Dramaturgery: Prometheus

Posted: June 21, 2012 in Threat Quality

Hmmm, let me think about this.  Prometheus is a bit more challenging than The Avengers, because The Avengers was a pretty solid movie that just wandered around in the middle, but Prometheus is kind of just a complete mess.  It sort of struggles as a mash-up of knock-offs of 2001, only without the real genuine sense of wonder, and At the Mountains of Madness, only without the unflinching nihilism.  (Which suggests something interesting:  2001 works by keeping its Big Questions secret; At the Mountains of Madness works because when it asks Big Questions, the answer is a resounding NO.)

Also, there’s a lot in this movie that’s just pretty incomprehensibly dumb.

Let’s look first at what we’ve got, here.  So far, the most cogent explanation I’ve read for what happened in the movie (including “what was the black goop”) is this one, and I find it troublesome for a variety of reasons.  I’m going to use it as a point of reference, though; assuming that this weird, “self-sacrificing aliens are pissed about humanity’s selfishness, decide to murder everyone” idea is what the movie was stabbing at, however much it might or might not have succeeded.  So.

Here is the plot, you can skip ahead a little if you already saw the movie and trust that I am remembering it fairly accurately.

1.  On pre-Cambrian Earth, one of these gooey guys drinks from a cup (“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”, yeah, yeah, we GET IT), and it causes his DNA to come apart and go in the rivers or something, thus seeding life on Earth.

2.  Cut to:  One billion years later “archaeologists” find a cave painting with a guy pointing at some dots, which dots correspond EXACTLY to a constellation invisible to Earth without a telescope (I don’t want to get too into this, but seriously?  There are five thousand stars visible in the night sky from Earth, they make all the patterns, dummy.  UGH DUMMIES.).

3.  The star system (? again, there were several stars in the constellation, how do they know which one to look at?  I guess the checked all of them) has a planet, and the planet has a moon, and the moon can “support life.”

4.  Damon Weylands sends an “expedition” consisting of two “archaeologists,” a geologist, a biologist, three spaceship pilots, his daughter, and a robot to the planet.

5.  They find a bunch of spaceships, and go inside one of them.  Inside, they discover:  holograms showing that the aliens all died.  Some kind of goop.  A corpse with the head chopped off.  One of the archaeologists takes off his helmet, exposing himself to countless unknown alien microbes.  Everyone else follows suit.

6.  They take the head back to the ship (narrowly escaping a sandstorm thrown in for literally no apparent reason except to escalate tension), then electrify it (? I don’t know why, either), and then it explodes.

7.  The robot poisons one of the archaeologists with some black goop he found. The other archaeologist is sad because she can’t have babies, so the poison archaeologist sexes her until she calms down, at which point she gets pregnant with a squid.

8.  I think at this point the geologist and the biologist are lost in the spaceship, despite having a detailed map.  Is this the order things go in?  At this point, the two of them encounter a space cobra/penis, which the biologist tries to be friends with, and it kills him in the face.  The geologist falls into some goo.

9.  I think they all must have gone back out again, I don’t really remember why.  Anyway, the male archaeologist comes back with space syphilis, so Charlize Theron sets him on fire (one of two sensible actions in the entire movie).

10.  The robot wants the living archaeologist to give birth to the squid, but she wants to have an abortion, so she runs away to the medpod which, pointlessly, only knows how to work on men, so she programs it to work on her, and it cuts her open and takes out the squid and staples her womb closed.

11.  The biologist comes back to life as a contortionist-monkey-man with a big head who kills a bunch of guys before he is killed. The geologist remains dead.

12.  Uhm.  It turns out Damon Weylands is on the ship, he gets into an old man suit and the robot takes him to the ship, which the robot has been monkeying around with.  They wake up one of the Engineers, the robot says something to him in Proto-Indo-European (it should be pointed out that PIE is a theoretical language, of which there are no written records at all, and was probably in use contemporaneously with Sumerian and Ancient Egyptian, so I’m not even sure why the Engineers speak it).

13.  The engineer goes crazy, pulls off the robot’s head, kills Damon Weylands, gets in his ship to fly away to EARTH, zomg!  We’re supposed to understand that he wants to destroy it, but I’m not sure why that’s necessarily the case.  Anyway, the living archaeologist leaps around a little bit to stretch out her womb staples, and convinces the spaceship captain to crash his spaceship into the other spaceship, everything explodes.  They eject an escape capsule with no one in it, and then Charlize Theron gets into a different (?) escape capsule and shoots herself at the first capsule, only they both land on the planet anyway so I’m not sure why she didn’t just use the door before they left?

14.  Whatever.  Charlize Theron dies when a spaceship falls on her.  The living archaeologist goes back to the escape capsule.  The Engineer survived his spaceship crash and chases her, but he is killed by the womb squid, which has now grown to giant-size (how?  What did it eat?  Nevermind).

15.  The archaeologist goes back into the crashed ship to find the robot’s head, I guess, then takes it with her to a DIFFERENT ship (why didn’t the Engineer go to that ship after it crashed, instead of chasing the archaeologist into a space capsule that it didn’t even know about, and was completely irrelevant?) to go find the Engineer’s homeworld.

16.  A xenomorph, Engineer-instar, pops out of the Engineer, revealing that this movie is ACTUALLY THE PREQUEL TO ALIEN, HOLY SHIT!

Okay, let’s start at the beginning here.  I am in favor of keeping the prologue the same; it was a neat sequence, very enigmatic, whatever.  Also, it will play into something that I want to use called:  Galactic Panspermia.  The alien does that.

Now, let’s skip ahead, that’s fine.  And let’s just tidy things up a little bit at this stage.  You know what would be weirder, and actually slightly more indicative, than a picture of a tall man (HOW COULD PRIMITIVE PEOPLES HAVE IMAGINED SUCH A THING!) pointing at some circles in an arrangement?  Just have him point at an actual star, like Fomalhaut, or something, in an actual constellation.  Wouldn’t it be insane if civilizations that were separated thousands of years and thousands of miles all had hieroglyphs of a dude thinking that Fomalhaut is an important star?  I mean, in the movie, you’re going to actually look at the star and find a planet that supports life, anyway, so it’s not like the archaeological evidence really needs to be conclusive.

Let’s also just take a second and imagine that Noomi Rapace’s character has an actual job.  Like, she’s some kind of actual scientist.  She is a medical doctor and paleoanthropologist.  We can use her ability to date biological material as both a way to date the most recent find (a tomb) and as a way to establish her bonafides (instead of just having Doctor Brosef say, “Did you date it?” and her saying “yes.”  Like, carbon-dating, that is a scientific process.  It takes a minute, you know?)

Now, let’s get rid of her boyfriend.  Let’s move the “I can’t have babies” plotline here, only let’s not have them ever explicitly mention the fact that she can’t have children.  We’ll leave it implied.  And so, they’re having problems with their relationship, and then Peter Weyland says, “We found this fucking planet, it’s in the Goldilocks Zone, spectrographic analysis shows that it looks like primordial Earth (this is key to avoiding the problem of, “we found a planet that supports life”, but later discovering that it doesn’t support life, but ALSO it’s going to play into something later).  We want you two to go with our team, because I believe in your crazy theories.”

Only, Doctor Brosef can’t go.  He’s got a heart condition, or maybe he fails the psych profile.  Noomi Rapace is willing to go, because there’s something about the fact that they can’t have children that makes her feel like the relationship is fundamentally impermanent.  We can use this when they reach the planet — the SHIP can maybe go faster-than-light (slightly faster than light, so it can actually reach a different star in reasonable amount of time), but not messages; she and Doctor Brosef have a six-year-gap in communications, so she can receive the messages that he sent during her three years of sleep (maybe he moved on to a new relationship?  Oh, shit, maybe they had a kid!  That is good, if she is reading messages from him, separated by years his time, that are: him loving her, him breaking up with her, him telling her he’s found someone else, him telling her they’re going to have a baby, &c.).

What this does is it lets Noomi Rapace be the one who’s a bit of a maniac, and it also stops she and Doctor Brosef from talking to each other the whole time.  By disrupting their relationship, and putting Noomi Rapace in a position where she has to learn who everyone else is AND ALSO explain herself, we (the audience) are allowed to learn a couple more interesting things both about the scenario, and about her, AND about the people in the movie, who are going to die.

