(Beware. Below be spoilers. Also, I’m posting this Sunday, but it’s my Monday post. Shut up.)
If you’ve come to find out whether I liked the movie:
I liked it.
You now may go.
Go on! Shoo. Shoo. Ah, you’d prefer I offer up some kind of… valuation. A grading or ranking of sorts. A 3.5 out of 5! A B, maybe a B+! One thumb up and the other thumb kind of herkily-jerkily turning up and down in a most uncertain manner. There. Done. Graded. Off with you, then.
Aaaaand you’re still here.
Well, since you’re stuck to me like gum on a shoe, I suppose you’ll forgive me rambling a bit about the film? And the story? See, this is a fascinating film. Fascinating for its strengths, and fascinating for its (many) flaws. A number of folks on Twitter tried to turn me off of seeing this film (which is a bit curious — I mean, if there’s a bridge washed out on the way to the theater, please do warn me, but otherwise, assume I’m capable of making this decision) as if a lack of enjoyment was reason enough not to go. It isn’t. Not really. Because even in a flawed film I’ll still find value — it may not be an entertainment value, but storytelling done badly has educational value, at the very least.
And so I knew going in I’d likely get some education.
I did. Not because it’s a bad film. It’s not. It is to my mind quite good — it’s beautiful, elegant, icy, and has some truly gut-churning scenes of body horror. Just the same, it’s a film that misses its mark, but that’s okay — the mark was quite small and quite far and it was brave of them to shoot for it. I appreciate a film that aims for the bullseye and misses more than a film that tries only to hit the broad side of a barn and then — nicely done, chap! — hits. Aspirations matter in storytelling. They’re not the only thing. But they matter.
Here is where the aspirations of Prometheus fall down — and, also, where the storytelling lessons lurk.
This is a film about ideas, not about people.
Put more crassly, it’s a film about plot, not about character.
There exists a mode of storytelling that some call “plot-driven,” and Prometheus is most certainly that. The plot is a machine. A program, of sorts. Things happen — or, to the storyteller’s mind, “need” to happen — and the characters are forced to either catch up, strap in, or retroactively become part of the mechanics. The plot-driven storyteller says, “I need the White House to explode,” and so they arrange events and shuffle characters to make that happen. It’s all a bit of artifice. Sometimes it’s done well. Most times it’s done so you notice it — you see the puppet characters living in the shadow of the sequence, relegated to catalysts or bystanders or square pegs hammered into circle holes.
BUT ENOUGH OF ALL THIS SEXY TALK OF PEGS AND HOLES, you say. What, then, is character-driven storytelling? A plot is a plot is a plot, so what’s the problem?
Well, as I’ve said in the past and will say again and again because I quite like the way it sounds and I think it’s clever and I am at times in love with my own cleverness, “Plot is like Soylent Green: it’s made of people.” By which I mean, plot does not exist as a mechanism for characters to hop into, but rather, characters — by being characters with their sticky wants and trembling fears and all their other foibles and peccadilloes — create the mechanism by making choices based on their motivations. They’re building the machine as they go. They’re not cogs. They’re prime movers. They’re the motherfucking engineers.
Mark that word. “Engineers.” We’ll come back to it.
The storytellers of Prometheus — or so I like to imagine — sat down and said, “Okay, we need to retrofit an origin for the Alien mythology, and we’ve got this basket full of lofty ideas we can play with. We’ve got fate and free will and faith. We’ve got questions of science and ethics. Plus we’ve got all these other little awesome things — body horror and sci-fi tropes and spaceships and corporations and, y’know, aliens. It’s great!” And they went off to the races imagining the sequence of events necessary to bring the story backward far enough to explain the origins of, oh, all of mankind and then forward enough so that the audience starts to see where the Alien mythology comes from.
Somewhere, I like to also imagine one of the writers squinting and lifting a delicate finger and, when someone calls on him he says, “Ummmm. So. What about the characters?” * blink blink blink*
And then there’s a lot of ohh and mmmm and ahh yes right of course, and then they get to figuring out the characters. But that’s already the wrong order. The machine is built. Now the characters can only fit into it — like plugs, like gears. It’s an inorganic fit, as if characters are just automatons shuffled onto the stage.
