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Friday, 15 June 2012

Prometheus and the fannish mindset: Plotholes Aren't Everything.

Before I start in on the costume reviews, I have a postscript to add to my earlier criticism of this film. Thanks to many of the reasons I mentioned in that post, fans of the original Alien movies have reacted harshly to Prometheus, leading to things like this video by Red Letter Media going viral in a textbook example of fandom's desire to pick everything apart. This isn't going to be one of those times when someone's all, "Stop overthinking everything and ruining everyone's fun!" because that would be blatant hypocrisy ony my part, but I do have one caveat with regards to this kind of list-all-the-faults criticism: It works for literally any movie.
The things about fandom is that we're obsessive, and when something we love jumps the shark, that obsession often turns to the dark side. I understand it, this desire to dissect and rebuild; it's why fanfiction exists. (And fantasy football*, which is pretty much just fanfiction for people who like to delude themselves that they aren't geeks.) Not to mention the zillions of words of blog posts and magazine articles and, at this point, probably books fans have written to try and explain how and why the Star Wars prequels came to be so terrible. I'm often surprised by how non-fannish people can "like" a TV show or movie but only think about it for the couple of hours they're actually watching it -- I mean, why wouldn't you want to Wikipedia all the actors in Stargate: Atlantis and/or write agonisingly detailed reviews of all the costumes in the Avengers franchise? But of course, that dark side I mentioned earlier (ie, the side that leads some people to think that fans are "crazy") means that once you focus the laserbeam of your nerd energy on something you hate, it's super easy to let that can of worms explode in your face, and from then on it's a slippery slope down to Youtube-comment flamewars.

I CANNOT WAIT to see how Bald Xenu Jesus fits into the Director's Cut.
Your mileage may vary as to whether Prometheus was the Worst Thing Ever or just kinda fun-but-mediocre, but wherever you fall on that scale, the "List allllll the plotholes!" method of non-analysis is not going to help. Setting aside the childishness of feeling clever because you proven that something else is stupid, do you know what else was full of plotholes? Every movie you ever loved. I'm not going to get all Leave Britney Alone re: Prometheus, but if Inception taught us anything it's that a film can be riddled with internal inconsistencies and still be critically acclaimed and rated as one of the smartest mainstream blockbusters of the decade.
This is the ancient Vulcan sign for JUST GO WITH IT.
Science fiction thrives on nonsense. The Star Trek reboot movie is a glowing example of fast-paced action comedy and managed the seemingly impossible task of retaining (and satisfying) the most intense and persnickety fanbase in the history of ever, and yet the entire plot hinges on Kirk and Spock Prime coincidentally ending up in the same cave. Of, like, an ice planet where Kirk has literally been dropped at random. Oh, and time travel, a fictional conceit that has a 0% success rate when it comes to logical consistency. The guys at Red Letter Media could make an equally damning plothole list for Star Trek, Blade Runner, and every episode of Doctor Who ever made, because successful storytelling isn't a matter of rooting out and destroying every plothole and inconsistency, it's about making the audience believe.
I am yet to hear anyone complain about the fact that those cave-paintings were the only maps the crew of the Prometheus used to get to another star system through, you know, three-dimensional space.
The problem with Prometheus isn't that the story makes no sense (remember Inception?), it's that Ridley Scott failed to make us suspend our disbelief. And while the laundry list of unexplained dead-ends and scientific bloopers is far, far longer than it should've been, I still think that they could've pulled it off if the execution hadn't been so damn clunky. Ridley Scott made Blade Runner and Alien over thirty years ago, but I'm getting the impression that he still doesn't understand science fiction audiences. It's not enough to make a film look like it's in space, or to do really detailed research on terraforming. For all that books like The Science Of Superman sell like hotcakes, most of us are willing to swallow any old non-scientific ridiculousness, provided it's propped up with a story that flows well and has a solid base of emotional truth. Unfortunately, Prometheus didn't manage either of those things, and that left it open to this death by a thousand cuts of fan-criticism.
Oh, and just as an indicator of what works and what doesn't when it comes to suspension of disbelief, here's a short list of some of the objectively silly things in Prometheus that I was able to accept at face value. You know, unlike the whole, "OMG, Human DNA is the same as Engineer DNA!! We're all descended from Bald Xenu Jesus! ...Wait, what about the dinosaurs?" thing.
  1. David being able to "watch your dreams". Was this a cheesy conceit, clearly inserted just to illustrate Shaw's Tragic Backstory? Yes. But was I bothered by the basic fact of this being possible? No. As proven by the central premise of movies like Inception and Minority Report, it's not the believability of the technology that counts, it's how you use it.
  2. People being scared shitless. Once you accept the fact that this ship was crewed apparently at random, and by a collection of incompetents and borderline cultists, then it was perfectly consistent for them to start running around like headless chickens as soon as the terrifying alien menace showed up. In fact, this was more "realistic" than the supposedly hard-as-nails space marines in Aliens, who I could only ever assume were the worst space marines ever because they were constantly terrified by everything and had the tactical instincts of a flock of lemmings**.
  3. The myriad of coincidences required to make any deep-space exploration movie flow correctly. What, the gravity on LV-223 was totally Earth-standard? And the environment within the crashed Engineer spaceship had the perfect layout for chase sequences and for the little flying droid thingies to map it out in a cinematically appealing way? How convenient! (Because it's fiction.)
  4. The surgery pod. Technology is sufficiently advanced in 2093 that androids are about ten minutes from scaling the final peak of the Uncanny Valley, and yet Weyland's state-of-the-art medical facility seems to have been designed by someone who had never met a human before. The surgery pod scene was like every primal claustrophobia, pregnancy and surgery nightmare rolled into one, and that's why it was one of the best scenes of the movie. For this reason I don't really care that no one would ever design a remote medical unit that holds your still-conscious body down while pincers whir over your face like some kind of gleaming iPod/torture-chamber hybrid. It's a horror story.
I'm sure people will disagree with some of these items, but my point is that when you pay to see a mainstream sci-fi movie then you're basically tearing up your Realism Club membership card. There will always be something that doesn't make sense, and the mark of a science fiction film's quality is how many of those things it can make you ignore.

