There's a bias that tags along when seeing a movie with friends. Some friends hate things that you love, others enjoy things you hate. So to give some perspective on my group's bias- in preparation for this film's release, myself and several of my mates watched Alien. Every single person that watched it agreed: Ridley Scott's 1979 Alien is a fucking amazing movie.
Walking out of Ridley Scott's 2012 Prometheus was also a unanimous vote: this piece of shit never needed to be made. What warrants such a kneejerk reaction? A natural question and one with many answers. The simplest is that it was written by hacks who suck at writing and was directed by someone who is highly capable, but for some reason enjoyed the terrible screenplay enough to not fire the writers, burn the script, pour the ashes into a glass of water, and then force the writers to drink the sludge before poking their eyes out and punching them repeatedly in the face.
I was pumped for this movie. I was tipped that it might be bad, but I hoped against these odds. A friend noted that the screenwriters, Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts, are rather spotty. The former might be better known as one of the team members that helped turn LOST into a festering compost of wasted potential. The latter wrote 2011's The Darkest Hour. You remember that one? Yeah, exactly. It's hard to remember something when it gets an 11% at rotten tomatoes and a metascore of 16. These guys suck at their jobs, and they probably earn more on a single script than most of us do in years of working.
I don't know whether to list their mistakes in chronological order or by magnitude of shittiness so I'll just start with segments and hopefully it will coalesce into something. Seems natural enough, since neither screenwriter really made an attempt to craft anything meaningfully coherent either. Gods, I have so many problems with this script I'm actually having a hard time starting with a single one. Obviously from here there are serious spoilers.
I'll start with something positive.
THE ONE POSITIVE SENTENCE IN THIS REVIEW OF THIS MOVIE
There are some uses of Giger's original concepts from '78 that look great.
Some of what I point out in this section comes straight out of Intro to Dramatic and Visual Writing. Some of it is plain common sense.
Don't go backwards. The characters progress forward nicely through the first portion of the film. You get some exposition, some introductions, the obligatory gruff male who doesn't want to be friends with anyone (who, in a double-down yawn-worthy cliché, later turns out to be a coward) etc. Obligatory unexciting holographic briefing. They land the ship outside of some curious structures and the adventure begins. Except. The adventure goes into that first pyramid structure and instead of progressing from there goes back to the ship. Then back to the pyramid. Then back to the ship. Then back to the pyramid. Which turns out to be another ship. Then back to the ship. Then- HOLY GOD how many times are you going to go back to the same pylon? You're n.nX10^14 miles from earth on a strange planet and we stay in the same place the whole time. Lame.
Don't create entire scenes around exposition. At one point Captain Stringer Bell approaches Scientist Elizabeth about leaving for Earth. Shit's going down, he says. Elizabeth wants to stay to join the expedition because one of the Engineers is still alive. First off, the scene before this Elizabeth wants to go back to Earth but is convinced otherwise. The next scene, here she is convincing someone else of the exact same thing. She's doing what just happened to her to someone else in the very next scene. It's like later how all these characters who are at complete odds and essentially being enemies all find themselves in the same room of the ship suiting up for the final expedition. "Oh, hey enemy. Nice to see you again how's your ruptured uterus and yer dead dad snark snark." Fucking slipshod. Wait, what was I talking about? Keep it together, man. Right. So Stringer Bell is being convinced not to go back to Earth by Elizabeth. In this scene, nothing happens to further the story. It's two characters exchanging information and setting up what is to occur next. Instead of the movie flowing organically into what occurs next, two people stand in a room and talk about it. It's not at all important because none of the setup holds any sway over anything. And in the middle of this scene (that ends so freaking awkwardly with Captain Bell leaning up against a wall and crossing his arms, then cutting away) he says the most interesting thing in the movie. This isn't a homeworld, it's a weapons manufacturing plant. How did he come up with this? It's sort of awesome. I want to know more about that. As long as it doesn't happen in a scene like this. All of this is summed up nicely in the brief talk that Trey Parker and Matt Stone gave when they crashed an NYU writing class. Things must cause other things, or start a chain that effects other things. You can't just string a bunch of shit together and call it a story.
