When writing sci-fi or fantasy, you have to make the world even more believable than when writing straight fiction. This is because there are often fewer familiar points of reference for the viewer or reader. If you establish a rule in your universe, be careful not to break it, or you risk frustrating the reader, who is reminded that this is “just a movie”.
When watching the $130 million dollar blockbuster “Prometheus” recently, I was reminded about this. The writers noticeably worked on “Lost”, a TV series which existed by reversing the expectations of the viewer constantly, with little regard for plot logic or research. Now I love director Ridley Scott, but not as a writer. And in this movie, several daft plot devices revealed that logic was being sacrificed throughout the movie.
1. The Sumerians and the Babylons were never connected.
Despite the fact that the Babylonians were descended from the Sumerians, the “scientists” in the movie state that they had no contact with each other.
2. Aliens will destroy mankind for no apparent reason.
The aliens turn out not to be nice E.T.s but instead are intent on exterminating life on earth… which they created. Why? Who knows. They changed their minds. Maybe they watched Jerry Springer.
3. Alien viruses will infect only the exact person you choose to infect, and will only cause female characters to have alien babies.
When the indiscriminate weapon of mass destruction is unleashed on the crew, it has a very specific effect. Despite having sex with someone infected, the heroine only manages to have a squid baby of her own.
4. Aliens weapons of mass destruction are very very messy
So the alien ship is in fact a weapon. And the best way to exterminate another planet is… to breed a whole host of genetically unstable mutant monsters which can infect your DNA. If the Engineers were so advanced, surely they would have a cleaner way to destroy planets. Like a really big laser?
5. Our ancestors were much bigger and blue
Maybe the writers had just watched Avatar.
6. Androids are confused
David the homicidal android (sounds like Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) decides to punish Daddy for being a disappointment. How does he do this? By following his orders implicitly. Hmm.
7. You can achieve immortality by killing mankind
Peter Weyland’s big plan for living forever? Infect the crew with the DNA altering disease. But how does this help his plans, you ask? What if they return to Earth and infect the planet? What indeed…
8. Caesarian surgery isn’t too bad after all
A few minutes (no seconds actually) after having caesarian surgery (performed by a machine designed only for male patients, no less) our heroine is up and about, running around and trapping her squid baby. Hours later, the pain of surgery will come back to cripple her at inopportune moments when running from bad guys.
9. Iceland must be a nice place to visit
The big opening shots of Icelandic volcanos, ice fields etc. which segue to the Engineer in Iceland swallowing poison serve…no purpose whatsoever. Unless it’s to hammer home the fact that alien poison is a VERY BAD THING. Cut to pointless shots of DNA.
Sadly, the opening shot of the alien also serves to rob the first hour of the film of any tension. What could have been an interesting journey to discover our origins turns out to be a moot point. We already know there are aliens. So when we find them, it’s not much of a surprise.
10. Dead characters can come back and attack you for no reason
When one of the characters died horribly (his face melted off no less), imagine my surprise when he appeared a half hour later, very much alive and with his face! Said character then attacks crew for no reason, looking like a very frazzled extra from the Matrix.
11. Scientists are stupid
When the crew reach the alien mound, they can’t wait to take off their helmets and expose themslevs to any virulent alien disease that might be there, even though they know the aliens died unexpectedly from… something.
12. Don’t stroke the wildlife
An extension of the above. When you see a large and threatening alien snake (that even hisses at you!) do not be tempted to pat it on the head and tell it how beautiful it is. Chances are it won’t appreciate the gesture.
13. Steven Stills played accordion
According to the ship’s captain, who has the legendary 1960s guitarist’s very own squeezebox. WHY does he have this squeezebox, you might ask? You might ask. But you will never find out. It’s one of those “character tics” lecturers in film school tell you to give every minor character.
14. Androids have very weak necks
These supreme advacements in robotics are notorious for their very weak neck joints. So if one attacks you, you can always rip its head right off.
15. Human+Squid = Xenomorph
It’s true. Although the alien might not “look” like a combination of human and giant squid, it actually is. Oh, and it can reproduce asexually. And you thought it needed a queen to lay all those eggs… tsk.
16. Aliens have ego issues.
The most promoted image of Prometheus was the big giant head in the spaceship. Which serves no purpose whatsoever. One scientist muses that they might have a god. That’s it.
17. When running from an enormous spaceship, go in the wrong direction.
This one was a doozy. Two women run from an enorous crashing hoop-shaped spaceship. Which way do they run? Not to the side, of course, but underneath it. Oh, and when one of them does have the sense to dive to the side at the last minute, the ship comes crashing down on her, only to be stopped from crushing her by a bit of rock. Seriously, this is a million ton spaceship. Wouldn’t there be a crater or something?
I’ll stop there, because just like the writers, I can’t be bothered any more. “Prometheus” does have its moments. But the horror is more the squirmy, icky kind than the suspenseful kind, which made the first Alien movie so effective. What’s more infruriating is that the characters are so forgettably stupid and inconsistent. When Shaw says “I’m still looking” at the end of the movie, we wonder… for what?
I’m sure the writers don’t care about this column. But if you want to write a really great script, make sure your plot makes sense and doesn’t rely on stroytelling gimmicks. Then maybe your movie will last longer than its opening weekend.