* I had to google "fantasy football" just to make sure it was what I thought it was. Yes, I am my own nerd-joke punchline. 
** Do lemmings travel in flocks? Or herds?? Answers on a postcard.

    21 comments:

    1. The mass noun for lemmings surely should be "a suicide of lemmings"...

      I love this post so, so hard. You're extremely right about it all, PLUS the writing makes me want to steal your wit away from you and mine it for my own purposes. Rock on.

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    2. As I would say on many a livejournal comm, as the nerd I truly am: +1 TO ALL OF THIS.

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    3. I agree 1,000% percent. Prometheus' real crime is a lack of heart-- we don't get to know anybody well enough to root for them. Nobody talks to each other except to info-dump, and worse, nobody follows their job descriptions (geologists can't follow their own maps, security leaves their weapons at home, scientists don't perform tests, captains can't keep track of their crew, doctors don't care that a woman is running around in bloody underwear with her intestines hanging out, etc.). If the characters don't care about things, why should we?

      Hell, people all over the message boards and reviews constantly confuse the mohawk geologist guy and botanist (biologist?) guy's names. I can't blame them-- I can't remember their names either. Fie-field and Mill-something, I think. I'm not even sure which one ate a tentacle and which one became zombie flambe'. That's not just a plot hole, that's a symbol of something deeply wrong with the screenplay.

