The previous entry in this series addressed problems with the plot of Prometheus, but there are numerous other problems that remain unaddressed by the time the credits roll. This section addresses the problem with the film’s characterisation. There have been other videos that examined the problem of poor characterisation, like Dr. Shaw and Meredith Vickers only being able to run in straight lines from falling objects, or a wildly inconsistent geologist sticking his face into a cobra penis. This video exists beyond simply pointing out that these characters behave like idiots despite being billed as scientists (because maybe scientists in Ridley Scott’s fictional future are all idiots). Even provided we write all the characters off as idiots, the script and plot of Prometheus fails to adequately develop the characters. The film introduces its major characters sufficiently enough, skillfully shifting gears to devote enough time to render Shaw, Vickers and David especially before the rising action, the problem is that after the second act, when all hell is breaking loose on the planet, the film abandons these characters in favour of driving the plot forward, when a stronger script could have managed both, as this part demonstrates.
Scott and his judicious editor, Pietro Scalia, acknowledge in the supplements that they felt compelled to rush through the final act, lest they break the audience’s attention, but they do far greater damage by leaving plots unresolved. To be clear, these moments towards the end are not plot holes. There are numerous plot holes in this film, to be sure, and countless other blogs and analyses have pointed them out to the extent I won’t repeat them here. But a plot hole suggests the narrative thread is nonetheless finished, and that there are gaps in the structure, the problems with this film are altogether more egregious, for plots are introduced which never reach any satisfying conclusion. This extends beyond merely Shaw’s continuing adventures, and has absolutely nothing to do with the many unanswered questions of Prometheus. Instead, the problems addressed in this video revolve around the various unresolved character strands in the movie. Beyond representing plot failings, they also typify poor characterization.
Section 1: Rounding Out the Usual Suspects
That multiple characters in this film have different motivations is not necessarily a problem, however—indeed, it can allow for dynamic story-telling, particularly when one character’s motivation comes in conflict with another’s. Prometheus gives us: a scientist looking to communicate with extraterrestrials, another one searching for proof of god, an aging tycoon who wants more life, a robot who wants to be free from humanity, a woman with unclear goals (except to possibly prove she’s not an android by having sex with the captain the first chance she’s given), and a crew of miscast idiots who have no reason being on board.
The problem is that Prometheus squanders these potentially interesting drives by doing absolutely nothing with them: Holloway dies before he has a chance to meet his maker (so to speak); Shaw is no closer to finding god than simply believing she will (which coming from a scientist is especially ludicrous); Weyland is resurrected from cryo-stasis only to be killed off within a matter of wasted minutes; the only thing David gets liberated from is his body; Vickers seems to exist only to get the lifeboat on to the planet surface so that Shaw can fight the engineer inside it; and the crew, meanwhile, exists only to prove the severity of the situation and the film dispatches them in the editing room even before we get to see them killed off. Rather than adequately addressing any of these goals the film simply complicates the narrative by layering problems. For example, rather than dealing with the consequences of Shaw’s cesarean—namely: is Shaw angry that David tried to freeze her rather than remove the embryo as she demanded? Are the crew upset that she attacked them, escaped, and unleashed an angry squid baby in the med-pod? Is David upset that Shaw didn’t allow him to capture the embryo? After all, why infect Holloway in the first place if he wasn’t concerned with the various lifecycles the infection would take on? And more importantly, just what are they going to do with that alien squid in the next room? — the film instead tacks on a needless twist: Weyland (furthermore, what’s his reaction to Shaw’s abortion? The fact that it’s never mentioned again is a staggering lapse in logic). Granted, none of these questions are plot holes so much as they are missed and wasted opportunities.
Section 2: Piling on Problems
Before the film has time deal with all the complications it has developed up to this moment, Fifield shows up at the front door of the ship to provide the film with a needlessly gory fight scene that grinds the movie to a noisy halt. Musicals died a screaming death in the 60s because audiences grew tired of sitting through musical numbers that ground the film to a shuddering halt, but for some reason action films are free from the same narrative criticism. Not only does Fifield’s attack have no bearing on the events, its conclusion instead only once again reveals the hasty stitches of the film’s careless editing. The scene’s original cut, so we’re told by the editor, began with Shaw, Weyland and David attempting to leave the ship to visit the Engineer, which more plausibly explains why anyone would open a door on a clearly hostile alien planet when a missing crew member inexplicably appears outside it curled up like a terrifying yogi. In the finished film, however, there’s no plausible reason to open the door, at least, not right away. Does anyone on this ship think before they act? Perhaps the film was hoping you’d be too busy wondering about that to notice the scene’s nonsensical ending. Fifield kills countless collateral crew members and is then crushed under the wheels of the shuttle that speeds off into the distance and is never mentioned nor seen from again. So who was in that shuttle? Where did they go? Why would they not return to the ship?