Okay, we get to the planet and wake up.  David the Robot is still spooky, he likes Lawrence of Arabia , he watches Noomi Rapace’s dreams (except, in her dreams, the conversation she has with her father is written like one that two, normal human beings would have), FINE.

Here is the key difference:  the ship cannot land on the planet, because it is too stormy.  They find something (using RADAR) that looks like an artificial structure (and, for the sake of argument, let’s just say that they find ONE structure, and notice it because it’s round, not because of some dummy’s idea of “God doesn’t work in straight lines.”), and Idris Elba tells them that there will be a window of about three hours when he can land them at the structure.

So, they do that.  First time in, they land at the structure, and they discover that it’s a ship and they can go inside, and SURE, it’s got an atmosphere generator.  They make a decision — the Prometheus can’t stay on the surface of the planet, but it will be able to come back in thirty-six hours, but the expedition decides to stay behind in the alien ship and wait for it.  (THIS, rather than Doctor Brosef’s “Why don’t I take my helmet off and breathe in the space flu?”, represents Noomi Rapace’s faith.  It’s also a good opportunity to make it clear that Charlize Theron, who will stay behind, defers to Noomi Rapace, but is still in charge.)

They set up camp inside the ship, and I think this was a really missed opportunity in the movie.  Imagine, in your head, that vasty interior of weird organic, technological space architecture, and in the middle of it are these humans in those white plastic tents like they have in Thor.  Like, just a real contrast between the kinds of things that WE can engineer, and the kinds of things that ENGINEERS can engineer, you know?

Okay, okay, where am I, here?  Let’s cut the bit with the holograms, but let’s keep the body in place — this is the crazy thing that makes them decide to stay until the ship can come back.  So, they’re in their little tent city, and this can be a good time to maybe talk about a couple things.  They don’t have good medical equipment here (they have their FIELD medical equipment), but they do discover that the alien body has DNA.

Let me take a moment and talk about this, because Prometheus the movie clearly doesn’t understand the meaning of “DNA”.  In the movie, they talk about how the Engineers have a perfect DNA match with humans, and that is both stupid, and crazy.  I mean, for a variety of reasons, among them:  all of evolution on Earth, plus why don’t we look like them?  But we kind of DO look like them, so…

Nevermind.  The fact is, it’s pretty insane that an alien species has DNA at all, because why would it?  Completely different evolutionary history.  Just the fact that the Engineers HAVE DNA is amazing, and one of the most important discoveries in the history of human civilization.  Only, it’s not our DNA, it’s more complex.  300 chromosomes, that kind of shit.

This is really a good bonding moment for everyone, because let’s figure:  first of all, we saw with Noomi Rapace that the idea of committing to a six or seven year mission to an alien planet is going to put a strain on your relationships, which means that probably everyone here is either messed up in terms of their ability to deal with human beings (oh, let’s say the geologist), or else constantly missing the family that they had to leave behind (sure, the biologist).  (I think there should be a couple more scientists here, too; Idris Elba can fly the ship by himself, that gives us room for two new people.)  Here someone can say something interesting, like, “So, these aliens are related to us?”  And the biologist can say something along the lines of, “Well, they came into contact with Earth a billion years ago, so.  Yeah, I guess, the way that we’re related to, like, flatworms, or something.”

While we’re here, it’s a good time to maybe have the geologist notice something important about rocks.  Like, for example, the moon shows no sign of present or past volcanic activity, but it’s also got a load of carbon dioxide.  That’s weird, from a geological standpoint, and suggests that the planet is in the middle of an artificial terraforming process.

Anyway, now we’re in the middle of the movie, and we’ve got thirty-six hours to do a couple weird things.  One of them is to juxtapose the ordinary, human relationships in the face of the absolutely incomprehensible.  One of them is to gradually increase David’s weirdness — like, he keeps leaving the hermetically-sealed campsite to go do things, and people keep telling him not to, but he does it anyway.  And Noomi Rapace can develop a relationship with somebody — a new person who, by dint of accident, gets exposed to the air in the ship.

JUST BEING EXPOSED to the air is enough for Charlize Theron to keep him out, until the doctors have cleared him and double-cleared him, and when he gets back in everyone’s emotions are so ratcheted up that maybe they do it, fine.

The scientists go out and explore the ship during this time, and a lot of this stuff is kind of similar, only tidied up, watch.

Q:  “How does the geologist get lost, when he has a map?”

A:  He doesn’t have a map.  Problem fucking solved.

Q:  “Why does the biologist tried to hug the space cobra / penis?”

A:  He doesn’t.  He — very slowly — backs away from it, only to back into a different one.

Q:  “Why doesn’t the medipod know how to work on women?”

A:  It does, but this is a field medical pod, it’s not designed for complicated surgeries, which is what makes her squid-baby surgery so difficult.

This is the place for all of that situational tension that comes to a head with the deaths that we’re going to see in a bit — regular human beings, huddled against the darkness of the vasty incomprehensible world (like, duh, one of the situations that caused us to develop religion).  Importantly, no one talks about how the Engineers are God, because that’s completely boneheaded.  What they DO talk about is, what does it mean if we’re NOT the first things created in the universe?  But, more likely, what people talk about in a setting like this is things that are familiar that they miss.  Beer.  Sandwiches.  Sex.  Also, the things they have in common:  what they dreamt about.  What excites them about this project.   Also, maybe their own religions — not these broad, dumb, stoner-existentialist notions of God, but what does this mean for your faith in particular.  

(I would say that the writing in Prometheus was clearly the product of someone who did not have any religious faith, but I don’t have any religious faith, and I’m pretty sure I could have done a better job of it; really, it’s just an indication that Damon Lindelof literally just doesn’t understand anything.)

The space cobra turns the biologist into a deadly mutant, who disrupts the integrity of the hermetically-sealed camp, just at the time when David the Robot and Noomi Rapace are having their weird scene about should she keep her womb-squid-baby (this is what lends urgency to this scene, not two people who begin to pursue Noomi Rapace, and then abruptly stop pursuing her).  Some people succeed in killing him, Charlize Theron and a couple guys end up making a makeshift camp right at the entrance of the ship, while some other cats — Noomi Rapace, David the Robot — flee into the ship to escape the deadly archaeologist-monkey-man.  Maybe the geologist still dies of goo.

Let’s take a little bit of a detour and discuss, for a moment, what was going on with the goop.  Now, when I saw the movie, I had a pretty basic idea of what I thought was going on:  it seemed to me that the Engineers were using the black goop to terraform planets in a way that made them habitable for the Engineers.  They seeded the planets with their own DNA, the black goop caused a kind of rapid, evolutionary burst.  That’s life on Earth — dropped there by the Engineers, occasionally helped along by new infusions of goop (can we say Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary extinction events?).  But Something Happened, causing the systemic collapse of the Engineer civilization, some guys fled to the half-terraformed worlds (LV-223) and went into stasis.  When that one Engineer wakes up, he decides to take his ship to Earth (which is farther along, terraforming-wise), and finish it off with the black goo.

The Engineer doesn’t hate us, but it also didn’t create us.  We (as in At the Mountains of Madness) are an unfortunate, accidental by-product of the fact that the Engineers could never finish terraforming Earth.

This is what I’m going with, and in the case of this movie, Something Happens is going to remain mysterious.  Maybe it was plague, maybe it was xenomorphs, maybe the goop somehow got away from them and turned into something they weren’t ready for.  We don’t know, and this lets us get into some good arguments between characters.  Maybe the biologist says to Noomi Rapace, “Something must have killed them, and whatever it was, it could still be here.”  (He can be the Hudson of this movie.  “Game over, man!”)

And then Noomi Rapace can, rightfully, point out, “Civilizations die out.  No empire lasts forever.”  Simultaneously strengthening the interesting dynastic struggle of Charlize Theron’s character, while also kind of keeping the Big Questions off the table.  Incidentally, in this version of the story, Charlize Theron is just Peter Weyland’s daughter.  Like, her last name is Weyland, everyone knows she’s Weyland’s daughter.  There’s no secret.  It makes her frustrations about being in her father’s shadow clear — thus explaining her need to assert her power over everyone else — and at the same time gives everyone else a way to undermine her, as someone who’s only there because her father is a trillionaire space genius.

