Monday, June 04, 2012


Dir: Ridley Scott

Be warned there are many spoilers in this post

I really wanted to like this film, after all, its a high def return to the genre by one of its most celebrated directors, and the guy most responsible for making the original 'Alien' such a good story. But the sad fact is, there are more plot holes in this film than it can bear, and although it is visually well done, as a story, its barely better than 'Avatar'.

Problem nr 1. The Engineers.
These beings are supposed to have created humanity in some way, and this is figured out by the films two human protagonists (Shaw and Holloway) by studying a few old pictogrammes and cave paintings, the oldest of which we learn is 35,000 years old. That is old, but the human genome is far, far older, and there is something of the creationist myth implied in a narrative that has humans being adapted by aliens in such a time frame, especially when we subsequently learn that humans have an identical DNA to the Engineers.

Problem nr 2. An uncharted alien world.
The humans arrive at LV-223 and immediately land. They don't scan the planet's surface from their science ship Prometheus, nor even deploy ground scanning satelites. Granted this explains why the Nostromo doesn't encounter any satelites when it arrives, but it doesn't explain how the humans manage to arrive at the Engineers complex after having entered the moon's atmosphere. Not unless the whole moon was dotted with structures, all containing Engineer ships ready to bring death and destruction to Earth.

Problem nr 3. Removing your helmet when you are the first humans on an uncharted alien world.
I couldn't believe how stupid the humans were when having read a favourable scan they proclaim the air inside the 'pyramid' (it looked like a giant tit to me, as Geiger had originally conceived it no doubt) to be safe and start taking off their helmets. I would not have thought any one who purports to be a science fiction writer would make so obvious a gaff as to make his human beings so naive and stupid as to think they could breath the air on an alien planet, inside an alien structure, and not risk immediate contamination, but then again the script was written by one Damon Lindelof whose previous creations include 'Lost' and 'Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk', so it shouldn't come as a surprise I suppose. It was bad enough when Holloway did it, but when the rest of the team followed his example, I felt a small part of my faith in story telling die inside me.

Problem nr 4. Ignoring obvious signs of danger.
Its a small detail I suppose but if I were in an alien maze, where the power was still running and able to show me ghostly hologrammes of fleeing Engineers, I'd tend towards greater caution than necessary. If I kept finding dead Engineer corpses, I'd be down right paranoid. I would not commit problems 5, 6 and 7 for example.

Problem nr 5. Getting lost.
All stories should conform to their own internal logic, unless of course defying that logic is the point of the story. Defying its own internal logic is not the point of 'Prometheus' however so there is a serious problem of logic when the human astronaut (wearing a suit with a transponder) who is responsible for mapping the interior of the 'pyramid', using floating probes that fire mapping lasers which are monitered from the bridge of the human mothership, then gets lost inside it and no one notices until its too late to send a rescue team due to a convenient storm (convenient that is for Damon Lindelof). This hole in the plot becomes a mighty chasm when the Captain of the Prometheus disregards the fact that his men are trapped in a storm in an alien structure on an uncharted and unknown alien planet, and abandons his post on the bridge in order to get laid. As if this wasn't bad enough, when the captain returns to his duty station, the next morning, he is surprised to discover the two men have gone missing (and this despite the fact they are still wearing their environment suits, and with them, their transponders).

Problem nr 6. Petting an alien snake. 
Having got the willies, and having gotten lost, and having noted the piles of dead alien corpses, and having found himself in a room full of oozing black slime, what kind of biologist holds out his hand to an unknown alien snake when it flares a cobra-like hood? In fact what kind of moron holds out his hand to any kind of unknown snake?

Problem nr 7. I robot?
Human beings may be stupid, but they do know what existentialism is. We have developed a great many thoughts about the relationships between parents and children, God and his creations etc. It struck me several times during this film that the humans in the film never stop wondering why the Enginees created them, and what might the Engineers reply when asked why, and yet they themselves are flying with a robot who is unto them what they are to the Engineers. Not one single member of the crew stops to consider this detail, not even when David (the robot) blatently dangles the contradiction in front of their faces.