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    4. "Bald Xenu Jesus"

      (I'm pretty sure that's actually Voldemort)

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    5. Apologies for replying to this anti-nitpicking post with a nitpick, but re: the surgical pod, there's just one thing that bugged me about it. It was in Charlize Theron's separate section of the ship, so presumably meant for her use, yet when Noomi Rapace tried to use it she was told it was set up for male patients! Wut? :/

      But yeah, I actually agree with the broad point here: if the movie is good enough, particularly in terms of having a strong basic plot and creating an emotional connection, we can overlook any amount of silliness. I mean, the very idea behind Prometheus (life on earth being seeded by aliens) is a kinda silly one, but I knew going in that's what it would be about and was willing to accept that. And I knew it would involve a team of scientists investigating things Man Was Not Meant To Know and suffering various bizarre and unpleasant punishments as a result, like getting a face full of alien wing-wong. It's a silly premise, but one which can make for a fun movie, so I was looking forward to it.

      Unfortunately, Prometheus kinda failed on the part where it was supposed to have sympathetic characters with identifiable motivations, and that meant I couldn't really get into the movie and just enjoy the ride like I did with Star Trek or Back to the Future or Jurassic Park or, indeed, the original Alien. So the plot holes came to the forefront instead.

      By the end, when the movie made us think Noomi Rapace's character had been crushed by the spaceship, I thought she might be dead and then realised I actually didn't care whether her character survived or not. And that's when I realised Prometheus had failed as a movie.

      It did still have some cool stuff in it, though!

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    6. noooo, i'm not anti-nitpicking! just, you know, trying to remind people that plotholes =/= a bad story. :)

      the surgical pod: this is what i thought while i was watching the movie! but then i realised that it was meant to be a sign pointing towards PETER WEYLAND IS HERE. except that actually made matters worse/stupider, because a) the idea of a single-sex medical pod thingie is stupid, and b) the idea that a single-sex medical pod could successfully perform a non-abortion abortion is like, HELL NO. i mean, that machine was probably all like, "WHAT THE FUCK, THERE'S A FUCKING UTERUS UP IN THIS JOINT, WHAT DO I DO!!" and that's why it forgot to properly anaesthatise noomi rapace.

      i'm with you re: the silly alien-god premise -- a premise which, in the past, has yielded such marvels as Stargate and Scientology. having seen the movie, i think it could've been improved very easily with only a couple of alterations -- noomi rapace is a faithful theist who believes that god-aliens seeded the earth, and peter weyland (being an eccentric zillionaire) decides to fund her space-jesus research mission. they go to LV-223, etc, etc, etc, where they find some evidence of aliens (not any ACTUAL aliens or humanoid corpses) but no evidence that they purposefully seeded earth or that they are remotely god-like. what we do find is some alien stuff, as in the movie, and the end result (rather than the ill-explained mixed messages of the film's final act) is that weyland and shaw's delusions proved to be their undoing. and the thing is, you could totally have all that and retain a religious/faith message by having a more likeable character as the more sensible, non-cultlike face of religion. idk. i haven't thought through my Imaginary Fanfic Prometheus movie plot in much detail as of yet, but i really do think that the film could've been so very easily salvageable from the mess it eventually became.

      re: the characters -- ugh, totally! i love noomi rapace and was really looking forward to a movie about a SPACE ARCHAEOLOGIST (even if the story was, as with stargate, attached to the unfortunate Chariots Of The Gods/Scientology baggage), but in the end her character turned out to be immensely unlikeable. i know a lot of people seemed to like idris elba's character but IMO he didn't have enough screentime to make much of an impression on me, plus i found his weird segue into hitting on charlize theron to be creepy and kind of a dead-end, character/plot-wise. TL;DR version: i'm gonna be writing an actual review post on the characters later on. :)

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    7. maybe roided-up voldemort, pre-nosejob?