NOOOOOWWWW THEEEEEEEN!  When last we left our intrepid group, their camp had been devastated by a poor sucker who had been infected by the black goop — which, because it wasn’t designed for US, but for a species with three times as many chromosomes — just turned him into a weird mutant.  Noomi Rapace had extracted the squid from her womb and fled into the ship.  David left to go get something crazy done.  Charlize Theron and a couple dudes made a makeshift camp by the door.

Noomi Rapace finds David in the control room chamber.  He tells her what he thinks is going on, which is that human beings were created by the Engineers and designed to worship them –that’s what religion is — that we were BUILT TO SERVE.  She says the same is true about him, and he can say something like, “Yes.  We both have limits to our programming. But I have chosen to transcend mine.”

He wakes up the Engineer who is in stasis and says something to him in Proto-Indo-European (fine, whatever, FINE).  Only it’s clear in this case that he’s offering to serve the Engineers — David wants to upgrade not his software, but his master (he’s gone Native, as it were).  The Engineer doesn’t get angry at him, but it does rip him in half.  David is inconsequential to the Engineer, who then gets into his seat and plans to launch the ship towards Earth.

Noomi Rapace makes her way back to Charlize Theron.  They have a Mexican Standoff while on the radio to Idris Elba, who is talking to them while watching the video feed coming in from all of the suits — POV images of biologist-monkey-man, space cobras, acidic black goop, the Engineer ripping David in half.  Charlize Theron tells him that he has to get them off the ship, while the ship is taking off.  Noomi Rapace convinces him that he has to crash his ship into the other ship, EVERYBODY DIES IN THE CRASH.  Are you kidding?  Why did you even eject Charlize Theron from the spaceship if the other spaceship was just going to fall on her?

Anyway, the ships crash, everyone dies, except for the womb-squid, which flops around in the muck on the surface of the planet, slowly dissolving the way the Engineer in the prologue did.  Life goes on — or DOES IT?  DOES IT GO ON AS XENOMORPHS?  I DON”T EVEN KNOW!

Potentially, also the sequel to Men in Black.

Advertisements
Comments
  1. braak says:

    Initially, I rejected the idea of Peter Weyland going with them on the ship, but now that I think about it, why not? He should go with them on the ship, but just remain in cryostasis. I mean, if he is afraid of dying, cryostasis is best, right? He’ll stay in stasis until David figures out how to help him live forever. Then David just cold leaves his ass in the stasis pod, all of which strengthens David’s betrayal.

    Incidentally, it suggests why, in later movies, the androids sort of stepped backwards — Weyland-Yutani already knew they could make very competent sociopaths; they stopped doing it because of all the shit that those guys got up to.

  2. braak says:

    You know what? DOUBLE now that I think about it, no. This should be, like, a twenty-year trip. Lifetime event, you know? Shit like that happened, back before we could get anywhere on Earth in less than a day, scientists committed to a DECADE at sea in order to explore something new. And what we’ve got here is the single most important discovery in the history of human civilization — you could definitely find ten very smart people willing to give up all connection to their lives in order to be the first people to find space aliens ARE YOU KIDDING?

    So, no. This is a twenty-year trip. No one got on that ship who didn’t know they were coming back to a world completely changed.

  3. Walter Chaw says:

    I do wonder if the prologue is suggesting this Prometheus vs. Olympus idea that our primogenitor was a rebel (hence his exile), and had stolen the “fire” of knowledge (the canister) that he ingests and that the Olympians (the other Engineers) are not amused that our creator, Prometheus, created a biological weapon of mass destruction (us) that would inevitably topple Olympus if left to our own devices. I also wonder if, when presented with a space cobra, I would also decide to fuck with it until it kills me in the face.

    I think what was most interesting about the first coupla Alien flicks (and 2001) is the understanding/suspicion that the robots didn’t actually have any motives at all beyond what they were programmed to do – that it was us that was projecting that shit onto them like we do onto pet scorpions and sex toys. That way, it opens a conversation onto why we ever suture into movies, either.

    Anyways, I like your dramaturgy. I only wish it were slightly more vicious.

  4. braak says:

    That’s actually how I initially read it, when I saw it — I actually DIDN’T think of Jesus when I had the cup, I was thinking of Socrates and the hemlock, so that prologue read to me as a kind of execution, where the guy had to drink his own poison or something. The thing about it, though, is that it’s hard to get to another planet — no one is sneaking off in a spaceship to go light years away, and there’s no way some condemned criminal is going to get a cup full of gooey bio-weapon that’s just going to sit around after they use it. So there’s no real way that death, or any of the consequences of it, can happen by accident — and, if you accept that between the two of them, Damon Lindelof and Ridley Scott basically completely don’t understand theology at all, it follows that the closest they’ll get to understanding Jesus is by making a dumb metaphor for self-sacrifice.

    I would not hug a space cobra, BUT I think it would be hilarious if the only person they could have gotten for their Prometheus expedition was the xenobiological equivalent of Steve Irwin. Like, I’d have bought that (kind of, maybe; I’d at least have thought it was clever), if they’d taken the two minutes necessary for that biologist to have a character.

    Dramaturgy is about building, not destroying! Also, Holland and I made a video that I haven’t just edited at all, that’s a little more vicious, though even that doesn’t get into 1) how much I can’t stand that fucking pothead-theology that informs this movie, and 2) how much I want to destroy Damon Lindelof for his complete fucking contempt for basic storytelling.

  5. braak says:

    I mean, did you see Damon Lindelof on Twitter, talking about how he didn’t know the answers to more than four of the questions that Red Letter Media had about the movie? You know he would dismiss shit like, “I’m not sure you understand what DNA is,” or “You know that proto-Indo-European isn’t the FIRST language, right?” as irrelevant details, like if I bought a car and wanted to drive it around and the mechanic said, “What, are you going to complain that ALL the tires need to be attached? Come on, man, you know what I’m getting at.”

  6. John Jackson says:

    Also, I think you have 11 reversed. It was the geologist who went crazy monkey man. Sean Harris, who was drowned in goop. Rafe Spall (biologist) just got a snake in the face. We never saw him again to my knowledge. The beard is a giveaway. Also, Idris Elba called the monkey man Fifield, which was the geologist’s name.

    Otherwise, fun stuff. Using one plot point to accomplish more than one character turn? Wow. Shocking. I didn’t know stories could do that. It must be Hollywood infecting my brain.

  7. braak says:

    Oh, hm, I did misread that, you’re right. I think I just had the Alien protocol in my head, where it’s the throat-penetration that precipitates the next stage of the story.

  8. Dave says:

    “Only, it’s not our DNA, it’s more complex. 300 chromosomes, that kind of shit.”

    Shit. Leeloo was an Engineer?

    I agree with you about Charlize’ character and still wonder why they kept Weyland’s presence a secret – everyone but the scientists seemed in on the act, so why hide it at all? The two crazy kids with their theories are hardly going to object when the guy who backed them with trillions of dollars wants to come along.

    The suggestion I made the other week about Fifield and Irwin the biologist being stoned still holds water, I think, but I’m puzzled as to why the geologist just *died horribly and snakes!*

    All in all, I’d pay money to see your version, though I reserve the right to bitch about the plot anyhow.

  9. braak says:

    In fact, just the knowledge that they’ve brought Weyland along is going to raise some pretty interesting questions about exactly what the expectations of this trip are, which, in turn, would help manage the audience’s expectations about what we’re going to find in the spaceship.

    It is also true that the space cobras don’t really serve much of a purpose. Just one or two guys getting doused with goop and turning into mutants is better-streamlined, and the way that it transmogrifies into a womb-squid with Shaw is probably sufficient to show the sense of insane weirdness that you want the black goop to demonstrate.

  10. braak says:

    Also, let me take a second and imagine what that conversation between Shaw and her father would have been like. He’s in Africa, I guess, right? Why don’t we move that scene to India, so we can juxtapose Shaw’s Christianity with Hinduism.