And it shows. Yes, our lead scientist has “issues” of faith, but they feel painted on — as shallow and shiny as lipstick, and just as easy to rub off and forget. Characters make decisions not because they’re characters, but because they’re serving the Great And Powerful Plot Machine. One character gets inexplicably drunk because… the plot needs him to be drunk. Another character — a biologist — cares nothing for biology at one point and then gets lost (because the plot needs him to be lost) and, upon meeting some squicky Star Wars trash compactor creature decides now that he loves biology so much he wants to play a game of grab-ass with the damn thing. Again, because the plot demands it. (A tiny note: this film is filled with scientists and they are easily the shittiest scientists ever put to film.) David the android is a cipher because… drum roll please, the plot demands it. The plot demands things left and right and soon characters are constantly betraying good sense and their own motivations to feed the howling mechanical beast.
The plot is in service to ideas and ideas drive the film — but again, the connection is missed between plot/character and idea/human. Ideas are the most human thing in the world. They’re ours. All life is subject to genetics but only human life is subject to memetics and so it is a great shame to separate people from ideas. Science obeys laws outside of us but the study of those laws are uniquely, well, us.
Ahh, but here’s where it’ll really bake your noodle. Remember, I asked you to bank that word, “Engineer.” Well, that’s what the characters in this film call the aliens that “made” us (and who are apparently an exact genetic match despite being easily twice our size) — and it starts to occur to me that the problems I’m having with the film are in a way the problems that exist in the film’s storyworld and mythology, too. In the world, characters discover that humanity was made by uncaring titanic space-psychopaths who engineered events without regards to any kind of emotional intervention that they can parse. And I, as a film-goer, feel the same thing about the film itself: the plot and characters are made by the “engineers” (the storytellers) who have little interest in the emotional intervention of the characters. The plot is the plot. Mechanisms — let’s call it “fate” — exist outside the characters and beyond the audience. The characters have minimal agency because the Space Gods — whether they be the writers or the albino xeno-titans who created us — don’t want them to possess that agency.
The storytellers are the titans. The titans are the storytellers. Man — and character — is puppet.
Prometheus serves as a commentary on its own storytelling.
Probably not intentional.
Though, if it is, pretty much genius.
So, to conclude: I liked it. I did. I was entertained and educated. It’s a beautiful film and its many ideas and questions are still ping-ponging around the ol’ skull-cave.
But it’s not a character-driven piece. If it were, it would’ve been an A+, I think.
Oh, and P.S., it’s basically just the first Alien movie retold in a bigger, weirder way.
57 responses to “Prometheus: In Which The Gods Of Plot Punish The Characters For Their Precious Agency”
Ha! suck it biotches. I AM FIRST COMMENT!
and I have nothing to say.
except me and the Missus plan to catch this at the dollar show.
All good points. I came away with this nagging question that the filmmakers (through genius or stupidity) also echoed in some of their dialogue: “Why did you make this?” “Because we could.”
And I reckon they should have resisted.
My further rantings on the topic are here: http://davidvarela.wordpress.com/2012/06/10/prometheus-and-the-midichlorian-problem-when-storytellers-should-stfu/
Aaaand…this would be why I don’t miss a post here. I’ve read several reviews of Prometheus (largely negative in one way or another) but this one steps away from the film itself and shifts the focus to the storyteller – or rather, to the Little Engine(er) That Chose Not To. Film as education. Learn from the bad as well as the good.
Plus, well, let’s be honest. I was editing this afternoon and I’m easily distracted.
Just came home from seeing Prometheus.
I agree with your analysis, Chuck.
It wasn’t as frightening as Alien, because you’re not as invested in the characters.
So, plot driven, yes.
But still amazing.
Opens up more questions than it answers.
The special fx were finally, better than my imagination.
The characters were fascinating.
If you like scifi, Prometheus is a must see.
I’m struggling with the film, too, because while I enjoyed it, I’m not sure that I at all understand it. But I like the idea of plot, and agency, and the myth of Prometheus, and think you are on to something here.
I would like to append the last sentence to being a retelling of the first Alien movie cut-up and stapled to Mission to Mars. Astronauts go to a planet, find big aliens that created us, there’s a big stone face and a dust storm, and the last one goes to find their maker.
But this is pretty much how I felt about it but in word and sentence form.
I dig the warning, here, about detachment and the order of operations in constructing the tale. Good stuff.
