, Shaw bemoans the fact she can’t have children (way overused except maybe in 2090 fertility science is so good, it’s a really rare condition). Then, just a few scenes later when she finds out she’s pregnant with an “unusual” fetus, she’s “I’m pregnant?! Get it out of me! Now!!!” Understandable, but from that moment on, it was like the severed hand scene in Evil Dead 2 – non-stop dark slapstick.
Then you have the biologist who’s apparently afraid of dead alien lifeforms – how’d he get this job? – and who, when confronted with a pile of dead engineers with chests burst open, asks the geologist “The thing that killed all these guys has to be dead by now, right?” – in the very next scene, when he sees what looks like a space cobra rising from a pool of black oil, he decides the appropriate course of action would be to… try to pet the dang thing.
Honestly, all the movie had going for it was the unintentional idiotic comedy. It could’ve been good. They could’ve had the characters actually interact, face serious threats and contribute more than their deaths to the story, but they chose a script where everyone wanders aimlessly from each ridiculous shock moment to the next.
Hmmm, I suspected this film might be all show and no tell. So I will only see it if dragged along by friends. I did hear one person say that the Theron character exclaimed that “we are half a billion kms from earth.”.
I hope that’s true because that’d be someone where near Jupiter. The point that star formations would change over the millenia is well said. Might actually be fun to see the film and look for mistakes but films are quite expensive these days. (in Australia anyway)
[Spoilers] People have already listed a bunch of stupidities, but there are even more. For example: The crew wakes up from cryosleep (or whatever) basically at their destination, and many of them have not even met each other! They’re less prepared than a boy scout troop going caving for an afternoon.
When the geologist turns into a superhuman zombie and kills a bunch of people, no one even says a word about it. As in, “What was that? Shouldn’t we stop for a couple of minutes and take stock?”
Also, the opening scenes apparently show the earth being seeded with alien DNA….which then presumably spawns life….which then presumably goes through billions of years of evolution….which then ends up producing humans, with DNA identical to the original seed DNA.
And so on, and on.
The script is just appallingly dumb.
Scott himself has said that the reason the Engineers wanted to destroy humanity is because, two thousand years ago, we killed Jesus Christ.
Wondering if anyone else noticed. As the ship is first approaching the landing area, just after the comment about nature and straight lines, it appeared to me that the plain they were about to land on had the Nazca Bird on it.
Was it just my eyes, or really there adding to the Von Danikenian setup referred to by Larry?
I was getting bored with the film in many ways –lack of coherent motivations and alien technology being deciphered within minutes and the appeared of Old Man Weyland. It was here my mind turned him into Mr Burns from the Simpsons…
…and Howard, were this A Quatermassian styled plot, every detail would have made sense. Even the three hour BBC teleplay of QUATERMASS AND THE PIT seems to have no loose ends. One detail led to another and the puzzle grew larger–but it all fitted. Here, the logic fails many times.
I’m back, ’cause I can’t let this go, I am so personally offended by this movie. I think what bothers me is the clear contempt the movie makers have for the audience (see almost all comments above).
Then there are the dramatic cliches. The dust storm (detected when already well above the horizon) that forces the away team to scramble back. What perfect timing. (Yawn.) Then there are the two jerk-off team members who spazz out (“I am a geologist!”), desert the team, get lost, and discover Bad Stuff. Who runs the personnel office for this operation? I don’t recall guys like this on the Appolo 13 mission. Then there’s the rolling menace toward the end. I wanted to shout out in the theater, “Run to the side!” The heroine finally rolled sideways to save herself. But really, when a huge menace is rolling toward you, you don’t run away in the same direction.
I hope there is a sequel. I want to know why the Engineers are so savagely hostile to mankind. I suspect they saw this movie.
I came to see if I had missed something too because I had such high hopes of seeing an interesting SF film. No luck! From the unbelievable scientists whose senseless reactions help to advance the “plot” (really – Holloway is so “upset” none of the aliens are still alive that he drinks away his sorrow so that David can “infect” him with the alien DNA? That’s how a scientist discovering a new civilization would react when he’d got so excited over a cave painting back on earth?). And if the alien in the opening dies in order to seed the earth then how on earth do the myth and solar system map get transmitted across cultures and civilizations? Who told them about it? Did the aliens come back at some point? A biologist not interested in alien lifeforms? Huh? You are able to send a vessel light years into space, create an android, yet you don’t have the technology to improve health in old age? Weyland is so decrepit he cannot even care for himselfl or stand unassisted? If he’s suppoesd to be centuries old, maybe I could buy it,but really – all that science and technology and that’s the best health care can do?
Why does Shaw want to go to the home planet of the head-ripping aliens? Does she think they’ll be more inclined to converse when she lands uninvited???
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