In act three of the movie, you generally let hijinks ensue. You’ve set the stage, loaded the guns, given everybody motive and opportunity, you know what everyone wants and how far they’ll go to get it, you know where the conflicts lie. Everything that happens is the natural consequence of what you’ve laid out already. So we’re going to lay out events, give them some discussion, but for the most part, they make sense as events go. Then we’ll look at the lingering questions I have. Ridley Scott certainly wanted us to have lingering questions, and the line between what I think was unclear because of sloppy writing and what was left intentionally unclear may be more blurry than I think. That question ultimately won’t be answered until the inevitable sequel. We will also talk about one of the scenes we know was deleted.
So let’s start off with a review of the cast of characters, characters and why they’re here. I’ll just open up IMDB and look at the case here.
Elizabeth Shaw– A questionable archeologist, spiritual leader, give birth to the savior squid
David– Slave labor, translation, devious deeds.
Meredith Vickers– To make sure everybody else does their job
Janek–Captain of the ship, shagging Vickers, setting up the Christmas tree
Charlie Holloway–To commit verbal faux pas, to believe, he’s presumably an archeologist, but he doesn’t seem too god at it.
Fifield–(dead) He fucking loves rocks
Chance–Driving the ship
Ravel–Driving the ship, their Mr. Sulu if you will
Ford– Wait, who was Ford?
So while the rest of the crew was looking for Fifield and Millburn, David was looking for something else. He finds the pilot’s chair of the Engineer’s ship, and he finds one last engineer in a cryo pod, as well as a nifty new holographic display.
So Shaw has just had the squid cut out of her, and she’s been stapled together, and she gets up and runs out into the halls. We find that Weyland is alive and been in a pod on the ship (totally not a surprise). It is here that we realize that Guy Pearce is playing C. Montgomery Burns. “Smithers, put me into my exoskeleton, so that I might perambulate over to talk to my creator and find out wherefore I am alive.” Ostensibly, this is what he says, but we know he wants to be young again to keep up his life as it is.Vickers calls him Father, and he says she’s his daughter. Either this is misogynistic, because David is the closest thing he has to a son, so obviously daughters don’t matter, or by daughter, he means a female gendered android, and we’re supposed to assume that since she and the Captain did the horizontal mambo, she isn’t though I think that maybe it’s in her program that when a man says so, she sleeps with him (in which case, how much does one cost?). Which I guess this comes down to andromisogyny.
So they suit up and head on over. As the doors drop open, a reanimated Fifield no longer just fucking likes rocks, he just wants brains. Now, they made him look quite like a zombie, and visually this is the most questionable visual choice of the movie. For one, his face was burned by acid, for two, they wanted to make him look like an semi-xenomorph kind of thing, but they wanted an evolution towards the xenomorph and it was a little too early to make it look like that. But, making him look like a zombie kind of fell short. Probably should have done another try. There’s a little more to consider here, but we’ll come back to that.
At any rate, zombie geologist kills three people. Wait, who were they? What were their duties? Doesn’t seem to matter. I can’t even remember them. You know I can remember every character from Alien and Aliens years after I saw the movies, these two, a week later? Not so much. What does that tell me? They might as well have been in red shirts. If you look at IMDB and Wikipedia, they aren’t even credited, so what use were they?
But they carry on, and Shaw joins the party, her little pregnancy escapade strangely ignored. She can also stand, despite her abdomen having been ripped open in surgery minutes ago. If that damn bed had been a bit more high tech, this would make more sense, but this is writing, and choices must be made.
Janek theorizes after this that this site is a military planet, and they lost control of the weapon. Good theory for a guy who hasn’t even set foot in the base. He’s better than the scientists at interpreting data, maybe he should consider a career change.
David gets into the pilot seat of the Engineer’s ship and reanimates the Engineer. He gets out of his pod, and throws up. How humanizing this is for him. We get a comparison shot, and we can see that he’s about half again as tall as us, much stronger, and wearing a flight suit that was designed in the Giger aesthetic. They really did a great job of nailing the aesthetic on this one.
David says something to the Engineer, but it is not subtitled. This was a Ridley Scott decision, and it was written dialog, so we’ll see what was said when it is leaked. Until then they want us to guess, and my guess is that David doesn’t have a great grasp of the language, and while he wanted to say something like, My boss wants to know why we’re here, all of us in a very existential way, and if you can make him young again to be an ultrarich egomaniac all over again,” but what he really said was “Your mother is a filthy whore.” The end result is that the Engineer kills everyone he can, rips off David’s head, and starts powering up the ship.
David tells Shaw the Engineer intends to release the urns on Earth, killing the entire population. Shaw escapes the ship, Vickers returns to the Prometheus and tells her boyfriend to go to Earth, Shaw tells him there won’t be an Earth to go to. Vickers heads to an escape pod, and Captain, Sulu and other guy happily fly the ship into the ascending Engineer ship. I understand the Prometheus is a science expedition, ostensibly in a ship that is something like a Bentley, so no weapons. A tidy way to wrap up the lives of the remaining crew.