Then you said this: “Oh, and P.S., it’s basically just the first Alien movie retold in a bigger, weirder way.”
Say more about that?
I pretty emphatically disagree with it as given to us without detail in that sentence. I feel like we’d have to look at Prometheus and Alien through a pretty low-resolution device to decide that they are “basically” and “just” the same movie retold. Of course they have stuff in common, but I think their differences are many and important.
Erm, yeah, that was a bit throwaway of me. Sorry. Without writing a 1000-word comment, I’ll see if I can’t unpack this —
Really what I mean is that the films have a very similar plot. Not in terms of abstract narrative beats (though those are there, too), but in actual plot events.
Team in distant space awakens from cryosleep and goes to a faraway planet. On board is a crew of miscreants, including a tough but roguish captain and a weird/icy android cipher.
They go to fulfill their purpose on the planet (follow beacon/meet our makers) and find their purpose subverted when things go awry. They find a room with a mysterious thing (head/astronaut) filled with little uh-oh cylindrical bio-chambers (eggs/vases) and someone touches something they probably shouldn’t and becomes infected.
(This beat is doubled in PROMETHEUS, when the biologist and geologist go back to that room and do similarly — no touchy, oopsie, biological invasion.)
The chest-burster scene is echoed thrice in this film: with Charlie’s eyeball infection, with bio/geo’s worm-attack in the head chamber, with Shaw’s pregnancy and subsequent “abortion” (a horrifying sequence that for all its horror seems to be so sudden it’s almost unbelievable, but that’s a conversation for another time). We also get the question of “quarantine” again when Charlie tries to come back on board the ship — except in Alien, they let Kane back on board instead of cooking him with a flamethrower.
Now, things deviate a bit here — PROMETHEUS goes into loftier, weirder places while ALIEN is focused very strongly on the survival-horror haunted-house-in-space aspect, but some parts echo. Fighting aliens in dark chambers, “creature” (subverted biologist) coming into the ship and needing to be burned and destroyed, etc.
We learn that the android is working for the corporation and that the corporation has suspicious intentions (echoed in both, though in ALIEN we didn’t yet know Ash was a ‘bot).
To defeat the alien menace, the ship must “self-destruct” to kill the monster — the ship Prometheus must crash, Nostromo must blow up.
In the end we have Shaw and Ripley alive. We assume all is well. They go to their respective “escape” options (one workable, one ruined) and we think them safe until we realize, uh oh, an alien has snuck on board and has come for them — it’s the one Xenomorph against Ripley, and the two aliens against Shaw.
Opening a door solves both problems. Open airlock door for the Xenomorph, open the med-bay door for the two aliens (Maker and Tentacled Xeno…thing). Ripley and Shaw have echoes of one another (even looking similar) throughout, I should note.
The films diverge here in where they go. And it’s a meaningful divergence. Ripley goes home. Shaw goes deeper into the stars toward the heart of the mystery.
Now, both films do different things and come up with different conclusions. I don’t mean that each film echoes the other across all those aspects (theme, mood, etc) but plot-wise, they’re very similar.
I almost wonder if this isn’t a prequel to the ALIEN series but, in a sense, a reboot/remake/re-imagining.
Thinking about it, I agree with you. The biologist got thrown the Idiot Ball that led to his demise, and it does come off as the plot pushing along the players.
On the other hand, Vickers was handled well on one level, coldness and such, and I was able to feel flickers of emotions toward Elizabeth Shaw. She could have developed slightly more (and I cheated out by looking away during the C-section scene) , but she is a determined Final Girl that suffers much, but was able to survive and escape with a companion (since it would suck if she ends up alone.)
Just arrived home from watching Prometheus with some friends. You hit it on the head Chuck. I did not care one bit about any of the characters. The specialeffects were pretty cool, but to be honest I was a little bored. I do not like horror or thriller movies and kept anticipating the scenes where I would have to turn away or jump, but theynever came. The worst part (spoiler) was running from the giant wheel of doom. Um hello, how about running perpendicular to its path?
I think you’ve put a very good point on this, we are being asked to think about a summer blockbuster, which people are never really asked to do, this is where this movie is have problems in the media. Have a look at my posting on this issue.
But a great piece of writing though, well done.
