The Red Pen of Doom

Conventional wisdom about writing is conventionally wrong.

Why PROMETHEUS was such a Big Movie Mess

Now, I am not some kind of movie snob who only watches black-and-white French existentialism plus “films made in the early years of Wes Anderson‘s career, before he went corporate.”

However: Ridley Scott is a crazy great director who made a crazy bad mess out of PROMETHEUS.

Yes, he is a film god for making the original ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER and GLADIATOR.

Being a film god, though, means you shouldn’t spend the gross domestic product of Paraguay on a movie that, with a few tiny little fixes, could have been 5,982-times better than it was.

Because — let’s be honest — PROMETHEUS stank up the joint.

Fix Number 1: Give us some flipping aliens in our ALIEN movie

There was all sorts of noise from Ridley Scott that this wasn’t, technically, an ALIEN movie.

Well, no. Because there was a complete shortage of the alien.

This movie is like selling people bacon cheeseburgers and making them all wonder why they’re looking at a bun with some fried pork bellies on it, but no actual hamburger.

Sure, there are tall bald bodybuilder Engineer guys, who technically are aliens, except their DNA is the same as ours, so technically they’re not. IT IS CONFUSING.

And yeah, we get about six seconds of an alien on screen at the very end when (spoiler!) a baby alien bursts out of the chest of an Engineer after he refuses to pay his dues to the Squid Facehugger Engineering Brotherhood, Local No. 1291.

But otherwise, we all paid $9 for 3D tickets and $8.50 for popcorn that cost 12 cents to make to watch an ALIEN movie with no aliens except for those six seconds.

Instead, we got this stupid black goo that makes no sense whatsoever.

Fix Number 2: Lose the Black Goo nonsense

So, there’s this Black Goo that the Engineers use to: (a) disintegrate some other Engineer they left on earth like some kind of frat-boy prank, you know, filling the bottle of shampoo with Nair, except Engineers are hairless, so hey, we’re gonna turn you into dust; (b) bomb planets far, far away with their donut spaceships; (c) turn worms into snake things; (d) turn humans into zombies; (e) turn lead into gold; and (f) make it so zombie boyfriends who get busy with their sterile human girlfriends create squid facehugger things the size of Volkswagens.

I may be missing five or six other things the Black Goo does. IT IS MAGIC.

Here’s the problem: the Black Goo commits the classic storytelling sin of Double Mumbo Jumbo, which is a technical Tinseltown term that means, “The audience will believe one piece of crazy sci-fi nonsense, but they won’t swallow 17 of them.”

The original ALIEN did this right. Can we believe a cute little facehugger will hatch from an egg, find a human host, implant an egg in his stomach and make an adorable little chest-burster who grows up to become a big, strong Alien?

Yes, we will.

The audience might have bought the notion that this Black Goo could do one magical thing, or maybe two, but not five or six or 30.

Fix Number 3: Cut the crew down from a cast of thousands to like, six people

Pop quiz: Name half the characters on the PROMETHEUS.  Now, that’s not fair. Let’s go with 25 percent of them. Ready? Go.

There’s no way. Unless you have a copy of the script and a rewind button, you don’t know who the hell these people are except for (a) the girl with the dragon tattoo, (b) her boyfriend, (c) Magneto and (d) Charlize Theron.

Everybody else gets about 30 seconds of screen time, including Guy Pearce looking like Yoda for some reason.

Kill off all the other guys. We don’t need them.

The original ALIEN had something like six characters. You could keep track of those guys as the alien killed ’em all off until Sigourney Weaver was all alone with the Alien, which was the main event anyway.

Peoples of Hollywood, hear me now and believe me later in the week: Kill off every character you can. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. This will both save you money (good!) and make for a better film (better!), which will make you even MORE money at the box office (amazing!).

Fix Number 4: Engineers should not be super-smart 7-foot tall toddlers throwing a tantrum

OK, I can buy that a bunch of space-faring aliens run around the galaxy, putting the seeds of life on planets. Maybe they got bored of spending their days playing MEDAL OF HONOR: THE BATTLE FOR XENOS, PART 873.

Having the Engineers go wacky, though, makes no sense. Why would they want to bomb earth with Black Goo?

Why would the one Engineer wake up from a long sleep, see the handsome face of Magneto and decide to twist his head off before Magneto says more than two sentences? Because the Engineer, he’s got such a busy schedule that day, just waking up and all. “I have things to do, humans! I have planets to bomb for some random reason!”

There are rumors on the Series of Tubes and papers of news and magazines of film that Ridley Scott himself said little baby Jesus was an Engineer, and they all got mad that humans killed him.

OK, that’s wild and crazy, and would have brought down the wrath of all kinds of church people, so maybe that’s why Ridley the Scott left it on the cutting room floor. HOWEVER: At least that would be a reason for the Engineers acting like two-year-olds all hacked off because Mom won’t let them watch The Wiggles for the 11th time this week.

###

This is Guy Bergstrom the writer, not the Guy Bergstrom in Stockholm or the guy in Minnesota who sells real estate or whatever. Separate guys. Kthxbai.

Guy Bergstrom. Photo by Suhyoon Cho.

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

About Guy Bergstrom

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot.