So the ships crash, and the Engineer’s ship rolls, threatening to crush Vickers and Shaw. You might think they’d run right or left, but no, they run straight along its diameter. I know, common sense.
The Engineer survives the crash, and chases Shaw into her ship, and baby squid Jesus is now huge. The squid kills the Engineer.
Shaw goes back to the Engineer ship, and collects David’s component parts. He says he will help her get back to earth. She decides to find the Engineer’s home planet instead. Guess she didn’t buy that they were extinct either.
And we are left to see the Engineer burst open to reveal a somewhat xenomorph alien.
So that’s it. Logically, act three mostly follows, but Weyland was the most underutilized main character ever. Why? Could they only afford one day of shooting with him?
So my general take on this, despite all my poking holes through it, is that Prometheus is a great movie, it was just done very poorly. Visually it was amazing. And really, this is why I’m doing this in-depth of an analysis.
On notable lacking end of the movie was the relationship between Holloway and Shaw. Maybe I believed they were together, married and committed, but we didn’t do much to display just how committed they were. I reflected on this with another movie, The Abyss. The central relationship between Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio had is a good comparison. They’re split at the start, he throws out the wedding ring in frustration before retrieving it from the toilet, it saves his life, their concern for each other grows, they have to make a life or death choice as their submersible fills with water, he doesn’t give up on her as she’s unconscious, and in the end, when Harris appears to be dead but for the moments of oxygen, their conversation is heartrending. And there in less than fifty words, we have more of a relationship than Shaw and Holloway. Again, scriptwriting fail.
Ridley Scott did want to leave us with lingering questions, and I think he did.
First, the goo.What is it? While there was very little to quibble with visually, here is something I did find some fault with. We should assume that the goo in the beginning is a positive force, a deleted scene has an elder Engineer performing a ritual which ostensibly is supposed to set off the seeding of a planet with DNA. Later it is presumably weaponized, yet it looks and behaves the same. If we assume the goo is a weaponized version, by most movie logic, it should look different in some way to distinguish it. Does he want this to be unclear? Ordinarily I’d assume so, but with writing as sloppy as this, I can’t.
So, next, is this a military installation or not? We have a planet that seems to have nothing else, and if you’re going to develop a biological weapon, that’s the place to do it. But if so, and if the weapon got out of control (which really, we have no evidence of) don’t you think they’d just nuke it from orbit and start over on development? Why let it sit for two thousand years? Just couldn’t get around to it?
And the theory of the goo…there’s an idea that the goo takes on the personality of the person it infects. This seems pretty Lamarckian of it, which further highlights the anti-science nature of the movie. Fifield was apparently a closet George Romero fan, the engineer likes Giger, and Shaw was secretly into tentacle porn, by this reasoning, and Holloway, well, he was asking to be at the receiving end of a flamethrower the whole movie. He really seemed to be a most optimistic and cheerful biological weapon.
Why destroy humans? The story around the theme is that Christ was an Engineer, and we crucified him. Now, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a depiction of Crist as Mr. Universe competitor, but there you go. So, we kill an Engineer, and life must be so precious to them, being creators and all, that they want to destroy it all on our planet. They borrowed logic from Republicans, I guess. If this is really the case, why didn’t they jump on over here and do it 2,000 years ago? The weapon got out of control? That’s their only weapon? And when this Engineer wakes up, he just decides he’s going to do it on his own? Talk about holding a grudge, I mean, we worship him as a god, what more could you ask for?
And this one engineer. Why did he sleep for 2,000 years? Sure with an out of control weapon, you’d maybe want a cool down period before tackling the containment and clean up, but don’t you think their technology would include an alarm clock on their pods, I don’t know, set it for 50 years or so?
And further, the cast, what was their faith/science balance? We didn’t have much of a skeptic, and what we had just was in it for the money, and was killed off early. This is the genuine missed opportunity of the movie, the debate around these concepts never happened because the characters weren’t designed to have the debate. The issue, the central issue of the movie was more something on display, not debated, a passive museum exhibit rather than an active driver of plot. You could set your watch to how many times faith was expressed, but doubt? no doubt whatsoever. Maybe it is a cautionary tale of blind faith, and the trouble it will get you into, but it fails at this without that voice in a character.
In the end, Ridley has these questions clearly in his head, with answers and justification. They just didn’t translate through the script. I think the issues he wanted to explore were simply not addressed, they were merely put on display like an idol at a museum and pointed at, assuming we’d get it in all the depth and clarity of the inside of Ridley’s head, but this movie is proof that an unexamined premise is not worth watching.
Instead, the plot driver was dodgy scholarship, assumptive leaps, dangerous self-experimentation, and extreme hubris. In the end, this is why it failed.
Tags: Alien, aliens, crit, on writing, prometheus, reviews, ridley scott, screenwriting