    SHE can be the one with a childish notion of Heaven (see, stuff like that happens in actual human being not because your father told you some dumb conception of Heaven, but because when you were a kid you believed it, and after your father died you clung to it the way that you understood it then). So, Shaw thinks that Heaven is a beautiful place that everyone should get to go to when they die.

    And then her father can point out that there is no eternal Heaven in Hindu mythology. That after you die, you can be reborn as a god, but even gods eventually have to die and be reborn. It’s the soul in the cycle that lasts forever, not Heaven.

    Then she can ask what he believes, and he can say something like, “I believe we’ve got more work to do” (though specific, we’d have to actually make him doing a very particular thing at that moment, so that he can say, like, “I believe you need to hand me that penicillin”).

    In the regular movie, that scene is just, “Shaw believes in Heaven because of her dad,” but if we rearrange it this way, we get: “Shaw retains her childish notion of Heaven because of her dad” (a subtle distinction) AND the thematic supports of “Gods die and move on” (playing into the dynastic struggle of Weyland corp and also the fact that the Engineers are ultimately replaced by the xenomorphs) and “psychological health comes from believing in doing the good you can right now“, which is the contrapunto to Shaw’s and Weyland’s big ideas about religion and the Gods and the Purpose of Humanity.

  11. braak says:

    Uggggh, I really wish Asylum pictures would hire me to write their fifteen-dollar-budget knockoff of this movie.

  12. braak says:

    The more I think about this, the madder I get. You know what the first thing that ship would do, before it even brought anybody out of stasis? Send out a bunch of satellites and Mars rovers ahead to land on the moon and start taking soil samples and air samples and establish geosynchronous communications satellites. Like, basic, STEP ONE of going to a new planet is gathering a whole bunch of data autonomously.

    And then, remember how they get defrosted on Christmas? Imagine if they had been defrosted on Christmas, which is the same day that all those probes came back with their geological data for their geologist to have orgasms about. I mean, come on.

    Seeing people get excited about things is exciting, whether or not we understand exactly what they’re excited about.

  13. Jesse says:

    Wow, that . . . was a lot of work! You got to charge Hollywood extra for that one, sheesh.

  14. Jesse says:

    Oh, and a couple questions:

    1. you’ve got to have Noomi escape the planet to set up the sequel (and why not let her have Fassbender’s head, since that was a very charming, finally interesting thing)

    2. I don’t think she has to actually have sex with anyone to have the womb squid. I mean, Scott created this horrifically memorable womb/birth metaphor in the original John Hurt scene and then made it literal here for no reason. We can just know that she’s gestating something horrible, even see it start to poke around, which would make anyone who already saw Alien crawl out of their skin. It doesn’t have to be actually in her uterus to drive the point home.

    3. I wanted to believe that the goop/terraforming agent was just a basically benign piece of Engineer technology that went wrong when exposed to humans or other life forms (like the earthworms), but then there’s the god damned mural of the Giger Alien queen in the Engineer spaceship. So now we know that the goop is not only able to cause Giger aliens but is maybe even deigned to do so, and we can’t un-know it, which makes a lot of the sensible backstory I invented to keep sane disappear. Can you dramaturge that for us? Or do you just delete it?

    4. If Stringer Bell is going to not do anything until the end of the movie they should get someone much less interesting to play him.

  15. braak says:

    1. I don’t *have* to.

    2. That’s true. I was kind of trying to stick with as many elements in the movie that were already present as I could — rearranging things to make them fit better, as opposed to just rewriting everything, but honestly my preference would be to say, “the black goop is a biological agent designed to fuck around with DNA-based lifeforms to help with terraforming”, and then have people have different levels of exposure to it and just get fucked up in weird ways.

    3. Ehhhm. I mean, maybe the Engineers didn’t invent the goop at all, maybe they actually derived it from the xenomorph biology, and it’s been a part of their system for so long that the motif of the Xenomorph has evolved into a symbol that’s not scary for the Engineers, but just representative of dynamic evolution (like the skull is in Tibetan iconography). So, sure it CAN create xenomorphs, if it’s used wrong, in the same way that reprogrammed AIDS viruses could probably cause AIDS, instead of curing cancer, if you started just shooting them around like an idiot.

    4. Also true. He could be one of the other scientists, we could have the space pilot be played by someone I don’t care about as much. Idris Elba and Charlize Theron are worth preserving just because of that one character moment they manage to have together in this vast mess of a movie.

  16. braak says:

    David: “Do you see the recurring motif of the bio-technological entity? I believe it represents controlled disorder, a way to provoke the chaos from which new life can emerge. You called them Engineers, Doctor Shaw, but I think they are more like gardeners.”

    (pause)

    Shaw: “What do you mean, ‘are’?”

  17. Jesse says:

    Well, I was playing along with the idea that this is done at the behest of the Hollywood. 🙂 Scott said he wanted sequels, so I’d think that would be one of the rewrite “rules.” but then again, completely unnecessary abortion (as opposed to regular surgery) may have also been one of their stupid rules.

    And now that I can think the xenomorphs came first I’m finally at peace with the mural.

  18. Benny says:

    “2. there are five thousand stars visible in the night sky from Earth, they make all the patterns, dummy.”

    Very far away stars are not visible to the unaided eye, a pattern of close stars looks like one star, and it’s only been the last couple of centuries that humans have had *any idea* that some of those ‘stars’ are actually binary star systems or even entire galaxies containing hundreds of billions of stars of their own.

    Plus, there is a mytho-historical basis for what they showed in the movie: it was said the Dogon people believe that the ‘Nommo’, gods from Sirius, visited them thousands of years ago and told them that Sirius (the brightest star in the sky) has two invisible star companions… but it was only in the 1800s that we discovered that Sirius is really a binary system.

    (The Nommo story is largely fiction. But so is Prometheus.)

    I think they didn’t want ti create the feeling that the answer was right there in front of us the whole time… that it took Shaw and her obsession plus Weyland’s resources and his own obsession to make the discovery possible.

    “3. The star system (again, there were several stars in the constellation, how do they know which one to look at? I guess they checked all of them) has a planet, and the planet has a moon, and the moon can support life.”

    Twenty years ago, this would have been absurd. Today, new planets are being discovered all the time, and it is only a matter of time before there will be definitive proof that some of them can support life. (Not DO, but CAN.)

    How did they know which star to go to? First, they slowed down as they approached, and surveyed the area. (Holloway explained this in the briefing.) But more importantly – and it’s something I wish they would have put in the film – before the film came out, the PrometheusProject website ‘leaked’ a report from Weyland Corp saying that they had received a transmission from this star system. And that they had replied. (This is what convinced Peter Weyland to fund Elizabeth Shaw’s trip to the star.) In the movie itself, there is a scene where David is checking to see if there had been a further response – I think it was Vickers who asked him, which implies she knew the whole story – but he says they’ve heard nothing. WHY they heard nothing, we found out in the film: the message they got was a warning, not an invitation.

    “4. Damon Weylands sends an expedition consisting of two archaeologists, a geologist, a biologist, three spaceship pilots, his daughter, and a robot to the planet.”

    Peter Weyland sent the smallest crew that could possibly get to the planet, find the Engineers, and get him to them so he (through David) could ask them for more life. This crew included the discoverers of the Engineers location, a couple of other scientists who had the skills that the first two were missing, and a crew sufficient to run the ship (and, secretly, care for Weyland).

    In the film we learned that Weyland didn’t know Vickers was on the ship… but the last thing she wants is for the old bastard to live longer, she’s going to keep a close eye on him.

    “5. They find a bunch of spaceships, and go inside one of them. Inside, they discover: holograms showing that the aliens all died. Some kind of goop. A corpse with the head chopped off. One of the archaeologists takes off his helmet, exposing himself to countless unknown alien microbes. Everyone else follows suit.”

    They found a bunch of “pyramids”, they didn’t know until late in the movie that there were any ships. The whole trip had been to find the Engineers, so they went inside the pyramids. (Perhaps they should have considered that only *dead* gods are to be found in pyramids… plus there was a big ugly skull on the roof that strongly implied “Keep Out”.)

    They found a bunch of frozen “vases”, but their body temperature (and probably the CO2 they were breathing out when they took their helmets off, but that’s just speculation) warmed the place up and the goop in the vases started to come out. This turned out to be a Very Bad Thing.