I think the worst part for me – or at least the point where I went from “OK, let’s give this a chance” to “This is just ridiculous” – was the (spoiler) “My cabin, 10 minutes” scene, where Vickers and that captain guy just stone cold decided to leave Mission Control unmanned for an hour or so. And why? Because as Chuck says, the plot required it. All well and good, but it just seems to me that if your plot requires pretty much all the characters to behave like bloody idiots, it’s probably not that good a plot to begin with.
(Though maybe Prometheus is actually better seen as a comedy, about the crappiest exploration team ever. That would make it much better for me.)
Congratulations. You’re the first person of a googol of critics to do so in a non-pretentious way. Most people seem unable to avoid hatred when nitpicking the small details. I, too, was annoyed by the biologist, though the geologist’s “all about the money” attitude gave him reason to make the stupid choices he did. I was annoyed by other things, too. However, I was entertained and forced to think, and that makes it hard for me to walk away without a sense of satisfaction. Very few movies are perfect, so I don’t set the bar that high. I’m glad I’m not the only one.
After attending the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference this weekend and learning about all the mistakes that I was making in my story, I really enjoyed and learned from your critique of the movie and how you compared it to a book and what makes a book great. Some of our instructors have suggested that we should watch some classic movies to see how a story is built. great post.
[…] Chuck Wendig also had some great stuff to say on the film: Plot is like Soylent Green: it’s made of people.” […]
There’s some hollowness in many of the characters in many of the “blockbuster” films. But having worked with both scientists, engineers, soldiers and spin-doctors, there was a level of believably for me even in the hollowness.
Regardless, like with many Scott films, I think the director’s cut will be even better, because honestly, Scott is a great story teller. But the medium of films today also are about the action — the plot often.
For me, Prometheus was all about making me think, which it has. That’s a good reaction to any “story.”
Thanks for stepping away from the Love-or-Hate review lens and looking deeper. For this your “class act” status in my mind remains.
Yeah, folks seem to need to LOVE or HATE a thing to give it any value at all — and, hey, sometimes I have a visceral reaction to something and I experience one or the other or both. But for me it’s about the lessons I can takeaway as a storyteller.
Good sci-fi requires that the audience suspend disbelief in order to appreciate the story. Most of the time the this involves crazy technologies or fantastic alien creatures. In Prometheus we were asked to suspend our belief about human nature and how people act in certain situations. I tried hard but I kept finding myself saying, “That’s dumb, why would they…hey wait, what the hell is he, shit, who the hell would do that!?!?” That’s why this movie didn’t work for me, even though it is pretty.
I think if they could have at least found more chemistry between the shaw/holloway character dynamic they might have had a much better story. They tried to explore the concept of faith vs reason, but they failed miserably with that argument. They could have easily built that contrast into the shaw/holloway relationship. I thought David was a fantastic character, but many of his motives seemed as alien as the puffies. It wasn’t as good as Alien or Aliens, but much better than everything else in the franchise.
I didn’t find any of it dumb, really — like I said, I enjoyed it. I feel it introduced big questions (and some maybe not-so-big answers), and played well for what it was. But for me I wish the characters had been more in control — both literally and narratively.
” Another character — a biologist — cares nothing for biology at one point and then gets lost (because the plot needs him to be lost) and, upon meeting some squicky Star Wars trash compactor creature decides now that he loves biology so much he wants to play a game of grab-ass with the damn thing. Again, because the plot demands it”
I really enjoyed Prometheus, but have to agree with your plot vs character assessment in some ways. I came out of the movie feeling it needed to be longer to adequately explain why some of the characters made the decisions they did. Also, maybe since I went into Prometheus more interested in it as an at least partial origin story I didn’t really need as many of the horror bits (some of which seemed to demand the characters make the odd decisions they did). Overall I really enjoyed it. I hope they release an extended version that maybe “plugs in some holes” and hope that they release sequels. Also loved the parallel of the Engineers’ attitudes towards humans vs the humans attitudes towards androids (as embodied by David). His conversation with Holloway where David asked Holloway if he knew how disappointing it must be to have your creator say they made you just because they could. The Engineers saw humans as ultimately disposable, much the same way the humans saw David.
A+ for the analysis, which was sufficiently character-driven. I felt for the “Chuck Wendig” character and his struggles.