There is a huge difference between character arc and just plain out-of-character. Captain Bell is all about self-serving. He wants to play his accordion and get laid. He wants to go home. He doesn't know what's up. Until suddenly he knows what's up better than most and is willing to sacrifice his life to protect Earth from... nobody knows what, exactly, but probably annihilation. There is no reason for this change, it just happens. So he and his two compadres who only have enough screen time to talk about a an offscreen bet and how hot the cold corporate bitch Theron is. Other than that, they only get reaction shots and quick unmemorable lines. So these three suddenly kill themselves in sacrifice for the greater good. Why? How did they come to this decision? Doesn't matter. 'Why' assumes motivation, and these characters aren't fleshed out enough to have any. They only exist to serve the plot, and in this case the plot arbitrarily dictates that this science vessel carrying 1 Trillion dollars of equipment, 17 personnel, and the head of a major corporation has no weapons. I'll say that again for emphasis. The vessel carrying Weyland himself is not armed. Except flamethrowers, and there's a security chief very set on having weapons to protect the scientists. Wait, what? And they have pistols because they shoot stupid super hulk monkey thing with it. Stupid arbitrary decisions that serve the plot are almost always opposed to character and never happen if your characters are fleshed out and made real.
Nobody cares about stupid familial ties any more. Especially if you suck at writing them. At one point the screenwriters attempt to drop the bomb that the main(ish) character Elizabeth is barren. Infertile. We don't care because we don't know that Elizabeth wants children. Actually she's so consumed in her work that we just assume she's a career type and since it's never discussed we don't have any context to care nor any subtext to resonate with. So it fails. At another point the screenwriters basically gaffe the fuck out of the script by revealing that Charlize Angry Corporate Bitchface is Weyland's daughter. Wow, guys, that's your best? Nobody. Fucking. Cares.
Meaningful interaction is built through subtext. Nearly every aspect of scene and character is overt in this film. Everyone is 2-dimensional and transparent. The only character of depth is a robot. Which, strangely, is called a robot by many characters- in the world of Alien it seems people that use the word "synthetic" but that's beside the point. There is no repartee and no hidden meaning or even double meaning in any dialogue.
Wearing a cross is the most obvious metaphor for faith ever and please for the love of gods and all that is holy stop using it. Please fucking stop this. It's not 1997. Losing the cross while the character loses faith/getting the cross back when character regains faith is the oldest, most overused metaphor ever. It sucks and I hate it, everyone should see through your terrible hackery and burn you at the stake for it. I hate you, writers of Prometheus. You suck Hollywood cock in hell.
LACK OF REVISION = LACK OF POLISH
You know screenwriters, I'll let you get away with people travelling two years through space with 90% of the crew not knowing their mission. And I'll let you get away with the captain saying "everybody buckle up, it's gunna be bumpy," just before he unstraps himself and stands freely at a console in front of glass windows like the spaceship from 2098 is a bomber from World War II. I'll even let you get away with them announcing in a fit of exposition that the atmosphere is 70%N2 10%O2 3%Ar2 or whatever, which they'd know before they set out or at least before they start landing. But sweet pantheon of gods almighty, if you plant that the atmosphere is 3% carbon monoxide, which will kill you in 2 minutes, you should probably use that information somewhere else in the film. Otherwise WHY THE FUCK IS IT THERE. I mean, other than the fact that for some reason the characters are taking their helmets off and putting them back on like 4 times apiece per fucking scene. Super irritating. At no point is a helmet-off-life-or-death-situation presented. No one nearly asphyxiates because they are running out of air. It's never used for danger, only for slight suspense as someone takes their helmet off to prove that an interior is terraformed. Then screams "wooo!" and later dies horribly. To their credit, this needed to happen, only sooner. Either way, totally pointless crap that wastes everyone's time.
There's a glaring problem in having Weyland of Weyland Enterprises present in any form. Let alone the fact that he pops up on the ship for no reason. I'll come back to this but I'll say here that this should have been removed from the script before it was even greenlit.
The climax is a mess and needed a complete rewrite. It literally culminates with one major and two minor characters committing suicide with comical gusto and from out of nowhere. Then the Navigator (presumably from the first film, I don't know, let's say 'a' Navigator) Engineer attacks everyone. Then the ship crashes and rolls around vertically like a donut of doom towards the remaining characters who proceed to run directly forward, staying in its deadly path the whole time. As opposed to, you know. Turning left. Or right. Either one. /facepalm.jpg
MECHANICAL DESIGN IS AS IMPORTANT AS COSTUME DESIGN
In the future of prometheus, there are huge hologram rooms but dune buggies look like they came from 1985. There are gorgeous shiny diving-rig style suits for zero-G but the ground crew looks like they have fabric with some Spaceballs patches. Space helmets are HUGE and come off very, very easily- which you will see about 1,200 times. And- what strikes me as super strange- a spaceship still needs HUGE propulsion engines to get around and to land, but little mining scanner POP balls can defy gravity with no visible means of propulsion. ...If you've cracked gravity for small things, you've cracked it for big ones. It's gravity. Wouldn't you just outfit the ship with a larger version of the zero-G balls? Think about your shit before you put it in your movie.