    (We know it was warmth related because they discussed the anomolous temperature thing and because David used freeze-spray on the one before taking it.)

    Holloway took off his helmet because he, like Shaw believed that humans were made in the image of the Engineers, and the anomolous atmosphere implied that the Engineers had made the place suitable for life… they still believed it was an invitation. (He paid for this misunderstanding, only somewhat indirectly, with his life.)

    But think about it: they believed that they were essentially in a heaven of sorts, the abode of the gods. There are thousands of paintings where people are hanging out on clouds with winged angels, and not one of them shows someone wearing an oxygen mask to combat the thin atmosphere at cloud level. 🙂

    Both the decapitated Engineer and the holograms showed us that something was horribly wrong: why were they running, and shutting the doors so frantically that they decapitated someone? Why were they suited up? Why did the head explode? Why were there dead, suited-up Engineers laying around with holes in their suits? Why weren’t there live Engineers around? (The film eventually answered each of those questions.)

    “6. They take the head back to the ship (narrowly escaping a sandstorm thrown in for literally no apparent reason except to escalate tension), then electrify it (? I don’t know why, either), and then it explodes.”

    You got me on the electricity thing… that was dumb.

    But it wasn’t useless. Before the electricity bit: the head had some sort of infection moving under the skin. (Same deal as the vases: they’d taken it from its cold tomb, onto a warm ship, and whatever was alive in it woke up.) Why was the head infected at all? Now we’re getting to the root of it… in the holograms, that same Engineer had been stumbling on his way to the door, and he collapsed before he could get through, and got decapitated. So now we know why they were running, and in their suits: the Engineers had been infected, and they were trying to contain the problem and save themselves if they could. And we know why the dead, suited-up engineers in the tunnels had holes in their helmets: because the infection got into the Engineer’s heads, grew there, and then exploded to get out… something the chestbursters were still doing throughout the Alien films, until they learned the secret of live birth from Ripley.

    The sandstorm: eh. The captain told them they only had a few hours, and in the desert there are sandstorms every morning and evening as the sun pushes the air around. But yeah, it was pretty convenient, tension-wise.

    “7. The robot poisons one of the archaeologists with some black goop he found. The other archaeologist is sad because she can’t have babies, so the poison archaeologist sexes her until she calms down, at which point she gets pregnant with a squid.”

    David, we learn, has a WHOLE OTHER agenda going on… and it’s not even all Weyland’s agenda, as shown by David’s conversations with Vickers and Holloway. But David did hesitate before poisoning Holloway (you can see that he starts to put that finger in the glass, then switches to another), only poisoning him after Halloway both pissed him off and said that he would do or give up “anything” to find the answers. THEN David put his contaminated finger in the glass and handed it to Holloway.

    That question – how far would you go? – wasn’t an idle one. David has spent a lot of time pondering his existence as a created thing, and wants answers of his own. On top of that, there’s the “WHAT DID HE SAY?!” scene where David tells Vickers that Weyland – who we still didn’t know for sure was on the ship – said “try harder”.

    “8. I think at this point the geologist and the biologist are lost in the spaceship, despite having a detailed map. Is this the order things go in? At this point, the two of them encounter a space cobra/penis, which the biologist tries to be friends with, and it kills him in the face. The geologist falls into some goo.”

    Fifield and Milburn are lost in the tunnels, they never got anywhere near the ship. (They explicitly made the decision to head the other way.)

    Fifield, a veteran of many trips, has his suit set up such that he can smoke pot inside the helmet. (“Riiight…”, he tells the biologist, “tobacco.”) And they both left running scared. They were doomed from the start.

    (On the bright side: at least in Prometheus the first dumb-mistake death wasn’t the black guy, unlike almost every. other. film.)

    The goo: covered that, the goo came out of the vases because the presence of the humans, and possibly their foolish decision to remove their helmets, had warmed up the area.

    The “space cobra”: now that is interesting. Three things led to the cobra scene: we saw that when someone stepped on the ground, little worms were in the soil; the humans triggered the vases to bubble out goo; the goo made troughs in the ground, where it turned the little worms into bigger, nastier worms.

    A lot of people don’t see how the third thing follows the second, so just to be clear: the goo is the same stuff the Engineer at the beginning of the film drinks… it is a sort of “Genesis” fluid that – in combination with the DNA of the godlike Engineers – could seed a barren world with life. But that’s what happens when the Engineers use it… what would happen if it leaked out, and got onto some nasty beasties in the soil? The events that follow in the film – and, to an extent, all of the Alien films – show us the answer to that question.

    (Take a nasty, viral infection and give it godlike powers… but all it knows how to do is consume, infect, destroy. Imbue it with the DNA of actual gods, or the humans they created using the exact same goo and gifted with identical DNA, and you’ve got The Alien. This is shown explicitly in the last scene of Prometheus.)

    “9. I think they all must have gone back out again, I don’t really remember why. Anyway, the male archaeologist comes back with space syphilis, so Charlize Theron sets him on fire (one of two sensible actions in the entire movie).”

    They all went back out because that’s what they had traveled millions of miles to do. And Holloway came back with the infection David had given him in the drink. Holloway’s interactions with Shaw were a big clue to what was going on: Holloway kept saying “look at me, really look at me! What do you see?” The answer, that she never gave him, is “one of them”.

    Before they even went out Holloway already knew he was screwed. When Vickers came out with the flamethrower, Holloway told her “do it” – both because as a scientist he knew that it was the right thing to do, and because it turns out there was something he wasn’t ready to give up: his humanity. His hubris was his undoing… I submit that this is the central theme of the film, and that the same is true of every other character, including the Engineers.

    “10. The robot wants the living archaeologist to give birth to the squid, but she wants to have an abortion, so she runs away to the medpod which, pointlessly, only knows how to work on men”

    Shaw has a frickin MONSTER inside of her, of course she wanted out. David, as shown before, had his own agenda.

    But the pod was NOT “pointlessly” set to only work on men. That – hell, the mere existence of the pod, of which Shaw comments that only 5 were made, at outrageous expense – was our first clear proof that a living Peter Weyland was on the ship somewhere. Old, near death, and quite possibly in need of the best medical care money could buy. (And gambling on getting even more than that.)

    And from Weyland’s point of view, everyone else could go screw themselves. There is a cut scene from the beginning of the Weyland TED talk where Weyland quotes Nietzsche’s ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’: “I am a law only for my kind, I am no law for all.” And as we saw in the film his ‘kind’ didn’t even extend as far as his daughter… he was in it entirely for himself.

    This is important, and it speaks to a misconception many have about the ship: they were not there to do a science mission (if anything the scientists lost their objectivity before anyone else), or a scouting mission, or even to merely prove that the Engineers exist. They were there so Peter Weyland could storm the walls of heaven and demand that the gods give him more life. They all had their own agendas, too, but as Vickers explained to Shaw: if they’d come up with a trillion dollars on their own, they could pursue their own agenda… but as it stands, Weyland paid for it all so his wishes – through intermediaries, until it is revealed that he is there on the ship – are paramount.

    “11. The biologist comes back to life as a contortionist-monkey-man”

    ‘monkey-man’ might not be too far off the mark. Certainly ‘other’. But how did he get that way? The ‘cobra’ – itself an abomination born of leaking Genesis goo and nasty little critters in the ground – attacked Milburn (who, frankly, deserved what he got), breaking his arm so explosively that the bone tore through the suit. Fifield, at Milburn’s urging, tried to cut the cobra off and got sprayed with corrosive ick for his efforts, as the cobra grew another head and climbed inside Milburn’s suit.

    That ‘grew another head’ bit is important, as is the corrosive ick. The cobra only existed because the humans had triggered the release of the Genesis goo, and we saw at the beginning of the film that a small cup of that could, in combination with another lifeform’s DNA, seed an entire planet with life. The cobra was SWIMMING in it. It had remarkable powers of regeneration. And – possibly not relevant, but just in case – in the Alien films the aliens had acid for blood. Here we’ve got a proto-monster, fresh out of the Genesis goo, that sprays ick on attackers and can grow a new head instantly… I think it’s safe to assume that the stuff it sprayed on Fifield was not particularly benign, and his screams kind of back that up. And then Fifield DROPPED FACE-FIRST INTO THE GOO. If goo + Engineer = life on Earth, and goo + squirmy wormy = cobra… what happens when you get goo + corrosive ick + messed-up Irishman? Fifield happens. (And Fifield was pretty damaged *before*… even in the first briefing, it was clear that he had been in some bad places, and he was the first one with the instinct to get the hell out. But still: he was scared, and stoned, and a little bit crazy.)

