Plot Doctor: Prometheus

Recently, Ridley Scott was complaining about superhero films, as having bad stories and scripts, while relying on special effects. That’s funny, because it’s also the most succinct way to sum up his two most recent films within the Alien movie canon.

With that in mind, lets sum up what’s wrong with Prometheus, before we get into how the plot could be salvaged, and repaired.

Symptoms: What is wrong with Prometheus:

Fundamentally, Prometheus’ greatest flaw, is that it was written by people who  appear to be less intelligent than the characters they’re writing. From the language used by the “scientists” who call Evolution “Darwinism”, to the way they behave on the planet & conduct their jobs, it suggests that these writers have an internal model of science that is so misinformed, they are incapable of actually writing a scientist who behaves, and speaks like a scientist.

What they wrote, were religious acolytes. Scientists don’t call Evolution by Natural Selection “Darwinism”. Religious people call it Darwinism, because in the faith-based worldview, knowledge is received wisdom traceable to the opinion of a singular prophet or anointed individual, whose arguments gain strength & validity because of who that individual is, not because of the evidence used to underpin the argument itself. Thus, calling Evolution “Darwinism” makes it just an equal, and alternative “ism” to Creationism.

The religiosity of Prometheus is a flavour throughout the film – Shaw is a religious zealot, whose deepest conviction for everything, especially the conviction that the Engineers must be benign, comes down to religious faith.

And that’s the thing, you can’t find Shaw a sympathetic hero, because her zealotry & hubris ultimately leads to the death of everyone on the mission. The only way to make her the hero of this film, is for her to have the Damascene conversion, realise she was wrong, and to sacrifice herself to save the skeptical Vickers, and the “just doing their job” bridge crew of the Prometheus.

But the film wouldn’t do that, because the writers had invested in painting Shaw as the hero, and Vickers as the spoiled, scheming ungrateful child antagonist, whose motivation is that she’s angry daddy won’t give her a pony soon enough.

The film they made, if you really look at it, is the story of Shaw’s folly, but the angle they took with it, was as Shaw’s triumph.

They did try to create a villain in David, except that “clearly a frightening creep from the first moment we see him” doesn’t really create a lot of audience tension. It’s surprising he didn’t grow himself a false moustache that he could twirl, instead of bleaching his hair.

Treatment: How to fix the plot of Prometheus:

Most of Prometheus is salvageable, and the film could probably be rescued with just ADR and a bit of editing. A plot which works, might proceed as thus:

Meredith Vickers is the heir to the Weyland empire. It is an empire in serious danger of being lost to investor lawsuits, as the founder and majority shareholder, Peter Weyland, has become increasingly erratic, thanks to the effects of experimental geriatric medicines, which account for his strange old-young appearance.

Weyland has come under the thrall of a pair of fundamentalist cult leaders – Elizabeth Shaw & Charlie Holloway.

Shaw and Holloway promise Weyland eternal life if he can take them to meet humanity’s “creator”. They have assembled a team of monks from their cult. These are people who know how to operate scientific equipment, but have no real conception of proper scientific practice, or thought. Think of them as analogues to Young Earth Creation Scientists.

Once they reach the planet, these monks will take their helmets off without testing the air for pathogens, because they have faith that their creator’s holy land would not allow them to be harmed. They reach out to touch the angry snake monster, because it’s a holy product of their creator, and therefore would never hurt them. Holloway deliberately infects himself with the black goo, because he sees a carved mural of an engineer drinking it (or that opening footage of the engineer drinking the goo, but repurposed as one of those weird holographic recordings), so he sees it as a sacrament.

The film ends with Vickers surviving (because she’s the smart one and runs sideways), Shaw being consumed by the octopus monster she doesn’t surgically remove, because it’s a holy child (if you really want to be body-horror and gross about this, and shoot new footage, she could have partially birthed a mass of tentacles, which are wrapped around her legs, and are walking her like a exoskeletal puppeteer, while other tentacles are controlling her arms, and wrapped around her head to control where her eyes are pointed, and she’s the monster, chasing Vickers).

David is destroyed along with Weyland, because David is a stupid obvious character, and should not form the narrative core of an apple, let alone a movie franchise.

If you allow faith to be portrayed honestly, and allow actions based upon it to proceed as they actually do in the real world, you get almost the same film, but it works from a narrative, and character perspective. Instead of a parable on the enduring power of faith, it becomes one of how faith leads us astray.

Every point at which the characters choose to proceed based upon how they believe the world to be, rather than observing and testing the world, before proceeding on what they learn the world to be, is one at which they get monched by the monster.

