It would have been hard to miss the advertising blitz for the DVD and BluRay release of Prometheus. If you watched a television or looked up anything entertainment related on the internet in the last month you would know what I mean. It’s only been four months since its cinematic release. The usual wait is roughly around six months, so someone clearly felt that movie needed to be out sooner. A hint of the reason why can probably be found in the advertising blitz. Questions Will Be Answered.
The loudest criticism of the film was that it raised many questions and answered almost none of them, even though that isn’t the films biggest problem. Obviously, before human nature took over and you stopped caring, the DVD had to come along and try to get you interested. The advertisers had their tag line without having to think too hard about it.
The release promised over seven hours of extra features that would, indeed, answer questions. So does it?
The very short answer is No!
The short answer is, well kind of …
The “reading between the lines” answer for me is, they don’t know how to tell a good story.
What the Prometheus extras reveal is that the answers on the whole are stupid. Why did the Engineers want to destroy us? Well… Are you prepared? Space Jesus. Yes, that’s right! Jesus was an alien and we killed him. I’m sure there is an even dumber answer to this question, but right now I can’t think of one.
The rest of the answers are either that symbolism trumped narrative, they kept the material for the sequel, or the brains behind the production didn’t really know themselves. In these cases, along with the stupidity of the direct answers it’s a complete and utter cop-out. To understand why, you need to understand how the script came about.
A guy named Jon Spaihts wrote a script called Alien Zero. This is the script that Director Ridley Scott started with and convinced him to return to the genre he helped define. I have not seen this script, although from all accounts it sounds like it would be a good read. Essentially this script was a direct prequel to Scott’s 1979 Alien.
Damon Lindelof was then asked to look over Spaihts script. This was done either because Spaihts was an untested writer and someone wanted to be sure they were backing a winner, or someone wasn’t yet sold on the script and felt Spaihts couldn’t improve it himself. Essentially Lindelof said that while it was a good script, it was basically nothing new. He proposed to focus on more of the unique elements of the script to make a new branching story that was separate from but related to Alien.
This appears to have excited Scott who hired Lindelof to rewrite the movie. It’s unclear how the dynamic worked however. Spaihts comes across as a genuinely decent guy who was a bit shocked his movie was being rewritten but took it on the chin. However Lindelof rarely even mentions Spaihts and talks only about working with Scott. I sense tension. Regardless since the movies release Lindelof has publicly distanced himself from the movies mistakes. He often refers to the movie as Scotts vision, a vision he helped him realise.
For those of you unfamiliar with Lindelof, he is the man responsible for the writing the majority of Lost including its highly criticised finale. Lindelof eventually explained to fans that the story was about people who were “lost” in terms of their lives, not literally lost on an island. He went on to say that the finale was about these people finding themselves, not about explaining many of the shows unanswered questions. My reaction to this? Lindelof didn’t watch his own show.
Lost put forward many ideas that are almost never resolved in its seven seasons. It borders on ridiculous the number of plot points or questions raised that never ever find a decent explanation. Is this starting to sound familiar? It seems Lindelof puts more weight into everything other than narrative. That is everything other than telling you what the hell is going on.
To be fair, the extras reveal that Scott played a very decent hand in denying the audience any kind of explanation. However if Lindelof can’t start to acknowledge that he has a significant weakness in his writing then I don’t think it will be long before he’s cast into the M. Night Shyamalan category.
The essential component of entertainment is the suspension of disbelief. Almost every story has to at some point craft its narrative around something that isn’t exactly true in the real world. Even stories based on true events fabricate elements to create drama. If your disbelief can be suspended, you don’t care and you enjoy the ride.
The human mind is willing to ignore plot holes and the like if it’s being sufficiently distracted. Prometheus fails to do this because it’s entire premise is built on elements that are never explained or appear completely ridiculous. If you want to tell a good story, something unique, then you need to have a narrative that is satisfying. It’s only then that people can look past the unanswered questions.
The issue with Prometheus isn’t that is didn’t answer any of the questions it raised. It’s that it built everything around those questions. It was so focused on those questions it forgot about narrative, its characters, and even basic logic. It’s a real shame because the movie is gorgeous, and there are a number of scenes that when taken out of their context are excellent.
We go to the movies for a variety of reasons, but the common thread is that we need some kind of satisfaction. Questions Will Be Answered is a cop-out because it doesn’t acknowledge that even if you answer those questions the film still doesn’t make sense.
It seems to me through the whole process of writing Prometheus no one really understood the story.
What about you? Do you know of a movie where you felt the film makers didn’t even understand it themselves?