Your review nails it for me, Chuck. Except: I have to limit my “enjoyed it” reaction to the cinema-tech and themes. I’m never happy when I’m treated like a brainless idiot by the Engineers. The moment I’m going WTF? about the words or actions of a character I was just getting to like, I’m popped out of the experience. As you day in the review, this is a superb example of how not to write a compelling story. (And when I realized that one of the screenwriters was involved in Lost, all was made clear.) Guess I just don’t enjoy being manipulated… unless it’s done smartly with finesse, of course 😉
I regard inexplicable character actions and lack of character agency in general to be a major plot flaw. I generally dislike plot-driven stuff like this. Lots of thrillers and mysteries are like that – all about the action and the detailed research, and a lack of character development. The characters are plug-n-play, effectively irrelevant.
When that happens, I just don’t care much about the rest. I appreciate good visuals or prose, but it’s like watching a super-bowl where you don’t know the teams or the players. Who really cares? As long as there’s booze…
I loved this thoughtful post. I saw this over the weekend and I enjoyed it. My husband (who did not go with me) asked if he would like it. I really am still not sure I can answer. It was really fun and it kept my interest throughout…great sfx and action. But the point…I like what another commenter said…that it was made because “they could.”
I agree with Frylock above. Most other reviews I read about this movie were quite pretentious. I think a lot of folks felt that despite what Scott and Lindelof said, this WAS a prequel of sorts. I think because of this, the “real” lovers of film had already made their minds up that they would hate it.
But I digress.
I actually REALLY enjoyed the movie. I agree with you that there was no real character development. A few of the crew members were total cardboard cutouts and could have been eliminated from the script altogether (although this would have dropped the body count significantly, so there’s that….) But if you look back to the original Alien (and even the sequel), was there REALLY much of a difference in the way the background characters were crafted? (Although I will stand by my preferences and firmly state that Bill Paxton was awesome in Aliens).
Between the grand ideas behind the story and the self C-Section, easily one of the best action oriented film of the past few years. 8.5 out of 10 stars here.
Good review. I like the point about learning even from bad storytelling. I know that to be true. One question though — “All life is subject to genetics but only human life is subject to memetics … ” Really? There are some crows outside my window who want to debate that with you.
I like it too.
However, I found it extremely hard to get past how bad the scientists were at actually doing any science. “Possible contagious material of unknown origin everywhere? Fuck it, I’m taking my helmet off.” “Let’s not look around very slowly for what’s going on. No, let’s rush headlong into shit and hope for the best.” Compared to these people, Indiana Jones is the most respectful, greatest scientist in movie history.
I was hyped to see this when I saw the first trailer on You Tube, all obtuse and shit, but as one ad after another raped my TV screen I could see just where this movie was going: “LOOK AT MY CGI ASS!”
It saddens me that due to this movie, Guillermo del Toro’s vision of H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” may never see the light of day.
Interesting take on where the story fell down–and I agree. Though, like you, I also quite liked it. Actually, I haven’t been able to shut up about it to my friends all weekend, and am looking forward to seeing it a second time with the people who couldn’t make it with me when I went on Saturday.
It may have been a disappointment to some, but I thought it did a great job of capturing the same sense of creeping horror one might experience after seeing John Carpenter’s The Thing for the first time. Plus, after having read most of the Alien and Predator novels, as well as seen all of the movies, it left me with a ton of questions that I sincerely hope are answered in a sequel, however unlikely that may be.
Here’s the biggest hole. Ship loads of the bio weapon, at least 4 engineers survived to fly the ship. They put themselves into stasis why? Oh yeah, so that the race they created that they then wanted to exterminate could come along and find the ship following the cryptic breadcrumbs of cryptic.
I really, really was looking forward to Prometheus and at the same time l did my best not to let my expectations get carried away. With the tired ‘ancient astronauts created humans’ plot to the horrible casting, worse acting and terrible writing, even my fanboyish optimism couldn’t hold up. Yes, it had some cool concepts, effects and that particular surgery scene was shocking if totally telegraphed, but as a whole it collapsed under such collective mediocrity.