Again, that’s sort-of the film they made, but only accidentally. To reiterate the canonical problem – no actual biologist would have attempted to touch that snake thing while it was rearing up and making itself look as big as it could. It’s such an obvious threat display, and as any real biologist would know, snakes are basically one long, super-strong prehensile arm. You do not let yourself get into a situation where they can grab you.

Yes, Prometheus delivered a movie about faith and hubris coming undone, but it achieved this by having characters who did stupid things for reasons of plot convenience, not because it was internally consistent with who those characters, and professions were.

If the plot is reliant on idiots making bad choices, the movie has to take the time to show us why idiots are in that position in the first place, and what it is about their character, that gives them such a misguided worldview. The ignorance of unprepared, unqualified people being in a position where the most likely outcomes of their ignorance causes them to fall further and further down a staircase of increasingly bad events must be earned.

What is wrong with that exo-biologist, that he can’t recognise a threat display? If you don’t explain sufficiently why the gravity of causality would tend to cause events to fall towards his demise, then you can’t kill him off in that fashion without breaking the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

This is a fundamental problem some writers don’t seem to understand – the audience’s ability to buy the events of the story, is directly linked to how often the most likely outcome of a situation occurs. Every time the unlikely event happens, the author cuts another thread holding up the disbelief-suspension net.

Rehabilitation: A new opening scene for Prometheus:

For the full-fat slow-motion-walk-away-from-the-explosion rescue, not just a deep-space salvage, what the film really needs is a new opening scene. This opening has the purpose of setting up the following:

  • Weyland Corporation’s scale.
  • Peter Weyland’s madness.
  • Shaw and Holloway as culty villains.
  • Vickers as the hero / narrative protagonist.
  • Vickers’ motivation:
    • The threat to Vickers, and to Weyland Corporation that Peter Weyland’s madness, fed upon and by Shaw & Holloway actually represents, with stakes and consequences plainly stated.
    • The rewards Vickers will receive if she succeeds.
  • The tie-in to the rest of the Alien universe, beyond just the creature itself, because we know Weyland Corporation eventually becomes Weyland-Yutani – how can we set up a logical scenario where causality will tend towards the Weyland-Yutani outcome.

This opening sequence is dialogue of an in-person corporate meeting, between Vickers, and a delegation of minority shareholders, one of whom would appear to be an employee / union representative (who I imagine has a thick New York / Brooklyn accent), in Weyland Corporation. The dialogue will be heard over the establishing cinematography, which will sync up at the end of the meeting, as the delegates leave the meeting room.


An overhead shot, straight down of dark blue, cold, windswept ocean. The camera is moving across the water. The occasional pinnacle of jagged black rock breaks the surface, travelling vertically down the frame, so that the breaking waves can give a sense of immense scale, distance and speed of movement.

Then, a dead straight border of Tetrapod breakwall slides down from the top of screen, as we cross over onto land. A giant expanse of tarmac. As we traverse over this in a continual straight line, we are following a colossal clear path, to each side of which, is a grid of the giant behemoth N-Class starfreighters, whose distinctive design, recognisable to anyone who has seen Alien, hints that this is a major facility, in fact the primary shipyard for interstellar freight hauler Weyland Corporation.

As we continue to track across the gridded landscape of identical starships on giant marked-out landing pads, each separated by equal tracts of empty tarmac, some are still under construction beneath colossal rolling Vehicle Assembly Buildings, some are only partially covered by structures for localised maintenance.

The area is so large, we pass through isolated rainstorms, and still the landing & construction field continues.  A launchpad for an orbital shuttle appears into the top of frame, a tiny thing, it explodes skyward on a pillar of white fluffy exhaust, towards the camera, passing by level with us as it leaves the bottom of frame, and still our journey progresses.

The empty tarmac is replaced by an industrial park of support buildings, ever increasing in density, as the camera begins to tilt up towards the horizon, revealing a collection of office buildings, whose tallest tower is our destination. We track forwards, closing in on a single, large panoramic window. A blonde woman, Meredith Vickers, in executive power-formal dress is standing with her back to us, and a group of people can be seen silhouetted at the other end of the room, leaving through a pair of giant double-doors, which close behind them.


Delegates: Ms Vickers, while we understand Mr Weyland still controls the majority of shares, at only fifty-one percent he can't keep treating the company as his personal fiefdom.

Vickers: I understand you concerns.

D: Do you? Yutani Corporation have been complaining about a lack of progress in our tractors, and they represent seventy percent of our haulage business...

V: I'm aware of Yutani's importance to our company.

D: Good, because Yutani are saying they want a five percent decrease in transit time per decade, we've gone nowhere on that in twenty years.

V: The N-Class is the workhorse of our civilisation, and it's good for another century. Some of us will be long-dead while N-Class upgrades are still the backbone of trans-systemic transport.