Not that there is even time to wonder about this shuttle or its missing crew, since the film speeds along to the next complication: David’s thinly veiled admission to Shaw that he’s responsible for Holloway’s infection and her impregnation. Squandering what would normally make for compelling drama, the scene trades in any sort of development of Shaw’s reaction to the knowledge that David essentially ruined her life to focus on awakening the Engineer. The film provides the suggestion of a compelling conflict to develop between Shaw and David with this revelation, but does nothing with it. Even after Shaw defeats the Engineer, she never confronts David about Holloway’s murder, other than a cryptic admonition of “Why would I help you?” at the film’s end. While the film’s multiple plot themes do not require that Shaw react to David’s obscure confession, Shaw’s near total non-reaction makes for some weak characterization. Holloway and Shaw are supposed to be in love but she’s not even the least bit angered when she discovers that David orchestrated his death? These lapses in intelligence make the characters so stupid and implausible as to be unworthy of emotional investment. Shaw ceases to be a human being and instead functions as a mere pawn in a lazily sketched plot. Rather than introduce this moment then, Scott would have been well-served to omit it. If they’d done that, then Shaw could have learned about David’s treachery in the sequel, and the sequel could have developed that into a compelling source of conflict for the pair. Instead, this film complicates what it already a complicated plot.
Section 3: Aye, Robot
If the filmmakers were looking for material to cut, rather than taking bits from each subplot, they should have jettisoned extraneous subplots completely. For example, they would have left more time for another scene had they jettisoned the entirely superfluous Vickers and Janick subplot. It adds little to the film, and it fact destroys one of the more intriguing possibilities of Vickers’ character.
The suggestion that she might be an Android, a sort of bionic sister to David, and Weyland’s unholy offspring is entirely abandoned in favour of a stilted and immediately abandoned romantic entanglement between Vickers and Janick. What do we get from their brief tryst? What comes of their union? What is the impact on the plot of their relationship? Absolutely nothing. What is the film trying to say by having these two characters have sex? Ironically, if they’d showed them having sex, perhaps copulating robotically and mechanically, it might have been for an interesting and ironic juxtaposition to the violent and fluid oral rape of the Engineer, the film’s one and only sex scene. The antithetical scenes would have allowed Scott to make some pointed observations about late 21st century human behaviour, perhaps that it’s becoming more robotic than the robots they build to remind themselves of their humanity. At the very least it would give the audience some metaphorical statements to tease out of Scott’s images. This kind of flab character development isn’t necessary to a film, least of all in the second act, when events should be set in motion that directly refer to the ensuing climax (pardon the pun).
Conversely, I learn a great deal more about a man driving himself and his ship into heart of an alien spacecraft than I do when he questions a woman about her humanity. I was even more gobsmacked to learn that they’d kept this scene but jettisoned another, more relevant, character beat, where Janick expresses concern for Vickers emotional state after she executes Holloway. Alone in her room, she’s trembling and appears to be in pain. Janick says as much. She shrugs off the attempt at humanizing her and cooly replies that she “burned her hand”. That says a lot more about this cold-hearted character than having her engage in a brief and inconsequential tryst with Janick that goes nowhere and is never mentioned or referred to again, and does nothing to influence the relationship of any character in the movie.
Section 4: David (not) of Arabia
Speaking of characterization, what is David’s motivation? Is it madness, or malice? Is David working towards a goal, or is he insane? Is he trying to chart his own course—a sort of futuristic T.E. Lawrence? Or is he just an anarchist? Either one is fine, but leaving hints to suggest both is just needlessly confusing storytelling, especially with everything else going on in this film. Characterization need not come at the expense of plot. Lawrence of Arabia, for example, is a masterclass of developing character through narrative, rather than at the expense of either.