Problem nr 8. Peter Weyland.
How does a man of obvious intelligent expect to find salvation from death, in the mercy of his creator? I can understand why Roy Batty, the Nexus-6 in 'Bladerunner' might hope to find more life when confronting his maker, after all he is but a soldier replica and only four years old, but Peter Weyland is a human genius who has lived a long life and who must have had ample time to consider the ultimate futility of his quest. Death cannot be cheated and even if it could, why would a creator do such a thing for a random creation who merely asked for it. Granted Peter Weyland has nothing to lose by asking, but its a bit of a long stretch to suppose that some one meant to be that intelligent hasn't paid enough attention to the Greek classics to understand the impossiblity of asking eternity for salvation. Credulity is stretched even further when his daughter states the bleeding obvious to him, but he refuses to heed her words.

Problem nr 9. Ask him David!
When Peter Weyland finally confonts the last of the Engineers, he asks (via his robot translator) the ultimate question of why, but the Engineer refuses to answer and goes on a rampage instead. In many ways this is the obvious step to take for Damon Lindelof since to answer the question would be to trespass into the moral maze of religion and we can't be having that in a moment of escapist fantasy! Instead then, the last Engineer throws a temper tantrum and attacks the humans in order to get rid of them. This is probably the film's ultimate failing. The relationship between God and his creation, or a parent and his child, is the crux of the plot and the entire film has been leading us to this moment of inquiry. Any science fiction author of merit who broached this subject would either describe the moral quandry of what is the purpose of creation, or attempt to provide an answer by examining the relationship between the humans and their robots, but problem nr 7 means this question is essentially left unasked and unanswered. Its as if Lindelof forgot what the film was about and went with 'Ultimate Being vs.Giant Octopuss' instead.

Problem nr 10. The dead pilot.
So we have learned there is only one Engineer left alive and we have seen him attempt (and fail) to wipe out humanity. We then learn from David's head that this last Engineer has survived his ship crashing and he is on his way to kill Shaw in the life boat. No sooner is this said than the angry alien turns up and Shaw is apparently a goner. Little does the last Engineer know however that Shaw's baby (now grown to impossible size and mass by no explained reason) is lurking in the sick bay and so the last Engineer meets his doom in the embrace of its tentacles and becomes the incubator for the first of the traditional black banana headed aliens... so why is his chest bursted corpse still sitting in the pilot's couch when the crew of the Nostromo land on LZ-223?

All in all, I loved the visuals. They really were stunning. The ambience was good too, really dark and gritty and yet high tech at the same time and if I was to judge the film by this standard alone, I would award it five stars. I would love to cheer on Ridley Scott, but according to the owners, this is meant to be ground breaking science fiction and I'm sorry but in sci fi you don't get to cut corners and still retain the accolades due to people who actually make ground breaking science fiction. I could have added some more glaring examples of why the film disapointed me, but I'll stop at ten since I think I've made my point.

Having said all that, I still loved the film and enjoyed the cheap thrills it provided. I would have appreciated it a great deal more if it had provided some food for thought instead, but I guess we have to accept what we are offered or make our own art.


Oleg said...

I have some slight disagreements...

Re.: Prometheus:
It looked superb, especially the landscapes.
Most of the acting, screenplay and music were variable.
I liked the idea of the story, but not the execution.

The plot had huge holes in it. I can handle weird logic in some genres, but the science sucked; and Prometheus was supposed to have something to do with both science and philosophy.
This annoyed me that I'd give 3 / 5, rather than 4 / 5.

For comparison, Blade Runner; 5 / 5 (though different cuts work in different ways); it worked on many levels.
Alien; 5 / 5; it worked within its genre, though I prefer the BR dystopia to sf horror any day.
Aliens (II); 4 - 5 / 5; it worked as well but in a different way, but a few things bugged me.
Avatar; 4 / 5; the story was too simple, but it was well executed (sort of opposite of Prometheus, and this reverses my general liking for the directors). Even the nod towards science was much more convincing.

Re.: various books (to catch up):

Anathem; 5 / 5.

Anubis Gate (which I'm reading now); 4 / 5.
I'd give Declare about the same.
Stranger Tides; 2 / 5.

Hunger Games (etc. - and the film); 4 / 5.


Grimsby Mariner said...

I enjoyed the movie and thought it a fitting prequel for Alien. Just enjoy it and don't over think it.

moif said...

I did. I gave it 4 stars.

I love to nit pick, especially high end sci fi movies. Thats half the fun!

moif said...

I've realised that several points I raised can be easily explained, as the events in 'Prometheus' take place on the moon LV-223, where as the crashed space ship in 'Alien' is on the 'planetoid' LV-426.