D: That's a lovely sales pitch, but Yutani's cargoes are worth a multiple of our haulers, and if we can't deliver the speeds they want, they might just decide to get into the tug business themselves.

V: We've wargamed that possibility, and frankly, we don't think they can get an N-Scale starfreighter into production faster than we can develop a fast retrofit for the N.

D: Who said anything about developing a new tug? If you don't fix this, and get Weyland back under control, and focussed on the business we have, rather than whatever fairytale he's chasing, we will sell to Yutani. Their lawyers will flense you like a whale, and take the tug business for themselves.

V: *sighs* To be blunt, you have my sympathies. Father is old, but regardless of how much of his personal fortune he spends on geriatrics, he is not immortal. He will die, and when he does, his shareholding will pass to me, and I am interested in running a starfreighter fleet, not...

D: Meeting God? We've all heard the rumours - people are laughing at us, "Weyland and madam Rasputin" It's ridiculous! Twenty years, and no progress on our fleet, and he's siphoning ungodly sums into a deep space exploration vessel, with holographic displays, and every toy imaginable!

Employee Representative: Ms Vickers, Weyland stands for serviceability, modularity, reliability and manufacturability. We employees built the reputation of the N-Class - of our company, on being able to fabricate any N component or system in the machine bay of an N-Class, and yet here he is, pissing our money, our retirement savings away on external contractors & bespoke systems!

V: I agree, but my hands are tied. Father is headstrong, and this Shaw... It requires delicacy, and I am working on it. The worst-case scenario I can offer you is, he makes his trip, and either finds something miraculous, paradigm-shifting, and sets us up for the next one-hundred? five-hundred? years, or he doesn't and we use it as grounds to have him declared mentally infirm. I take over his shareholding, and we either sell the ship, or figure out how to commoditise it using our standard systems, and get into selling wagons for a trans-systemic archaeological gold rush.

D: So, you have a plan.

V: I have a plan. I also have another meeting in 10 minutes. It has been a pleasure to hear your concerns, and I hope this private conversation can help us find common cause to rescue our company.

ER: Thankyou Ms Vickers.

The delegates leave, and we are in sync with the end of the opening footage description.

Vickers’ PA enters the room through a side door.

PA: You know that Shaw & Holloway will fight your attempts to have your father sectioned, or they'll have tried to set up a rival succession to take control of his shareholding.

Vickers turns to look out the window, surveying the construction yard.

Vickers: Space is dangerous, and Shaw & Holloway on this new ship, all these *pauses* bespoke, new, custom systems... failures & accidents happen.


And that’s how you get Capone fix Prometheus. Next up, we’ll attempt to diagnose, treat & rehabilitate Alien: Covenant.

How I’d Rewrite the Star Wars Prequels

So I’ve been listening to The Incomparable Podcast’s post-mortems of the Star Wars prequels, which I would recommend everyone have a listen to. They cover how wooden the acting is, how creepy, leery creepy Anakin Skywalker is, and how in the end, the character portrayed – a whiny little idiot (no really, a genuinely ignorant brick-stupid person, who gets played for a fool) isn’t recognisable as the Darth Vader that we see in the actual real star wars films – a dignified, menacing, capable and above all, self-assured, enforcer and fixer.

So, in light of listening to all of this, and the Redletter Media critiques, I thought I’d have a bit of a go at how I would have structured the star wars prequels – cause if there’s one set of films that’s in a dire need of a reboot, it’s Episode 1, 2 & 3. This isn’t going to be a full narrative or fanfic, more a loose collection of elements could be done differently to make for more compelling plots, and more believable characters. Largely it’s just an exercise on my own part to work in a world I didn’t create.

Disclaimer: I’m not going to claim that any of these ideas are unique or original – I’ve only seen the films (and owned the toys / McDonalds meal cups etc when the holy trilogy first came out), not any of the extended universe, but they’re thoughts I’ve had without knowingly taking from other sources.

The Force and its relationship to the Jedi & Sith

Midichlorians are gone – a mechanism isn’t necessary.

The Force works differently depending on whether one pursues the light or the dark side.

  • Light: The user becomes more and more powerful as they age, culminating in the ability to become a force ghost when they die, if they live long enough. Actively using the force to effect the world slows down one’s development – it works like compound interest in a savings account, and it costs every time it’s used.
  • Dark: as above, with age comes power. The Dark Side can prolong corporeal existence, but when one dies, that’s it. Using the force to effect the world speeds up one’s development – it works like an exercised muscle.
  • They cancel each other out – so pursuing one path reduces the time available to pursue the other to its critical mass of immortality.