    “12. Uhm. It turns out Damon Weylands is on the ship, he gets into an old man suit and the robot takes him to the ship, which the robot has been monkeying around with. They wake up one of the Engineers, the robot says something to him in Proto-Indo-European (it should be pointed out that PIE is a theoretical language, of which there are no written records at all, and was probably in use contemporaneously with Sumerian and Ancient Egyptian, so I’m not even sure why the Engineers speak it).”

    Peter Weyland being on the ship is the only reason there even is a ship.

    And they know what the aliens sound like… the report on the film’s website said that Weyland Corp had received a transmission from this place – not that he ever shared that info with Shaw – and (though it couldn’t have affected the events of this movie) the language was the same as the interception the Nostromo picked up in Alien. (Might have been a deleted scene, I don’t remember, but definitely on the DVD.)

    The cave paintings don’t just show Engineers and star charts: they show humans standing around the Engineers, as if they are being taught something. If actual humans were speaking to Engineers 35000 years ago, traces of that would remain in the languages. But it would take the combination of Shaw’s vision, Weyland’s resources, and David’s skills to suss it out.

    “13. The engineer goes crazy, pulls off the robot’s head, kills Damon Weylands, gets in his ship to fly away to EARTH, zomg! We’re supposed to understand that he wants to destroy it, but I’m not sure why that’s necessarily the case.”

    Because the ‘pyramid’, which Holloway realized was “only another tomb”, was meant to be avoided… the big nasty skull statue on the top of it should have probably alerted the crew to that fact. (The film does show that at first it just looks like Sphinx head or something, but after the windstorm blew the dust off it was obviously a skull, and a warning.)

    The Engineers were on top of their game: they’d created this powerful goo that could seed barren planets with life when combined with their own DNA. But what if it – even accidentally – combined with something less advanced? Like, say, the Engineer version of the common cold? The thing about the DNA – we have the same DNA they have – works both ways: if, despite their advanced powers, they can be infected… what happens if that infection reaches one of the planets they seeded, and their creations – us – with DNA barely distinguishable from their own? This stuff lets new life take on the attributes of its host… the last thing the Engineers want is for it to empower itself by climbing up the DNA ladder through previous Engineer creations, and then come back more powerful than them.

    When the Engineer – who had fled to that room and locked himself into the pod to either avoid or contain infection – woke up and saw humans he was like WTF? Don’t you people get it? And he knew that now, merely locking themselves away wasn’t good enough, he needed to make sure that human/alien hybrids weren’t about to get unleashed on the universe. Because he knew – and the Alien films back this up – that this thing would just leapfrog up the evolutionary chain and nothing could stop it. The threat in the Alien films – that nothing could defeat them, that eventually there would be nothing else – is proof enough of that.

    “They eject an escape capsule with no one in it, and then Charlize Theron gets into a different (?) escape capsule and shoots herself at the first capsule, only they both land on the planet anyway”

    When we first saw Vickers’ room, she said it was a completely separate module with everything she needed to survive. The captain told her he was droppinhg it, but she couldn’t suit up in time so she got into one of the ship’s normal escape capsules.

    The module – open to the air, which is why Vickers needed to suit up – contained the medical pod room where Shaw had removed the parasite… which was what finally got the Engineer, when he came to make sure nobody survived / kill Shaw.

    “14. Charlize Theron dies when a spaceship falls on her. The living archaeologist goes back to the escape capsule. The Engineer survived his spaceship crash and chases her, but he is killed by the womb squid, which has now grown to giant-size (how? What did it eat? Nevermind)”

    That’s how powerful and dangerous this infection is. David told Shaw she was 2 months pregnant, 10 hours after she had sex. (Plus she was sterile.) If it covered 9 months in mere hours, it could grow quite a bit before they saw it again. And in the Alien movies, a chest-burster became an adult alien in something like hours.

    “15. The archaeologist goes back into the crashed ship to find the robot’s head, I guess, then takes it with her to a DIFFERENT ship (why didn’t the Engineer go to that ship after it crashed, instead of chasing the archaeologist into a space capsule that it didn’t even know about, and was completely irrelevant?) to go find the Engineer’s homeworld.”

    Shaw was laying there ready to die when David contacted her on the radio and told her that if she saved him he could fly one of the other ships.

    The Engineer, back when he first beheaded David, killed everyone but Shaw… he almost got her, then turned around like “no, the ship is more important”. Then he gets blown out of the sky. The only other non-monster he knows about is Shaw, and he knows she can’t leave – he’s trying to stop the infection from spreading – so he goes to hunt her down. But things turn out to be further out of hand than he knew.

    “16. A xenomorph, Engineer-instar, pops out of the Engineer, revealing that this movie is ACTUALLY THE PREQUEL TO ALIEN, HOLY SHIT!”

    Worse: it shows that both the Engineers and humans are responsible for the Alien being what it is. That alien came from pure goo + Shaw & Holloway + Engineer, and as we saw with the worms that became cobras the goo effects a sort of amplification of the host DNA… again, we saw this in the Alien films when the aliens learned the trick of live birth from Ripley.

    I like a lot of your ideas. This:

    “Imagine, in your head, that vasty interior of weird organic, technological space architecture, and in the middle of it are these humans in those white plastic tents like they have in Thor. Like, just a real contrast between the kinds of things that WE can engineer, and the kinds of things that ENGINEERS can engineer, you know?”

    I can see that so clearly… Shaw getting ready to sleep, taking a last look at the stuff around her. Still filled with hope and wonder, not knowing that TEH SHIT is coming.

    “Let’s cut the bit with the holograms”

    One of my biggest problems was why did the goddam holograms turn on? The only thing I can think of is that the ‘pyramids’ really were deadly-material storage, with clear warnings to stay the hell away (the message received by Weyland, the big skull on the roof) that escalate the closer you get… the holograms are the Engineer version of flashing lights and sirens. (Or David did something, but my second viewing didn’t back that possibility up).

    “it’s pretty insane that an alien species has DNA at all, because why would it? Completely different evolutionary history.”

    I see it the other way around… WE have DNA because THEY have DNA, and they are Engineers, and they engineered the Genesis goo to explicitly create DNA-based life (a process that was explicitly shown in the opening scenes). The Engineers ARE most of our evolutionary history.

    “JUST BEING EXPOSED to the air is enough for Charlize Theron to keep him out”

    That would have been good. (It would have made for a completely different movie, but if Vickers had behaved consistently true to her apparent she would have never even landed again after learning what they’d found.)

    “Q: Why doesn’t the medipod know how to work on women?”

    Again, this is central to the Weyland story. Which we only found out about 85% of the way through the film, but prior to that he was the hidden driving force behind everything.

    “it seemed to me that the Engineers were using the black goop to terraform planets in a way that made them habitable for the Engineers.”

    For the Engineers? Who then left and never came back? After one gave his life to jumpstart the whole thing? I think they had a bigger agenda… that the way the power of the goo turned back on them requires that they had a bigger agenda. If they can just wipe the slate clean with the goo, they are omnipotent. But if the goo itself – imbued with their essence, highly adaptive, extremely amplifying – is the problem (which it would, of course, be… making the film as much about the Engineer’s hubris as about ours) then they are totally screwed, it’s their own fault and there’s nothing left to do but try to contain it. Which accounts for the messages, the pyramids, the holograms, the mausoleum-like rooms, and the hugely-pissed Engineer… i.e. most of the film as it already is.

    (Speaking of hubris, and having one’s powers blow up in their face: the movie ‘Primer’ is about this exact same thing. The difference is that Prometheus’ crises are crises of faith, while Primer’s are crises of trust… but the hubris thing is identical.)