IN SPACE, NO ONE CAN HEAR ABOUT THIS MOVIE.
I'll get into the plot, but I'll keep it brief as there are so many useless plants and hanging threads it made everyone's head spin.
Ok, so the film starts with this super muscular pale hairless being drinking mystery fluid which breaks down his DNA and reforms it in a water pool as another type of DNA, probably the seed for what we evolve from on Earth. Sounds important, right? Nope. Doesn't matter. Sounds like it does, but it doesn't. This mystery fluid seems to be something that breaks down life and causes it to reform from its base structure- except that later it's really just an excuse for the writers to make some monsters. Some worms that kill things. Also tiny worms that pop out of people's eyeballs and can evidently spread through semen and impregnate/grow at super rates. Also the babies from this grow really fast and eventually lay eggs in somethings's thorax. Or, hey- it just turns a man into some random super-ape-hulk that attacks people. It's literally just an attempt to motivate the creation of monsters, or us. Now that I think about it the stuff reminds me of Ivan Reitman's Evolution with less Julianne Moore, David Duchovny, and 7-Up guy.
And here I would add in more about the plot but it's all useless. Some plot holes of note: Why are the engineers hostile? How do people know that they are before they awaken the lone survivor? How does David know that the engineers are going to destroy Earth? He says "sometimes to create one must destroy" but what would they be creating by destroying Earth? How does David sneak a pot aboard the ship with no one in the crew noticing along the way? Why does the miracle fluid kill an Engineer immediately but gestate in Dr. Holland for a day and then have different effects? Why does the navigator leave the chair to attack Elizabeth? Is this even the same ship that sends a distress signal to the Nostromo? Is this even relevant to the world of Alien? If any of this is made clear I missed it.
THIS IS NOT AN ALIEN MOVIE
I don't want to hear about mythos. I don't want to see faith-driven scientists go on an epic expedition to try to explain life itself. I want to see a fucking alien rip humans apart in exceedingly horrifying circumstances. And I want to watch that one good soul that follows protocol and turns out to be tough as nails young woman who survives everything. Dr. Elizabeth whats-her-face has none of these characteristics. She's useless and then basically crippled throughout the film, and then finally collapses, cries, and apologizes to God and her dead boyfriend as she gives up. It's David that wakes her up and puts her on a mission. David, an asexual male Adonis, brings the poor helpless woman back from hysteria and death. This breaks a rule of the series in a bad way. Actually now that I think about it, it's not even made clear who the main character is aboard the Nostromo- you know who everyone is, and the first time you watch it you fear for Ripley because she's not really a lead character. She just turns into one in front of you. It's brilliant.
And this brings me to the monsters. Tentacle monsters are stupid. The original design of the alien was phallic, menacing- a glistening sticky carapace of silicate and acid flesh that will rip you apart. It's unique, it's scary, and it's fucking awesome to watch. Stupid squidthings do not belong in an alien movie. Aliens kill stupid squidthings and stand up to shit like Predators. And you know what? The tentacle/squid pregnancy stuff is bullshit. The psychosexuality of Alien can be pretty straightforward- especially in the final scene of the first film. It's feminine rage against an unstoppable libidinous murder machine with a head shaped like a dick. Pretty straightforward metaphor, and universal. None of this 'I'm barren/Oh god I want an abortion' shit. Too focused in on a character we don't really feel for.
I was shaking my head at this. Weyland of Weyland Corp is presented in a hologram form then turns out to be on the ship. Not only is this useless- there is no reason for him to be there- but it's sacrilege to the Alien series. The corporation always has a face and that face will always smile at you until it tries to kill you. But that face is never, ever, ever a leader of the corporation. It's always a lackey doing the corporation's dirty work, and they always pay for it. Weyland is present as a logo and a well-paid lackey hellbent on using the alien as a weapon. That's an Alien movie.
Finally. At the end, there's a shot of an Alien being born. It looks like a pokemon.
As cinemadope's Glenn Lovell writes 'Alien' fans aren't looking for arty sci-fi or answers to 'the most meaningful questions asked by mankind'; they're looking for something primal, like a cattle prod to the back of the neck.
Fuck yeah we are. This was more like a limp noodle to the wrist.