Alien Engineers

After watching Prometheus with high expectations earlier this year, I came away disappointed. The visual effects were spectacular, but the plot holes were large enough to drive a semi-trailer through. I mean, it’s the 22nd century and the world’s most advanced medi-pod doesn’t cater for women. Seriously? Has medical science gone all misogynist?

Prometheus began life as Alien Engineers, a screen play written by Jon Spaights. When the original script appeared on the internet, I grabbed a copy, curious to see how it differed from the movie, and I think I know what went wrong.

Ridley Scott has openly said he wanted to depart from the Alien franchise and start a new canon for future stories, but Spaight’s script was too close to previous films. Spaight’s aliens are slightly different, but they followed the same tropes, creeping through the ship, killing off the crew one by one. Even the android David comes across like Ash from the original movie, and so Alien Engineers was all too much for Scott.

Scott wanted something different, but he liked the basic premise Spaights had come up with in proposing Engineers. Scott asked Damon Lindelof to rewrite the script and Prometheus was born.

The problem was, neither Spaights nor Lindelof had artistic control, Scott retained the right of veto over key elements of the story, and the script became a patchwork quilt full of conflicting ideas.

After reading Alien Engineers, I can see how several critical concepts got lost in the mix. Spaights, Lindelof and Scott had so many script variations, I think they forgot what was where.

Rather than seeding life on Earth, these engineers tweak life, giving Homo sapiens a boost of intelligence, directing rather than replacing evolution.

Without spoiling the script for those of you that want to read it, one of the early grips in the movie is a scene where our band of intrepid heroes explore the ancient ruins of an alien civilization on the moon of a gas giant, a planetoid with a poisonous atmosphere, but as soon as the team are inside the ruins they’re pulling off their helmets. Remember, this is humanity’s first contact with artifacts devised by an extraterrestrial intelligence and the air outside is noxious but none of the crew seem to mind sucking in the apparently fresh air.

Rather than delivering a WTF? moment, the original script describes how the scientists call the aliens engineers because they recognize the alien ruins circling the moon as “terraforming” machines, vast devices designed to change the planetoid’s atmosphere so it can support life.

Inside these hollow structures, the air has already been transformed and a quick test reveals there’s no microbes, so the team take their helmets off.

It’s still wildly implausible, but at least there’s some supporting logic.

I watched the Blu-ray release of Prometheus over the weekend, and the deleted scenes tell the story better than the movie. I guess, sometimes directors and producers can get too close to a project. They should have left these scenes in the movie as they would have helped maintain the suspension of disbelief for the audience.

If you’re interested, Alien Engineers is well worth reading. It’s short, enjoyable, flows smoothly, and would have made a great movie.

Spoiler alert! The script doesn’t have the same contrived ending as the movie, with the engineer being killed by a giant face-hugger, but there’s still the colliding space ships. Shaw is left stranded on the planet, but she’s not too worried, someone will come for her. “Yes, but who,” replies the decapitated android David, and the alien structure lights up, beaming a message to the stars.

If you’re interested in learning more about the differences between the script and the movie, io9 has a good comparison.

12 thoughts on “Alien Engineers

  1. I’m a huge fan of the alien movies, and of Giger’s concepts and artwork in particular, and I was very eager to see Prometheus. Then I saw it, and was hugely disappointed.

    There was some cool technology in the movie, but it was used the wrong way or not at all. And apart from the the shallow and stale characterizations, what drove me up the wall the most were the lapses in logic. The completely unrealistic alien abortion and the miraculous resilience and fitness of the sliced-up gal just minutes afterward, the different ways in which the alien substance affects people without any apparent reason for this difference, a xeno-biologist baby-talking the first alien creature he encounters, trying to outrun a crashing ship along the line of impact instead of running off to the side… All of these things ruined the movie for me.

    I haven’t read the script, but I believe too many cooks can definitely ruin a meal.

  2. I think the fact that the med-pod wasn’t configured for women, despite being in Vicker’s suite, was an indication that it was pre-set for someone else – a man – who hadn’t appeared yet. It was a subtle hint that Weyland was on board the ship. I don’t think many viewers actually got that.
    I did grab a copy of the Engineers script but haven’t settled to read it yet.
    Ridley Scott is notorious for over-developing his movies (see the production for Kingdom of Heaven – the DVDs are amazing, and full of materials. Both sets, the 2 disc theatrical cut and the 4 disc director’s cut, have different supplementary materials), and I do feel that it made sense to trim some of the deleted scenes. It might have been good to leave in some of the stuff relating to Charlie. His motivations seem very suspect. It would have been cooler if the left the ‘forest room’ in the movie as an explanation for the breathable air. (sat through the features disc – took over 6 hours to get through it all).
    And I love that they took a different tack on David instead of making him more like any of the previous androids. He’s such a geek, going so far as to dye his hair to look like his own hero and mimicking the speech patterns of Lawrence.