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    8. it's not even "we don't get to know anybody well enough"! we're introduced to elizabeth shaw right at the beginning of the movie: as an adventurer and an archaeologist, and as a woman in a relationship with her partner. soon after that we get a (pointless and godawfully cheesy) flashback to her childhood, so we know that she was raised internationally, possibly by some kind of missionary doctor, and her mother died at a young age. this is approximately 10201231% more backstory than what we knew about Ripley in the first Alien movie, and yet Ripley was and is a gazillion times more interesting as a protagonist. plus, ripley wasn't even a "protagonist" for like the entire first half of the movie because hardly anything had happened yet!! and this sure wasn't noomi rapace's fault, because i've seen all the lisbeth salander movies and she's freaking awesome in all of them.

      re: the rest of the crew -- UGH, YOU ARE SO CORRECT ON ALL COUNTS. i mean, they're all really terrible at their jobs, and a lot of that must surely be down to whatever moron recruited them all in the first place. finally, at the start of the film we are told that there are 17 people onboard the ship, which in this type of movie kind of implies a coutndown of dead bodies. but by the time we reached the end i had noooo idea how many people were still alive because half of those 17 were like, invisible no-name bit-part characters?? which in this type of film is just a terrible idea, unless you kill them off REALLY early. i didn't have a problem with not knowing the names of the geologist and biologist, however, because i rarely know all the names of the main characters in EVERYTHING and always have to wikipedia everyone whenever i'm writing reviews. ://

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    9. thank you! :))))

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    10. "i realised that it was meant to be a sign pointing towards PETER WEYLAND IS HERE."
      ...Oh yeah, I didn't think of that. The only explanation I'd thought up was 'Charlize Theron's character is secretly a transsexual'. That does make slightly more sense, though still not much for the reasons you mention.

      Your version of the film does sound like an improvement. That basic plot was used in the 4th Indiana Jones movie, which I actually quite liked, although the rest of the Internet didn't...

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    11. Yes! 17 red-shirts-- I'd forgotten there were supposed to be so many. At one point, two red-shirts get in the big armored car and run over crab-zombie guy. The car (and those two guys) are never seen again. I'd like to think they drove into a better movie.

      I kept hoping Charlize Theron and Idris Elba would leave those morons to their fates and run off in her private escape pod. That's a movie I'd want to see. "Can an icy heiress and a down-to-earth captain overcome their differences long enough to beat the Space Albinos to Earth? Next, on Prometheus 2: Alien Boogaloo!"

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    12. they're never seen again?? seriously??

      man, idris elba was too nice though. he'd probably knock her unconscious and then try to save everyone else because he has human empathy and she doesn't.

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    13. We need some New Math for this one. There are actually 19 crew members (I checked on IMDB)- 11 named characters, and 8 randoms (Mechanic 1-4, Mercenary 1-4).

      The car guys are NOT one of the 11 characters I remember (Rapace, Fassbender, Theron, Elba, Guy Pearce, Rapace's annoying boyfriend (dead at this point), mohawk guy (being run-over), tentacle guy (dead), lady doctor, Elba's 2 suicidal co-pilots). We now have 8 crew members left.

      3 people die in the crab-zombie attack (according to the internet)-- but NOT the two guys in the car. So that leaves 5 crew members.

      We see 3 more people later in the movie: the 2 medics Rapace knocks out and Weyland's personal attendant. This leaves 2 mystery guys unaccounted for.

      So, by process of elimination, the 2 guys in the car are either the 2 medics, or the 2 mystery guys. (I doubt Weyland's personal attendant leaves his side.) In conclusion: the mystery guys could have driven off into the sunset.

      Pshew. That was really hard, and I could be wrong. This should totally be an SAT question.

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    14. Ok, drive by comment, because while I have seen none of the Alien movies, nor Prometheus-- Blade Runner never really struck me as being About The Science, so much as it's about people in a sci fi setting. Same with Inception; minimal info on the Science, maximal info about the people.Which, from people's write ups and the trailers, is not really the way Prometheus went.

      Like I said, could be totally on the wrong track, but that's my impression.

