It’s got to be black…
Are you crazy, black is the safe option…
I can’t believe you guys, white is the new black, make it white…
And that, unfortunately, is all you need to know about the script for Prometheus, it is a story line crafted by a committee. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the movie, it is a visual spectacular. The special effects and cinematography are epic. It’s a keep-your-arms-and-legs-inside-the-cage-at-all-times kind of movie, and Ridley Scott is masterful as a director, but the script is convoluted, contrived and confused, focusing on plot over character.
If you’re interested, here’s the tortured history of the zebra-development committee. If you don’t feel like wading through these dot points as they highlight the tennis match being played with the script, feel free to jump ahead, you already get the gist of what happened.
- In 2009, Spaihts met Scott to discuss a “bridge” Alien saga.
- Spaihts writes a 20-page outline, and submits to the producers on Christmas Day, 2009.
- Within 12 hours, Scott returned the script with notes for changes.
- Spaihts finds translating Scott’s stylistic visual concepts “difficult.”
- By April 2010, the script was on its fourth draft.
- In June 2010, Scott stated that the script was complete and ready for filming.
- However, Scott changes his mind, contacts Lindelof and requested that he review Spaihts’ script.
- Unaware of what the producers liked about the existing script, Lindelof informs Scott he found the general concept appealing, but said the story relied too heavily on elements of the Alien films.
- Scott is adamant he wants he avoid repeating previous accomplishments.
- Lindelof said, “A true prequel should essentially proceed the events of the original film, but be about something entirely different, feature different characters, have an entirely different theme, although it takes place in that same world.”
- Lindelof is hired to rewrite Jon Spaihts’s original script, which has already been ravaged on at least five separate occasions.
- Lindelof suggested that the film could instead run parallel to Aliens, that a sequel would be Prometheus 2 and not Alien, and submitted an idea for how such a sequel could work.
- Scott and Lindelof worked together five days a week between July and August 2010, trying to piece together exactly what vision Scott was trying to convey and how the script needed to change, including scaling back the Alien symbology and tropes.
- Beginning in August, Lindelof spent four to five weeks writing his first draft before submitting it mid-September 2010. The final draft was finished in March 2011 as filming began.
The zebra analogy may seem a bit harsh, but the script suffers from being pieced together time and time again. I really wanted this movie to be epic. It could have been, should have been, but without consistency any semblance of plausibility was lost. Consider the following…
- Our intrepid explorers land on an alien world, without a breathable atmosphere, only to take off their helmets as soon as there’s a whiff of fresh air in some dark, dingy tomb. From that point in the movie, the helmets are on-again, off-again, on-again with a regularity that is dizzy
- Elizabeth Shaw has sex with her beau, only he’s been surreptitiously infected with some alien goo by the resident android. Within a day she’s the equivalent of three months pregnant with an alien fetus. The android makes the decision to freeze her for the trip home (sound familiar). Only he leaves and she assaults the two hapless guys sent to carry out his orders (what is this, James Bond?). With a few fleeting blows, she escapes. Thankfully, there’s no one else around, and she can run to a “special” medical machine for a caesarian.
- Sorry, Elizabeth, although the special medical machine is housed in the escape pod/quarters of the only other female in the story, it is only calibrated for men (WTF?)
- Elizabeth, still on the run but without any pursuers, gets the machine to perform abdominal surgery on her, and we see a wonderful squdigy alien plucked from her womb. A row of staples across her stomach, and she’s ready to run around again, with the odd cramp for good measure (honestly, who thinks of this stuff?)
- Elizabeth rejoins our android and the rest of the crew who don’t seem phased in the slightest by the fact she escaped and she’s covered in blood with a row of staples running across her stomach. It seems no one is interested in whatever was cut out of her (WTF?)
- By the way, apparently bras are no longer in vogue in 2093, women simply wrap their breasts in compression bandages (seriously?)
- During the climatic finale, the captain tells the only other woman in the crew she has just a couple of minutes to get to her escape pod. So what does she do? She doesn’t go to the nice roomy escape pod with the mysterious medical machine, she finds some other, single-person escape pod and suits up? It’s at about this point in the movie you start to realize everything’s a contrivance, a plot device, a macguffin, something that’s only there to progress the story a little later.
- Sure enough, later our squidgy little alien, the one everyone ignored, including Elizabeth Shaw, becomes her get-out-of-jail-free card.
Sorry, I really hate pointing all this out so I won’t go on. As a writer, I’ve been subject to similar criticisms, but nothing on this scale.
How did this happen? How did a film with so much potential end up in such a mess? I think there’s a temptation for scriptwriters to rush concepts in movies. It seems the scriptwriters felt compelled to compete with the visual spectacular unfolding on the screen, and so interesting characters are lost in the sheer pace of Prometheus. There are so many subtle nuances and intriguing threads I’d like to have seen explored further, but they’re blurted out and then glossed over. The format of a movie simply does not allow for any depth of consideration as before we know it, WHAM, we find ourselves screaming down the other side of the roller-coaster with our hands raised in the air.
Although Prometheus starts out asking profound questions about our origins, by the end of the film the only question in anyone’s mind is just how bad can things get? And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it strikes at the heart of all our fears, and that is the uncertainty of the unknown. These other lofty concepts, though, are lost. The characters are dwarfed by the action.
The movie starts by considering our aspirations and our desire for knowledge, which is a wonderful trait, although you wouldn’t think so in the Prometheus universe. There is a yearning to understand our origin and our place in the universe, although unfortunately it’s Eric Von Daniken’s Chariot of the Gods and not Charles Darwin’s Descent of Man that gets the place of prominence. The movie has the excitement of adventure, questions about existence, etc, but by the end, there’s only a sense of relief someone survived the ordeal.
This is where I think books excel over movies. In a well-written book, the plot is subservient to the characters. Ideally, the plot is simply the characters in action within that fictional universe, and the two blend seamlessly into a coherent story. With the release of my latest novella, WAR, I’ve tried to give readers both a story-arc and a character-arc, so that by the end of the book you feel you know and understand them both.
With its mind-blowing vistas, Prometheus should have been a classic, but the script let it down. Prometheus is a patchwork quilt of ideas. It tried to be too much, and so never really settled on anything of substance.
For me, Prometheus demonstrates that books have more latitude than a movie, more time to craft the desired result. Books can provide greater consistency, more depth and satisfaction by stimulating our intellects, and not just catering to our craving for a thrill ride. Movies, as wonderful as they are, all too often put sensationalism over substance. For me, Prometheus is 6/10.