During one of Lawrence of Arabia’s more adroit moments midway through the film, Lawrence is confronted with the shattering realization of his limitations. After a perilous journey through the Sinai, Lawrence, still grieving at the loss of his friend (and potentially lover, though the film is purposefully vague on the matter), is stopped by the literal barrier of the Suez Canal. “Who are you?” The unknown motorcyclist screams across the Suez Canal to the unknowable ghost from the desert. Lawrence pauses as he asks himself the same question, looking every bit the vacant bust we see at his funeral in the opening of the film. Though his body may have made it out of the desert, Lawrence’s identity remains lost in the wilderness of his own psychology, one writ large against the backdrop of the political and historical machinations of the British conquest of Arabia in the 1920s. His deathly silence can be read in at least two ways. Either he doesn’t know the answer of who he is, and so he has none to give, or he does and the sobering realization renders him speechless. Either way, all the aspects of the scene combine—from the visual, to the costuming, the cinematography and the dialogue (or lack thereof)—to reveal that a bit of Lawrence died in that journey across the desert. The rest of the film uses the same expert synthesis of storytelling techniques to show that Lawrence’s journey is as much about him coming to grips with that death as it is knowing for certain the answer to that question of who he is.
This reference to Lawrence of Arabia is not to say Scott should simply have copied David Lean, though he would’ve been better served to have done so (and nevermind that he already does with an homage that is never used to its fullest potential). The question of David’s identity and his search for it is entirely abandoned in favour of rushing along to the action beats. Why not have David’s search coincide with the awakening of the Engineer. We get a fleeting glimpse, when David reacts to the Engineer’s hand resting on his head, like a child embracing the stern hand of his father, but then David never is given a chance to come to grips with what the action means for his search. Did he learn anything from his maker’s maker trying to destroy him? Does he feel anything for the death of Weyland? Happy? Sad? Or are we meant to take the moment where he gives a brief farewell to his maker as a sign that David is incapable of feeling anything. There is nothing. But this answer is a slap in the face to the dynamic and engaging David of the film’s beginning, and it’s entirely at odds with the David just a few moments later who warns Shaw and in no small way begs her to rescue him. Why does he want to go on living at this point? Who is David? This attempt at characterization is not as problematic as some of the others (such as Shaw) since David is only intended as a supporting character. But then why does the film devote such time to him in the first act? Why is his character the only character who warrants a proper introduction in the film? Why do we learn more about David than we do about any other character, Shaw included, if he’s not meant as the focus of this film? Why does the film stress the connection between Shaw and David through the very personal act of him watching her dreams, if only to have them act as robotic instruments in the plot to get the sequel started?
The problem is not that these character moments exist, the problem is that they are unfinished by the film’s conclusion. And they should not have been left for the sequel. The largest problem then is the structure of the climax, for here in one room at last are all the major characters of the plot, Weyland, David, Shaw, and an Engineer who could complete all their goals in this movie, while Vickers, the prodigal daughter of Weyland, watches on from the Prometheus. Instead of making anything with this exceptional opportunity for drama, the scene ends in two minutes with the Engineer killing everybody. Couldn’t the scriptwriters have picked an Engineer who didn’t mind having a quick chat? Compare this to a structurally similar journey (and don’t laugh when you hear it) The Wizard of Oz. Shaw is Dorothy, David is Tin Man, Weyland is Scarecrow, Vickers is Cowardly Lion. Now, imagine if after destroying the Witch, which in this movie is finding the map and making the journey all the way to this planet, the characters had returned to the Wizard for their prize (the boons of the hero’s journey, to quote Joseph Campbell), and rather than fulfilling the plot of the movie, which allows all the characters to realize their goals, and for Dorothy to have that wonderful realization that there’s no place like home, the Wizard had instead gone on a killing spree, tearing off the Tin Man’s head and using it to bludgeon the Scarecrow to death while Dorothy escapes to the balloon. Can anyone see the problem with this ending? If you can’t, stop reading, I have no idea how to get through to you, let’s not waste each other’s time any more.
This issue is not a matter of expecting something the film wasn’t required to provide. This is not a matter of a rabid fan of the original series wanting answers for every question. These questions that I’m posing have nothing to do with the Alien mythos, they are basic and essential script requirements for any film. We can say that this film needed to have an introduction, rising action, climax and denoument, because that’s exactly what this film provides, there’s no point calling it bold and inventive just because it chose to kill almost everybody off for the climax at the expense of concluding their plots. Nor is it a matter of “Scott should have done this”, or “Lindelof should have written that”. They are perfectly within their right to do whatever they want. But just because they do it, doesn’t make it the best idea. And for people who argue that any idea is a good one, and that there’s no relative scale in ideas—that ending the Wizard of Oz with a bloodbath is a more narrative and thematically satisfying film than as it currently stands—once again, stop reading, I don’t know what to tell you.
