How They Broke Prometheus

I got the Prometheus Blu-Ray on Christmas. It was the über-mega-special edition with a ton of special features. Perhaps not quite as much as Red Letter Media suggested but I ended up spending an entire day watching it.

There is some very cool material on there. I was especially surprised by the edited scenes. There was a lot material that didn’t make it tn the film which wold have likely cleared up a lot of confusion about it. Here are some of the ones that struck me most.

  • prometheus_briefing

    “Guys, I’m gonna explain to you why this movie make sense even if it doesn’t appear so…”

    Longer Briefing apparently there was initially a much longer and more detailed pitch by the two archaeologists. It would have addressed some scientific concerns like how Evolution fits into the idea of Engineers creating life on earth. In the current edit, one of the other scientists asks about that but they just shrug it of. This undermines the credibility of the premise. Another advantage the longer pitch would have brought is to clarify what the expectations of the expedition were. The acts of multiple characters are motivated by strong beliefs that they would actually meet living engineers in person. This belief is never properly established in the shorter pitch. Without that, the disinterested way the characters react to the spectacular finds kinda doesn’t make sense.

  • Weyland talks to David supposedly, there was a scene planned where David would visit Weyland in his cryosleep. One thing I never understood is why David infected Holloway with the black goo. Well, that scene might have clarified that it was the an order by Weyland which David blindly follows because he is a Robot. David still visits Weyland in the final cut but we never learn what they say. They drop some ominous lines in the confrontation between Vickers and David afterwards. But it’s never really clear and so it seems contrived and stupid.

  • Biologist finds life one thing that is particularly annoying about the final edit is how the exobiologist and his punk-geologist friend react when they find the engineer corpse. It seems inconsistent in how they later react to the big worms. Apparently, there was a short scene bit in the room where Shaw takes off his helmet. It would have shown the exobiologist finding a small worm and being quite excited about it. That scene would have been an additional data point in the characterization of this particular character and would made his behavior appear a bit more consistent.

  • Captain comforts Vickers one scene I REALLY liked and that was cut was one between Vickers and the Captain. After Vickers burns infected Holloway, she is shown being emotionally devastated in her quarters. The Captain forces himself into her quarters and tells her a story about a similar mission he had once, where he also had to kill people, who were infected by bio-weapons. The scene would have improved the movie in two ways. It would have added some more emotional depth to the two characters. Especially the captain is very under-played in that movie. Perhaps more importantly, it would have hinted more clearly an an interpretation of what the hell the pace is. At the end the characters are willing to sacrifice their life for the belief that this is a bio-weapon facility. But it’s never very clear where they got this idea from.

Moist of the scenes were cut because of pacing and length issues. It is kinda hard to see if this was really a good idea. But it is true that watching those kinds of scenes in isolation makes it very difficult to feel how they would have fit into the overall flow of the movie. On the other hand, some of them were so incredibly short. That scene with the Biologist was just a few seconds. I can’t help thinking that it wasn’t really worth cutting it.

Hearing the overall intents of the movie, I noticed two very distinct visual effects that really did a lot of damage to how people interpreted the movie:

  • prometheus_goo

    “Nonsense. It makes me feel great. Smarter. More aggressive.”

    The black goo at the beginning The movie starts out with an Engineer drinking something and then falling apart into pieces to begin new life on earth. The stuff he drinks is difficult to properly recognize. It looks dark so a lot of people, including me, assumed it was the same goo the crew of the Prometheus finds. The problem is that none of them has the kind of reaction the Engineer in the beginning has. Which makes the black goo appear weird and inconsistent. It turns out that the filmmakers intended for the stuff from the beginning to be different. There is a part where they hire a molecular chef to design it. They add a honeycomb structure and some spheres to make sure it looks organic and alien. They intended some similarity to the black goo but also wanted it to look distinct. I think they accidentally ended up going to far with the similarity. There should have been more obvious warning flags that this is clearly different from the black goo.

  • prometheus_eye

    I’m not crying. I’ve just been cutting worms.

    The eye worm One of the most memorable special effects is the little fish/worm that comes out of Holloway’s eye when he finds out he is infected. I think that was a bad idea. They wanted to show something shocking and biologically creepy, yet inconspicuous. But making it a worm just added a lot of unnecessary red herrings in context of the worms they find in cave. It just muddled up the question of what the goo actually does. From the making-of material, it seems the stuff is really just supposed to cause some mutations to whatever gets in contact with it. The end result being what happened to the punk geologist or to the worms in the cave. Imagine Holloway just finding an infected vein or something and the movie becomes much more consistent.

But the last things brings me to a final observation. The initial script was a real Aien prequel. Instead of goo, the scientists would have found Alien eggs. Instead of weird goo mutations there would have been facehuggers and chestbursters. Instead of the eye worm there would have been a chestburster scene. Instead of David spiking a drink it would have been David trapping a scientist with and egg. Once you replace the goo with Aliens a lot more puzzles pieces fall into place:

  • Infecting People It makes more sense for David and Weyland to infect people. They wanted to meet a living alien and using the eggs may appear like a reasonable way to do this.

  • Shaw’s “We Must Leave” speech By the end, Shaw insists that they were “wrong” and they should leave. But the goo is a very passive danger so there is no reason to flee. And there really is nothing they were wrong about. With aliens, this speech makes way more sense. They were wrong about the eggs being eggs of the Engineers. They are about to go back to a hive of aliens and Shaw is desperate to warn them.

One thing the Blu-Ray never properly answered is why the opted not to have aliens. Clearly, a lot of the scenes were written with aliens in mind and don’t make any sense without them. They tried to replace aliens with a different kind of danger and just failed in finding an adequate replacement. They created this goo and made it really hazy and unclear so it always fits whatever they just needed in the plot. But there is just so much it can do to fill that alien-shaped hole.

One possible explanation was that the story would have been very predictable and derivative with aliens. As it is, a lot what makes Prometheus work is the mystery. The movie is good at keeping you guessing. Aliens are such a tired trope, the first time the audience would have seen an alien egg, the entire movie would have been spelled out for them. So having mystery is good. The film just never delivers all the payoffs it sets up. I wonder where that short-sighted mystery-driven approach came from? Oh, wait! Look who who came in to do a late rewrite of the script.

Another thing that came to mind is that perhaps there was some rights / licensing dispute. Or the studio got worried when looking at the reviews Alien vs. Predator 2 received. In any case, somebody from above really wanted to downplay the alien connection. This would explain why they didn’t just downplay the aliens but completely excised them. Even the way they talk about the movie seems contrived. Why not openly admitting that it’s an Alien Prequel? It certainly seems to be written that way. Why the talk of “Alien DNA”? It’s Alien but not Alien?

I still like a lot about the movie. There are some really good themes still present in the story. The production design is nothing short of spectacular. It seems to me like the movie started out as a very simple, well written movie and they kinda broke it in re-writes and through some poor editing choices. What do you think?

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

One response to “How They Broke Prometheus”

  1. Alex V

    Interesting. I also like the movie despite an almost endless catalogue of faults. For sheer on-screen beauty it really is worth something.

    I think the reason the recognisable aliens were ditched is that Ridley Scott didn’t want to re-tread the previous movies. Which in a lot of ways is true – it would have. Which begs the question – why make the movie at all? From what you’re saying they have literally taken an Alien movie and ripped the aliens out of it – that cannot ever really be expected to work.

    In terms of the huge numbers of inconsistencies and peculiarities of the plot, I think it just shows the difficulty of making an ambitious movie – clearly some of the problems really could have been solved quite simply, and often in seconds. But the clarity of thinking required to do that clearly wasn’t available at the time.


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