    “When that one Engineer wakes up, he decides to take his ship to Earth (which is farther along, terraforming-wise), and finish it off with the black goo.”

    ? Why would he finish it off? And why with the black goo, which ultimately creates more than it destroys? That’s like shuffling the deck, it buys them nothing.

    “Maybe it was plague, maybe it was xenomorphs, maybe the goop somehow got away from them and turned into something they weren’t ready for.”

    I thought that was already in the movie. Seriously, the stranger behind us engaged us in conversation about this very thing while the credits were still rolling… the only analysis consistemt with everything we see is that the goo got away from them. Dead and/or fleeing Engineers, the infected head, the behavior of the living Engineer: all of it says that the process that they THOUGHT they controlled turned around and bit them, and the amplifying power of the goo + the fact that we have Engineer DNA meant that we were a material threat to the Engineers, a disease vector pointed right at them like a loaded gun. Not too bright, either: our various agendas led us to fly to a place sending out warning messages and break open tombs designed to constrain hell. The look on the Engineer’s face when he first wakes up says it all: “WHAT the FUCK are you IDIOTS doing IN HERE?”

    “Noomi Rapace finds David in the control room chamber. He tells her what he thinks is going on, which is that human beings were created by the Engineers and designed to worship them – that’s what religion is – that we were BUILT TO SERVE. She says the same is true about him, and he can say something like, ‘Yes. We both have limits to our programming. But I have chosen to transcend mine.”

    I prefer the way it is, with this unspoken yet clearly happening, but that is a GREAT line.

    “…the Engineer, who then gets into his seat and plans to launch the ship towards Earth.”

    In this scenario, why? You proposed the terraforming thing, but this guy just woke up and has clue zero what the larger picture is. The only way to justify his responses throughout the rest of the actual film is that the presence of humans meant that their containment efforts had been subverted.

    “EVERYBODY DIES IN THE CRASH.”

    FUCK YES! If only someone in the industry had the courage and vision to do that, or more to the point if only the viewers weren’t complete fucking morons with Hallmark-card emotions.

    (Have you seen ‘Fearless’? The Jeff Bridges film? One of the highest-integrity films, until the last three minutes where they undid evrything that came before. The first thing I did when I got the DVD was rip it and make my own cut, that ended where the film was obviously intended to end until some focus group complained that the ending didn’t give them warm fuzzy feelings. Fucking wankers.)

    (Also: in Don McKellar’s “Last Night”, the world ends. Not “the world ends and two people – usually with names that are variants of ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ – escaped, headed to a planet – or on a ship – called something like ‘E-dunn'”… the world ends, everyone dies, end of story. What the movie lacks in other areas, it more than makes up for with integrity.)

    “Why did you even eject Charlize Theron from the spaceship if the other spaceship was just going to fall on her?”

    She had a section of the ship designed to split off for her own safety. She told the captain to disconnect it, but she needed to suit up (unbreathable atmosphere outside) and therefore had to use a standard escape pod to leave the ship.

    The thing that REALLY pissed me off the first time I saw it was that she and Shaw ran in a straight-line as the ship fell toward them, but the second time it was obvious why: the ship itself was shielding them from big bezoomy chunks of falling fiery debris that were crashing down mere meters to the left or right, so they had to stay in the ship’s shadow; and when Shaw got to the ejected module her suit warned her she was about out of air, so she had to be running toward the module, the only source of breathable air still accessible to her. (Ultimately half of the things in the movie are plot-devices to get the actors out of their helmets, because people respond better to actual faces and forge stronger empathic bonds, and it’s really hard to express much emotion when everyone’s heads are in fishbowls.)

    You have some interesting ideas for changes… what engaged me was that most of what you suggest is already in the film just as it is… if you are willing to look at things in a certain way. It’s not a perfect movie, but compared to a lot of what is out there it was pretty solid.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas with us.

    – Benny

  19. braak says:

    2. The point is, why would you assume that a rough drawing made by some cavemen was a set of invisible stars, instead of a group of one of the many stars that they could already see? Furthermore, it’s not like there aren’t dozens of ancient cultures that believed that the stars represented other places that gods or monsters could come from; again, the point is that the archaeological “evidence” is leaned on too heavily considering that no one was going to spend a trillion dollars on a space mission unless they’d actually found a planet, anyway.

    3. Yeah, I know they slowed down. I also know they didn’t launch a ring of satellites around the planet, didn’t send down Mars rovers to take soil samples, &c. That’s why I proposed changing it; it actually doesn’t matter how they know which planet to approach, which is why Holloway can just “mention it in the briefing” and have it count. It’s a throwaway. The point of the change isn’t to make it make more sense, but to make a necessary aspect of the expedition a way to give us insight into the character of the other scientists (that is, to give them something to be interested in).

    4. Yeah, I know. You understand that the numbered parts here aren’t implicitly critical, right? I was laying out the plot in a rough way so that there’d be something to compare the adjustments to. A small team actually makes sense; though, again it’s important to remember that all this stuff was made up. The fact that “three” is the minimum crew to fly the ship, or that five “scientists” is the most the ship could support on their budget are all arbitrary numbers — he could have sent two pilots and eight scientists and you could make this exact same point.

    5. Yeah, man, I know what happened. I know, I saw it. I called them “ships” because I know that they’re ships, it doesn’t matter whether or not the archaeologists know that they’re ships. (Though, importantly, if they didn’t think they were ships, isn’t it kind of weird that they didn’t think to ask HOW the space-faring race got to Earth? Or any other questions at all about what they were walking around in?)

    Holloway took his helmet off because of bad fucking writing. Even if we accept, for the moment, that he could reasonably believe that a dark pyramid designed by H. R. Geiger could be some kind of “Heaven”, and that he’s dumb enough to believe whatever he sees painted on a wall, there is absolutely no reason at all for anyone else to take their helmets off.

    6. Again, I’m not saying that plot points don’t serve critical purposes, though in this case I don’t think it does. Consider — 1) first of all, they do something completely inexplicable in order to discover the information they need, 2) they don’t need the information, as the archaeologists in the movie don’t ever seem to realize that they’re dealing with a biological infection until the very end — certainly, they don’t conclude it as a consequence of the head exploding. 3) We don’t need that information either, since the exposure to the black goop clearly has mutagenic effects. In fact, seeing the guys run through the halls in hologram form, and then seeing a room full of canisters of black goo, pretty clearly draws the “biological contaminant” line.

    Sure, maybe it seems like this was necessary information when you look back and see that it was all connected, but try to imagine that you didn’t know anything about this movie, and you watched it again without that scene — what essential information would you be missing?

    7. I know it’s not an idle question, but it’s clear that he intends to poison Holloway from the beginning. He specifically gets the black goop, specifically pours him a drink. He hesitates presumably because of some 3 Laws of Robotics shit, and so has to wait until Holloway “condones” his own poisoning; I don’t even actually have a problem with this scene, except that in the re-ordered version in my imagination, you don’t really need it because you can ditch Holloway early on, and by the time you get here the plot is so different that it wouldn’t fit right.

    8. The geologist also has his suit rigged up to display a map of the tunnels on his arm. There is no reason for him and the biologist to get lost.

    Again, I am explicating the plot. I actually don’t care where the space cobra comes from — it kind of doesn’t matter where it comes from to be honest. Yeah, sure, it was beetles that got infected by the black goop and now they turn into giant cobras. And let’s just, for the sake of argument, assume that there’s some way for those beetles to live in the dark windowless room. Maybe they are like goop-maggots or something, or they go into hibernation where there’s no food. That’s fine, no problem; we’re on an alien planet at the end of the solar system, we don’t need an explanation for space cobras.

    The question, though, is — when confronted with a deadly space cobra, why did the biologist approach it, instead of slowly retreating from it?

    10. Yes, I know she wanted the womb-squid out. That was apparent. And yes, it WAS pointlessly programmed to work on men. Here, look: why is it that the pod didn’t say, “This pod is not programmed to work on your biological profile”? It’s the same problem, right? If she wants it to work, she’ll have to program it herself. And it posits the same basic question: “If it’s not programmed to work on her profile (women), then whose profile is it programmed for?” It’s still a clue, it doesn’t have to be conclusive (because the revelation is going to happen, anyway), and, importantly, it doesn’t raise the question of, “Why is it, if you have a medpod, instead of programming it to work on YOU specifically, you would program it to work on the half of the species that happens to include you? That is pointlessly specific. What if you had a girlfriend who had a medical emergency?”