Section 5: Run Run Shaw
Vickers and David aren’t the only characters whose potentials are squandered in this film. The majority of the characters are, but I want to examine the supposedly main character, Dr. Shaw, in more detail.
If Shaw feels like an incomplete character in this film, it’s because she is. If we’re more drawn to David, it’s because he’s the more compelling character. One problem with the character is that she’s not relatable since the film gives her all but one moment to process the events transpiring. Instead of allowing Shaw to process events in the conclusion, the plot just shuffles on from moment to moment. Shaw becomes an illogical puppet dancing on the strings of the scriptwriters. She performs actions not because they are logical or motivated by character, but because the script demands it. Yet the script also neglects to demand she behave with any sort of logical characteristics.
In the case of Shaw, her character exists in the plot as the brilliant scientist who discovers the origins of life. The problem with this description is that Shaw doesn’t act like a scientist. Nevermind that most scientists lean closer to Richard Dawkins than Francis Collins about what’s going on with God, Shaw constantly distorts and disobeys facts that don’t support her initial conclusion. While there are scientists like this in real life, they’re not being entrusted with multi-billion dollar projects. The fact that nobody ever acknowledges either is a strike against their intelligence as well, especially when it puts their own lives in danger. The most extreme example of this is when they make contact with an alien race for the first time. Rather than responding with fear, trepidation, wonder, awe—anything remotely passing for a normal and logical human reaction—Shaw’s immediate response is to simply scream nonsense at it like a crazy banshee. Imagine if you’d been sleeping quite peacefully for 2000 years and then this screeching harpy wakes you up. Ya, I’d try to kill everyone too. Man’s just not a morning person is all. The problem is not so much that she responds this way—although there are better (read: subtler) ways of displaying a person being wholly consumed by their quest for answers. No, the greater problem is that nobody else responds the way a normal human being would respond. Weyland is merely annoyed that she’s speaking first, not that her behaviour might startle, alarm, or otherwise make for a bad first encounter with an alien species. Then, he goes into full out dastardly villain mode when he tells one of the guards to shoot her if she opens her mouth again. Weyland’s reaction to Shaw makes him arguably as ridiculous as her. Why did you bring her if you care so little about her? Or, if she’s so expendable you’re willing to kill her, why didn’t you just leave her on the ship then when she expressed concern for the mission? You had David, what do you need her there for? More importantly, why wouldn’t you have established a game plan for this first contact? NASA has countless protocols in place on the off-chance they ever remotely encounter the spectre of an alien microbe, and these scientists, when confronted with the startling truth that there is in fact an alien just a mile down the road, don’t have the slightest plan. It’s not only ridiculous, it’s a slap in the audience’s face. How dare the filmmakers be so lazy and expect us not to quibble. Is this 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Star Wars? Either one is acceptable, but slipping in-between both just because you want things to happen a certain way is just lazy.
At this point it becomes difficult for the audience to identify with any character left alive in this movie, and not simply because they’re all dying off at a rapid pace. Shaw is particularly impenetrable, since the only thing we know about her character is that we have no idea how she’s going to behave in any given situation. But not because she’s mysterious (as say Captain Jack in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie), but instead because she’s the bastard product of at least two scriptwriters, working many months apart, who each need her character to do something for a plot beat. That’s fine if the film is more about the search for answers than it is whether Shaw lives or dies, but by the end it clearly becomes the latter as the film devolves into merely Shaw’s struggle to survive.
What artistic impetus drives this movie? Is it to depict characters? Or a particularly compelling plot? Or for some other reason? If it’s for the plot, why does it remain so unfinished and haphazardly constructed? If it’s for the characters, why are they so unrealized? Why leave everything so unfinished? I’ve already mentioned one film that managed to do both, but I’ll conclude with another, ironically also starring Noomi Rapace. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, in whichever version you watch, is a self-contained film, by that I mean that the major narrative arcs of the characters and of the plot are completed. Some arcs carry over into the sequel, such as Lisbeth’s relationship with the reporter Michael Blomkvist, but a clearly defined beginning, middle and end of a specific period in their relationship is found in the first episode. So too is the plot as much about the murder-mystery as it is the character of the girl with the dragon tattoo. The story has the good sense to conclude at least one of these arcs by the film’s end—a lesson which Scott and his writers would have been well-advised to consider.
 It should be noted that instances of idiotic characters are less egregious than plot holes, if only because a character’s stupidity goes towards their personality while a plot hole is a strike against the film.