    • Yeah, the portrayal of David was a masterstroke, but I choked at the MacGuffins throughout the movie. I take your point about the medi-pod being a not-so-subtle hint that Weyland was on board, but that had already been given away by David talking to someone in real time (not possible if Weyland was light-years away), and then he stood over an unopened cryopod (which screamed Weyland to me). The male-only medi-pod was too much and broke the suspension of disbelief as it just wasn’t credible that the most advanced medical machine in the world, of which there were only five(?) in existence, would not cater to the physiology of half the world’s population. The same shattered disbelief surrounded David knowing Shaw had an alien within her, then seeing her covered in blood, with abdominal staples holding her together, and not batting an eye about what happened, only for our cute, cuddly little xenomorph to grow into a massive monster in less than a day so as to save Shaw in her hour of need with the Engineer.

      All stories are contrived, but they shouldn’t be built on contrivances.

      Hey, as for sitting through 6hrs of commentary, damn, I didn’t know there was that much on the box set. I only saw the 15 min of deleted scenes on the single DVD from the local movie store, and I loved the bit where the Engineer watches video footage of the girl playing the violin. You get a sense that for a moment, he’s wondering about what the Engineers set in motion on Earth and where it led. His “humanity” doesn’t last for long, but it adds a touch of complexity that is fascinating.


      • it wasn’t six hours of commentary (which I haven’t started on yet), it was the supplementary material disc’s main documentary that had a branching option to other bits of mini featurettes and galleries – that took over six hours.

  3. Pingback: Ramblin’ Reviews: PROMETHEUS – 2012 « Blank Page Beatdown

  4. Okay, so I finally watched this one. WTF? Worse scientist team ever. They should have sticked with the original writer. His version was far more complete. Or at least tried to mix his with Lindelof (the guy who gives more questions than answers). At least we got some nice acting and visual effects. Kinda wish the story was better told and more complete. No wonder Fox and Scott are stuck with no idea on how to move for the next one. Dude, you were totally right, I really got bummed. At least I had a dose of Noomi Rapace.

    Spoiler here:

    I liked some of the philosophical talks about life and shit. And when Shaw said she couldn’t make life it strucked me deep. I felt like holding her tight and comfort her (Noomi is a hell of an actress). In the other writing David seem sociopathic but in this one he’s like a very curious child. An idea for the sequel would be Shaw reaching the Engineer homeworld and find them divided in creationers and evolutionists. And the world she was belonged to creationers who regreated their choices. And both factions use some form of controllable xenomorph that evolves beyond their reach and (insert action and trills). I hope they make a decent sequel that leads to LV-426.

    • I like your thinking… showing the Engineers as a divided race would be a nice, realistic twist, and that mankind has only interacted with one branch leaves plenty of room to explore. The creation/evolve divide would be a nice proxy for our own cultural challenges in this regard, and could take some interesting twists and turns.

      Personally, I don’t think there will be a sequel. I think they know they blew this big time. And as you note, what a waste! Awesome special effects, incredible acting from Rapace and Fassbender, and a story with more holes than a block of Swiss cheese

      • By contractual reasons we will see a sequel. Damn Fox, they wanted to make it a trilogy prequel and really screw up on that. In that division I would add a third trans/cybernetic one, but they appear to be that already. Their tech seems organic and cybernetic. Fassbender was great too. But at points I kept calling him Bender due to his behavior inside the structure (literally like Bender from Futurama – WTF? worst science team ever – they all should wear red shirts).

        The way I put it is likely the only way to present something good and original. What other way they could find – I doubt they are a race in scientific consensus with such ability to create inteligent life. Otherwise we might have another Star Wars prequel at hand. WE DON’T WANT THAT. What we want is a humanist story with space exploration and mysteries and discoveries… and Noomi Rapace. I hope they can find a good writer if they decide to move ahead with the contract.

        One last thing: Idris Elba – Janek. The only good use of him was him freaking out with Shaw about what the planet is and his personal sacrifice with the pilots. That was an actor and character that could have had a lot of use for story develpoment like a major conflict with Vickers in orders about the ship and exploration. At least we’ll get to see him with giant robots.

  5. Pingback: Ramblin' Reviews: PROMETHEUS - 2012 : Blank Page Beatdown

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