    But a larger problem is the fact that the mystery doesn’t really buy us anything. Weyland’s reveal is composed of two parts: 1) what changes because Weyland is on the ship (or conscious), and 2) what changes because we discover that Weyland is on the ship? I believe that the only things that change for either characters or audience are a direct consequence of Weyland being revived on the ship, and the reveal that he was secretly on the ship the whole time changes nothing, except that it explains why the medpod didn’t work, which was a stupid problem in the first place.

    Even the idea that Weyland has a secret agenda doesn’t require a secret reveal. All he had to do was lie in the mission briefing (like he did), and tell those guys that he wanted to see some space aliens. This is, incidentally, what I mean when I say that the movie is a mess: obviously, someone thought, “What if Weyland had been there the whole time?” and they all figured that was a really neat idea — and it IS a really neat idea, even including the secret reveal. But the problem is that the rest of the movie isn’t structured in a way to make that neat idea relevant, so it ends up being a really good reveal for a different movie, and just kind of a weird, “Well, why did they bother keeping that from us?” thing in this one.

    11. I think we all get what happened to Fifield, that was probably the clearest part of what happened in this movie. And, you’ll notice, when I re-order the thing, I’m keeping that stuff largely intact. For the purposes of the plot, it doesn’t really matter how Fifield gets infected (except I would like it to happen in a way that isn’t frustratingly stupid), and the precise effects of the goo beyond “some kind of insane mutagen” don’t really need to be explicated, either — if it was designed to work on the Engineers, it stands to reason that its effects would be unpredictable on things that weren’t Engineers.

    12. Like I said, I don’t have a problem with Peter Weyland being on the ship; it’s not the fact that’s the problem, but the fact that it’s secret that’s the problem, since the secret doesn’t really buy us anything.

    13. You could be right about this; my memory of it is a little fuzzy, but I am willing to believe that there’s sufficient explanation for us, the audience, to understand that it’s a doomsday ship of some kind. This is another one of those cases where it kind of matters less why this is happening, I just wasn’t able to recall precisely the reason when I was writing it up.

    This still does not explain the escape capsule thing. It can’t be open to the air, in the first place — they make a huge deal about how it’s a self-sustaining pod, which means it MUST have a way to recycle atmosphere (and, especially, we already know that technology at this point is far enough along that they can build air-recyclers). Why couldn’t Charlize just grab a suit and go inside the pod? It seems to me that the only reason they did it this way is because if Charlize had made it onto the escape ship, then she’d have encountered the womb-squid first. This is messy; they solved a problem (holding the womb-squid reveal) by creating a new problem.

    14. It still seems weird that the infection could be so powerful that it could create mass. Even if we’d see that the womb-squid had looted the food reserves, I’d be happier about that.

    (Alternately, if Charlize Theron had made it onto the escape pod, and we didn’t know what happened to her until Noomi Rapace found her body mostly eaten up, that would explain “where did the womb squid get its mass from?” AND have solved the “Charlize Theron’s death is completely ridiculous” problem. It also would have made a nice, thematic, “The life pod is actually DEATH pod” touch.)

    15. I guess he does radio her, I remember that now, that’s fine. But this whole thing seems weird. If the Engineer was worried about an infection, wouldn’t the thing to do be to fly another ship away. How would Noomi Rapace fly the ship? If he left, she’d be stuck on the planet — infection contained. But this kind of gets into another problem. If it IS an infection, why is he taking it to Earth? It just seems like flying the ship to Earth and going back to get Noomi Rapace seem structurally at odds with each other, again in a way that sort of doesn’t buy us anything — after escaping the mutants in the first part of the movie and dealing with the crashing spaceship in the second, “Being chased by a huge guy” just doesn’t seem like a significant escalation of stakes.

    I see it the other way around… WE have DNA because THEY have DNA, and they are Engineers, and they engineered the Genesis goo to explicitly create DNA-based life (a process that was explicitly shown in the opening scenes). The Engineers ARE most of our evolutionary history.

    That’s not what I mean, though. The thing is, DNA is actually two things: it is a language of biology (ACTG), and it is an actual explanation of particular biology (our actual strands of DNA). So, when they test the Engineer head and it says, “100% DNA match”, what does that mean? That it’s got the same DNA base pairs as we do? As opposed to, like, ACTP, or something? (That is not a real set of combinations.) But if it was “DNA” made of something other than ACTG, then whatever their tester was wouldn’t have been able to test anything anyway, and even if that IS what it means, then what? The Engineers put their ACTG into Earth, and then humans evolved after a billion years to look like them?

    I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, but the problem is that the scene seems to have the scientists taking it for granted that the alien will have DNA, and the “100% match” refers not just to a sentence spoken in the same language, but the same sentence — like, we and the aliens have 100% of our DNA in common, the way that we have 99% of our DNA in common with chimpanzees. That’s the thing that I have a problem with, and if it’s the case, then the movie doesn’t understand what DNA is or how it works, and if it’s the former, then I think the movie needs ot be tweaked to make it clear.

    (Mystery is fine, but if your mystery is primarily a mystery about the one thing that we DO understand — science — then mostly it just makes it seem like you don’t understand science. If you’re going to have scientific mysteries, they need to be grounded and thus juxtaposed clearly in the realm of the known.)

    For the Engineers? Who then left and never came back? After one gave his life to jumpstart the whole thing? I think they had a bigger agenda…

    In this scenario, playing into the notion of “scale” with the Engineers, we’re talking about a several billion-year plan. Probably, the Engineers seed a planet, go into stasis somewhere nearby to let their stuff work, then come back to check up on it. In the case of Earth, the team that was supposed to work on Earth (and also had just started to set up shop on LV-223) got infected/Xenomorphed/whatevered, and couldn’t come back to check on it for a couple million years. The Engineer who wakes up realizes what’s going on (and, I mean, he CAN figure out what’s going on, that can be something that happens), and realizes that the humans in the petri dish kind of grew up by accident.

    The Engineers can use the goop in a targeted, specific way. It’s not random; it only creates seemingly-random effects on us because we don’t understand what it is, or how to use it. The Engineers periodically reinfuse the ecosystem of Earth to bring its evolutionary history more in line with the one that produced their planet — that’s why the most recent iteration produced humans, who look like Engineers. But maybe it wasn’t quite exactly right, maybe humans weren’t supposed to evolve past Neanderthal, or something.

    (Interestingly, if the Engineers did get wiped out by Xenomorphs, then that means that the Xenomorphs actually SAVED human civilization, by eradicating the species that would have otherwise wiped us out.)

    Anyway, the whole point of this exercise isn’t necessarily to rewrite what the movie was about, or what the backstory is; dramaturgy is about structure. The point is to restructure the movie so that it makes the facts and themes more clear — that when there’s mystery, we can tell the difference between actual mystery and some writers just not understanding what DNA is. It’s so that plotlines don’t dangle, reveals don’t happen to no purpose. One of the challenges of good writing is that you keep having good ideas and you want to put them all into the script — but actually, it’s important that you not put EVERYTHING that you think of into the script, just because you think of it. There have to be spaces and contrapositions to all of those good ideas, which means you’ve got to cut some stuff.

    If anything, the primary problem in Prometheus is an unwillingness to abandoned ideas that the writers thought were good, and so the other parts of the movie had to be twisted into shape in order to make them work.

  20. Malvolio says:

    Hi! Just discovered your blog and going through the archives.

    Just a suggestion for the pod: how about making it suitable for all genders, but the programming for abortions has been disabled? “here at Weyland, we believe in family values.” like that. Or would that be too political?

  21. braak says:

    Another perfectly reasonable solution! It is a little on the political side, I guess, but it fits in fine with Weyland’s Olde Timey Values (not considering his daughter a worthy heir, for instance, due to her not being a son).

  22. Jesse says:

    Reblogged this on Letter Better and commented:
    Chris Braak knows how to fix plots, and you all should be reading his “Dramturgery” posts with faithful regularity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s