I do very much agree with your analysis and find that it was highly educational regarding the pitfalls of a plot-driven story. I just couldn’t enjoy the movie for so many structural flaws, as well as some geeky nitpicking. Such as landing an interstellar space craft on a planet rather than sending droships, or mounting a mission of such expense and import without having used probes beforehand, or even taking a few days to do so once they arrived, and so on and so on. My suspension of disbelief wasn’t ever broken, because I was never able to suspend it from the get go.
That’s a great analysis. i saw it last night, liked it enough, a little disappointed but I expected a lot. Kind of felt like it wasn’t as smart as it was trying to be, and you’re right, the characters were the key. I sympathize with demands of the plot and trying to make characters do the things you need them to do to pull of a tight plot, but you can’t forget motivation; if you want your cowboy to dance, you gotta remember to get someone to shoot at his feet.
If only the movie was as good as the marketing campaign. I found myself really disliking most of the characters–the “doctors” had the lab technique of a couple of third graders– the mohawk guy was just lame–and the plot didn’t come together at all. Thank goodness for Fassbender’s sensational performance as David. He nailed it.
I skipped over most of what has been said here because i want to enter the theater with nothing other than a few previews for information before i see it.
BUT…it says something good about you that you saw it and still had a few good things to say about it (even though i skipped past most of them).
When i saw Bladerunner, it was just me and a friend and about ten other people in the theater that sat over a thousand (Remember cinerama?) i loved it then and still love it even though it bombed with the general public.
Alien, Bladerunner, Terminator, Predator, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Clockwork Orange…were all first of a kind for their time and so the prequel for Alien is a must for someone like me.
Damn all critiques ….full speed ahead.
[…] Chuck Wendig on Prometheus: In Which The Gods Of Plot Punish The Characters For Their Precious Agency. […]
There were plenty of reasons I was not planning to see this, but yours is the nail in the coffin.
Because it’s not just that the movie is plot-driven; it’s that it is, by your description, badly written. Nothing about a movie (or a book) being plot-driven prevents the writers from making characters who fit neatly into the plot, and act believably within it. The biologist? It’d be trivial to show a few flashes ahead of time showing that he is All About Teh Bioz ahead of time, so then when the plot demands he put himself in danger for science!, that feels natural and believable. But: shitty and careless writing.
Ultimately, Prometheus is fairly enjoyable but considering all it’s flaws, I consider it at best, an average movie. Not painful to watch, but not good enough to really recommend or watch again.
The problem that really bugs me, is that is had the potentially to be something better, it just needed a better place to start from. Thinking a Macross kind of start, where one of the Engineers ships was sent to earth but crashed. Humans eventually find it, as well as a map to the planet that it came from. People being people, off they go in search of answers.
Scientists arrive. Scientists explore. OMFG THE SHIP THEY SENT TO EARTH WAS SUPPOSED TO WIPE US OUT WITH A STRANGE BIOWEAPON! OMFG THERE’S STILL THINGS HERE TRYING TO KILL US.
No less cliched than their whole history/maps/alien connection, and provides a much more solid base to work with.
And it could have all been super classified by the Weyland corp, perfectly setting it up for the first movie.
It’s a horrible travesty of a movie.
Only shows the general social degradation even shit films can make Megabucks as long as they feature lots of flashing lights and explosions to hold the goldfish audience.
[…] Prometheus: In Which The Gods Of Plot Punish The Characters For Their Precious Agency, Chuck Wendig, Terrible Minds. How bad is it? The one and only character who doesn’t feel like a […]
Interesting evaluation. You have convinced me not to see the movie. I am that annoying person constantly yelling, “why did he do that?!” and “now, THAT didn’t even make sense!” I’ll save my voice and the sanity of my friends by avoiding it, haha.
After the movie, discussing it over dinner with friends:
Them: “That was so bogus that the surgery machine didn’t have female patients programmed in. I mean, come on, it’s just software.”
Me: “It was to heighten the tension in the scene.”
Them: “I think it was supposed to be a clue that the old billionaire dude was there, and it was for him.”
Me: “It was to heighten the tension in the scene. And it was a great scene.”
They continue on with their conversation, ignoring me.
As someone who went to the theater with the handwritten list of unanswered questions I composed at ten years old clutched to my chest, I was actually able to enjoy it. Granted, not many of them were answered fully but my burning need to see the derelict ship and the spacejockey again were satisfied.