This sets up the Jedi as conservative, passive – avoiding conflict and devoting themselves to meditation because they have an eternal payoff at the end, which they risk if they die too young, or are too profligate with their Force use. Their “negotiation” skills are more about jedi mind tricking the various parties, than combat. Their martial skills are of prime importance when combat is required, because they need to avoid using the force in an active manner.

The Sith get a vampyric element to them – they can speed up their development by harvesting other force-users, both Sith and Jedi. Their almost mythical status is because it’s rare for a Jedi to meet one and survive – they fight and use the force so aggressively. If a Jedi is “eaten” by a Sith, they don’t get to be a force ghost – they’re gone completely.

Like elephants, their strategy is to get so powerful that they have no natural predators left, and can live out a perpetual corporeal existence.

Biology and the Force

He’s more machine than man now, twisted and evil.

The force depends on bodily integrity – losing a limb will permanently retard development and reduce one’s end-potential. This is why Darth Vader doesn’t get to the level of having force lightning, and is instead more reliant on the lightsaber than a Sith would normally be. His shot at immortality is that there’s less of his human body left to preserve, the technology can keep him going in lieu of the reduced preservation abilities of the Dark side. General Grievous is a great example of a Sith that has been so thoroughly damaged that now he’s only a collection of organs, and there simply isn’t enough meat left of him to channel the force at all.

Above all, the Jedi, and to a lesser extent the Sith, are body-proud.  Anakin’s loss of a hand is part of what sets him on a path to the Dark Side – knowing that he’ll never be as good as he should be because of his “imperfection” gnaws away at him, beginning the slow poisoning his mind.

 The Political Opening

The Jedi Council could actually be ghosts as far as the eye can see, like the city under the mountain scene in the final Lord of The Rings film. Their inertia against taking personal risk is symptomatic (and possibly causative) of the general malaise within the galactic society at the time – democracy is failing, the government is ruled by a corrupt bureaucracy, and corporate thuggery is effectively oppressing the galaxy. The Jedi experience none of this, and what they see of it, it’s not their place to get involved unless the bureaucracy requests it, which only happens when it’s actually helping the corrupt.

By positioning the Jedi as actually being bad guys from an objective standpoint, Anakin has a legitimate reason to hunt them down and destroy their power structure. Darth Vader has no reasonable motivation unless he’s righteous in what he does – he has to believe the Empire is achieving something.

Anakin’s Fall

The Jedi’s refusal to act when the clone wars erupt (could be nothing to do with the creation of stormtroopers) culminates in entire planets being devastated (which neatly mirrors the Empire later creating a device for that specific purpose) – genocide occurring over and over. Anakin is expelled from the order for trying to rally the people of a planet which is to be cleansed. The great crime of “getting involved”.

The Creation of Darth Vader

Anakin turns himself into Vader, the cyborg. His climatic transformation occurs as he’s fighting his way through the Jedi temple. He fights more and more ferociously, as we see Luke do at the  end of Return Of The Jedi, but using the force, and being injured in the process. In one of the minor boss battles during the process, he loses an arm, and rips off the arm of a robot support soldier, and using the force, fuses it into his body – much like Tetsuo using telekinesis to make an artificial arm in Akira. This process continues, a leg is blown off by a laser, and he rips a robot’s leg off, making it into a functional limb through sheer force of will, depleting his light side reserves, and so he takes the final step, and consumes the next Jedi he encounters, becoming a Sith. He eventually works his way through the temple, killing, consuming and being shot and chopped up, until by then end, he’s a patchwork of different bits of robots, and all the Jedi are dead and consumed.

And he never says “noooooooo” – the best bit from The Incomparable was one of the panellists suggesting that Vader’s first word post-transformation should be “good”.

Once Vader is created, and the Empire established, he is a peacemaker. Sure the “stop fighting or I’ll come back here and kill all of you” form of diplomacy is a bit arbitrary, but he’s seen what galactic conflict and genocide, and “not getting involved” can do. He believes in what he’s doing. He is, in his worldview, the good guy.

Related to that, do we ever actually see The Empire do anything “evil” outside of the scale of what it is? Is the destruction of an entire planet with a terrorist leadership that much worse an act (in terms of scale) for a galactic government, than the American government nuking a couple of Japanese cities? You don’t see storm troopers beating civilians in the streets, you don’t see The Empire using slaves – they genuinely come across as an effective professional military trying to do a difficult job, keeping peace on a galactic scale. Calrissian complains about taxes levied on Bespin, as if being required to follow regulations in the extraction of natural resources, and paying taxes on your earnings is the very face of despotic evil.

Nope, I’ve decided The Empire were actually the good guys.