17 comments on “Why PROMETHEUS was such a Big Movie Mess

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  2. Don DiNaro
    December 16, 2012

    A super race of aliens would NOT destroy a planet or act as ridiculous as this movie portrayed. Worst script ever and could have been so much more, with better editing. This movie reminds me of Highlander 2 movie, when it was redone the third version finally was a good story. Scott must have had his under study finish this film. Still Scott released this film with his name on it. So he sold out! I suggest he issue a Directors Cut on Blue ray & DVD and greatly improve this story and give MUCH more Noble aspirations to the Aliens. Horror stories are really for morons and Scott is not a moron. He compromised this story line to those studio executives that seem too be running and ruining the movie business these days in Hollywood. It may be just an observation but; “Forbidden Planet”‘ should be re-done only; PLEASE, done as a moral and ethical lesson to Earth’s mankind, NOT a horror movie. Please don’t ruin the story line, like the redone “The day the Earth Stood still”. The subplots and the interracial Mom & step child story ruined the movie! This movie Prometheus is no better than watching the Sci-Fi channel turning into garbage programming by the new SyFy channel!

    Like

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  5. Matt
    August 21, 2012

    When I found out Damon Lindelof was brought on to the film early on, that’s when I started losing hope. The two leads, playing Dr. Dragon-Tattoo and Mr. Hunky, weren’t inspiring, but the script was awful, a cluttered, dizzying mess. They didn’t have anything to work with. Nobody did, except Fassbender, because David was The Gimmick.

    Like

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  7. Jim
    August 12, 2012

    Thanks. But, I only saved $6.50. I don’t eat the $8.50 popcorn that costs 12 cents and I wouldn’t go see this movie during economy hour.

    Like

  8. jaxpress
    August 9, 2012

    I was so excited to see it, because well, who doesn’t want to see aliens maiming and killing humans bent on taking over their world? Haven’t yet, your post will make me go into it with some trepidation. (Won’t warn my movie-buddy though, he can figure it out for himself.)

    Like

  9. Mayumi-H
    August 9, 2012

    Wait a minute – Sir Ian McKellen is in this movie?!

    (Huge casts are a huge pet peeve of mine. It’s what’s ruined so many stories, for me. And, you’re right about the “one piece of crazy nonsense” bit; a comics creator friend of mine has often made the same argument. Good points for general storytelling, and – I’m guessing, since I haven’t seen it – good points for this movie.)

    Like

  10. Bridget Mckenna
    August 8, 2012

    Okay, lemme add a few things to hate:

    “We’re on a strange planet, and we’re going exploring, and we don’t know what’s out there. Let’s take guns!”
    “No. We’re scientists doing science stuff. Guns would be bad! Besides, everyone knows scientists never get munched by alien life-forms, you gun-loving silly!”
    —-
    “I’m a highly-trained xenobiologist who just encountered an alien life-form of whose capabilities and proclivities I am entirely ignorant. Isn’t he CUTE? I think I’ll forget everything I ever learned, stick my face right up in his little grille and say ‘Hi there, alien life-form!’ and make friends with him.”
    —-
    I could go on, but do I have to?

    Like

    • Jeremy (@BadBoing)
      June 10, 2015

      An incredibly important scientific mission run by the most unscientific characters you could find:

      Yeah, let’s all take our helmets off! What could go wrong?

      We had a good first day on the planet and only lost two people, let’s have some fun. It probably won’t affect the success of the mission to put some alien black goo in this scientist’s drink… Imma go for it!

      Hi, I’m the boss of this mission, which I’m convinced is totally pointless. I’ll be here in my luxury escape pod. And if you need me, I’m leaving.

      Like

  11. juliabarrett
    August 8, 2012

    Well. I guess the above is why I had no interest whatsoever in seeing Prometheus. Just looked awful to me. Black goo? Is that like the way Alan Ball bought up all the red jello in the universe for True Blood? Which also has so many characters I don’t give a shit about any of them and wish they would all die and go to vampire/shifter/werewolf/fairy/human hell and burn forever?
    Oh, Mark, 1492 should go down in the books as one of the worst movies ever made.
    Man, I woulda walked out – except if I went to 3D my tickets would cost $12 apiece. And the popcorn would be $20.

    Like

  12. Vickie Lester
    August 8, 2012

    Major movie messes are usually the result of multiple screenwriters working in sequence to destroy their colleagues previous draft — and believe me, dear, I can say no more.

    Like

  13. Mark Andrew Edwards
    August 8, 2012

    Yeah, I went on an epic rant about Prometheus. One of worst-written movies I’ve seen this decade. The Red Letter Media guys out-ranted me, though.

    So disappointed. But you have to remember, there are 2 Ridley Scotts. Sadly, we got the one that made “1492: Conquest of Paradise” instead of the one that made Alien.

    Like

  14. Kathy
    August 8, 2012

    Besides the Black Goo, or maybe because of it, I truly wanted my hours back. Really. Plus, this movie wants so desperately to be important and instead is quite a hodgepodge. Ah, those hours…

    Like

  15. susielindau
    August 8, 2012

    There is a lot of pressure here to leave a “witty” comment, but I will attempt to relate…I am writing my first book and have been absorbing everything I can to make it plausible, readable and enjoyable. (-bles are good!) I had heard that keeping the main characters down to a few would help with the flow of the story and keep the reader engaged. I am thrown by books or movies that require a cheat sheet or something worse- bum bum buuuuum – a dictionary…
    Great post!

    Like

  16. T. W. Dittmer
    August 8, 2012

    That good, eh? I gotta see it.

    Like

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