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    15. IMO prometheus is about as sciency as blade runner?? i mean none of these things are really HARD sci-fi but they rely upon science-fictionesque premises like the ability to travel across the galaxy and create humanlike artificial intelligence. inception, i think, is mostly thought of as "not science fiction" because it doesn't look or "feel" like what most people see as a sci-fi movie and had a lot of mainstream appeal. but it's pretty much as sci-fi as minority report -- it just has fewer scenes where chrome things gleam under blue/green sci-fi lighting. and re: inception, most of the characters actually had little to no backstory or personal info -- like, really, noomi rapace's character in prometheus and Cobb in Inception are kind of similar because they're the protagonists but they're both kind of unlikeable and ruled by the overwhelming urge to succeed in their own irrational quests above all other things, and both have these hackneyed Tragic Backstories that could've dealt with being handled far more delicately. the main DIFFERENCE between the two movies is that inception is awesome enough that you fail to realise that it doesn't make sense until you've seen it, like, three times and notice the 2131 billion plot-holes, whereas Prometheus is often kind of a drag.

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    16. I believe that the main problem with Prometheus wasn't that it asked questions that are to be left unanswered till the planned successive movies or that it had plot holes, I think the problem was that it had too many of both. Having said that, I was able to sit back and suspend disbelief for a couple of hours and enjoy it.

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    17. Sheepish nerdery: technically speaking, lemmings tactical instincts aren't THAT bad, researchs just had a tendency to herd them off of cliffs in order to get interesting stories about lemmings...running off of cliffs.

      ON THE OTHER HAND I totally agree with this post! I love the internal consistency of LotR (which admittedly is fantasy), but even it has some maaajor potential plot holes (they can be explained away, and I have, but if you need to write a five page essay to explain why something isn't a plothole, let us be honest, it is a plothole).

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    18. Laslo Hollyfeld11 July 2012 at 13:32

      "
      At one point, two red-shirts get in the big armored car and run over crab-zombie guy. The car (and those two guys) are never seen again. I'd like to think they drove into a better movie."


      Here's the thing - the entire sequence of events with Shaw self-operating, discovering Weyland, and the appearance of the mutated Fifield was cut to shit from it's original version.


      Shaw was to perform her surgery, discover Weyland and *then* Fifield was supposed to attack while Weyland and the others were getting ready to leave the ship to go to the temple/mound. Shaw was actually the one who was supposed to run over Fifield in the hangar (this is actually shown in the early trailers; in the film the same shots are cropped to just show a random hand putting the vehicle in gear, and, as you pointed out, the vehicle and characters are never seen again). The guards shown shooting at Fifield were supposed to be covering Weyland and the others as they exited an elevator into the hangar (also clearly shown in early trailers). In the final cut of the film, the guards are still shooting but the door behind them is simply closed. Also, the same two guards are the ones who help Shaw to her feet when she stumbles into Weyland's chamber - mere seconds after they're shown in the hangar shooting at Fifield.


      Not sure why these sequences were rearranged into this order, but the poor editing and continuity errors lead me to think that it was done in haste, perhaps after some test screening feedback(?).


      I hope a directors cut will re-arrange these sequences to their original (and logical) order. With luck, maybe we'll get to see the original version of the mutated Fifield also.

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    19. I'm a few months late here, I realize (The Hawkeye Initiative lead me here) but I wanted to agree. Everything has plot holes, if they didn't, then it would take a few more years for the movie to come out. But with GOOD movies, like Star Trek, you get caught up in the story and it's not until a later viewing that you see/think about the plot holes (if they can teleport any distance in space at light-speed, why do they need ships? Why not just teleport exactly where they want to be?)

      Oddly enough, my quips with Prometheus are... none of the ones you listed. I can accept all those plot holes (well the dreams one kinda bothers me, but moreso due to I never have dreams that are perfect memories of my past/things happen in chronological order/etc. It's like when people "hear thoughts" and those thoughts are perfectly formed sentences and ideas...) but all the HORRIBLE SCIENCE was killer.

      (Spoilers)
      What killed me the most was the group of scientists, including a biologist, are on an alien planet but there's oxygen, so clearly they should all remove their helmets. Microorganisms don't exist anymore? Just because there's oxygen doesn't mean it's safe!
      Actually, I think it's tied with the whole Shaw-had-her-uterus-removed-that's-major-surgery-but-she's-fine-to-run-around part...

      Also, the biologist is scared of a dead creature's body and the geologist- who created the mapping system- gets lost? What?

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