I will say that I’m intrigued as to why they would take such pains to crash the horseshoe craft in the exact right position on the wrong world ( the Nostromo clearly lands on a planet/moon with a different LV #) and without the spacejockey in the drivers seat.
Now they have to crash another ship in the next film.
Watching the reaction of some to the film, the anger is on the level of a devout man going to Heaven and finding the throne of God is huge, impressive and empty. There’s nothing like the anger of faith betrayed.
That said, I walked into the theater expecting and desiring two things. I wanted to see HR Giger style designs writ large and in 3D. I would have been contented watching Michael Fassbinder and Noomi Rapace just exploring the ruins and the spaceship for two hours.
And I expected “In the Mountains of Madness – In Space!” Which is exactly what I received, minus blind albino penguins.
I pretty much agree with your assessment, and although I really enjoyed the movie and found the visuals striking and the horror scenes nice and tense, I also found it lacking many answers. I kept thinking that if I cared for the characters a bit more, I might have been more moved.
The one thing that stuck out for me was that the big engineer dude was REALLY angry, incredibly aggressive, like. I mean, he’d been in stasis for 2000 years or so, and when some kind pets that he engineered come and wake him up and speak to him in his own language, and he’s all like “ME RIP HEAD OFF NOW!”. I get that he’s a meany monster alien, but it just jarred with me.
I wish I could look past all the flaws of Prometheus as being the result of a “plot driven” film but the continual stockpiling of character actions not matching any kind of motivation became a little too much. I don’t know if Prometheus is as bad as some people make it out to be of if its flaws stand out given the brilliant production values and Alien-pedigree.
Even if I could look past the characters not having any logic, the “plot driven” nature wasn’t restricted to the characters but even the SF premise of the “black goo” which seemed to have whatever effect was necessary for the plot (making people into super zombies, creating life, making people sick, devouring them like acid, mutating worms…etc.) over having any kind of established logic. It’s one thing to do away with character logic but leave behind any sense of what is happening speculatively and there goes the other half of the audience.
And what was the plot exactly that was so important to leave behind all other story logic? Some recycled Erich von Däniken ideas by way of a Lost-style shell game?
Maybe that’s why so many people remain disappointed by this film, not “nitpicking”.
Great review. I enjoyed the movie in spite of itself.
I went with a mental list of every criticism I had read about the movie, and found answers to most of them even if I had to invent them. It made the movie fun. I was expecting most of the WTF moments. Example, the biologist had a crush on the geologist; it was love at first sight.
Still working on the 65 million years of dinosaurs.
What it liked most was monsters in the daylight. It reminded me of the first time I saw a shark while scuba diving. Say what you will about monsters in the dark, nothing beats the powerless, hopelessness of intimate detail. Especially if it’s a vagina with teeth.
I was also hoping for more tentacles and teeth flying out at me in 3D.
Beautiful movie, hope it inspires more directors to write and film with 3D in the forefront of the storytelling.
[…] The other thing I’ve been doing is I went to the cinema, to see the long-awaited, much-anticipated, heavily hyped Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s prequel to Alien. The trailers had me interested, the teasers had me on tenterhooks and the buzz had me on the edge of my seat. The finished movie though, had me suspending my suspension of disbelief pretty rapidly. It was a disaster zone of poor characterisation and bizarre plot choices, and once I’m no longer immersed in a movie, I can no longer fail to tear at it critically. I won’t detail all the issues I had with Prometheus here, but Julian Sanchez covered the flaws well from a filmic angle, while Chuck Wendig covered it well from a writing angle. […]
Great analysis. I feel like this is something I struggle with as a writer. I often find myself *first* getting where the story needs to end, or, worse, a beginning *and* an ending, and then I struggle like mad to figure out how to logically get from point A to point B. I’m too OCD to have characters behave out of character, but too many of my stories end up stillborn because if I can’t make it work I drop the story and work on something else. When it does work, it feels more like a happy accident than a result of my skill.
I’d love it if you’d write more about how to avoid this problem.
(Incidentally, for whatever reason this text-box doesn’t seem to be tab-to-able. At least, tabbing from the website box doesn’t get my cursor here.)
[…] Then I read this post by Chuck Wendig. […]
[…] Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terrible Minds […]
It was also brave of the filmmakers to ask the Big Questions and then suggest when we get them, we might not like the answers…
That took a lot of brass.