Monday, June 11, 2012


By Deborah Sharp

Like a good film nerd, I rushed to see Prometheus over the weekend, as soon as it opened in theaters. I've loved the director, Ridley Scott, since 1979 when I cheered for Sigourney Weaver kicking extraterrestrial butt in Alien. (See, children, there was a spaceship named Nostromo, and Sigourney/Ripley was on board in her underwear, suspended in a deep state of sleep . . . )

Scott has directed a long list of hits since Alien, including Blade Runner in 1982; Thelma and Louise in 1991;  and Gladiator in 2000. Prometheus is likely to be another boffo blockbuster. I absolutely enjoyed the film. Spectacular effects. Scary thrills. The acting was good, verging on great. Standouts were Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, the original ''Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,'' as the scientist Elizabeth Shaw, and Michael Fassbender as David, the very best thing in the movie. See him pictured here.

So what was the problem? The story. In making this movie, Scott got away with things that even a writing-class novice would know not to do: Plot holes so gaping you could launch a spaceship through them. Big questions, but no answers. Characters without motives. A one-dimensional villain (Yeah, yeah, I know it was filmed in 3-D). I shudder to think what my editor or critique group members would say if I turned in a manuscript like this movie. I'd see a sea of question marks on my pages:

Why is this character doing this? 
Did I miss something? Has the plot addressed THIS???

I think we're more forgiving of movie makers than we are of novelists. The action and visual elements carry so much weight in films, that the story often gets short shrift. Sitting there in the darkened theater, eating popcorn and hiding my eyes at the scary scenes, I loved the show. (In brief, a team of earthlings take the spaceship Prometheus into space to try to discover how human life came to be. Very bad things ensue.)

It was only after the credits rolled that I felt cheated, when my husband and I tried to figure out what the heck happened -- and why. For me, that wtf? moment occurs a lot more frequently at the end of a movie than it does when I close a book.

How about you? Do you find flawed (or absent) plots more common in movies or books? Have you seen Prometheus? What did you think?


Sheila Webster Boneham said...

Oh man, I hate when that happens. Really dislike those gaping plot holes - they bother me more than goofs like the same extra walking by six times. Great post - and I agree that most books are tighter. Maybe we novelists are just more fastidious! ;-)

Beth Groundwater said...

I think the story flaws happen a lot more often in action/adventure films nowadays. The movie makers focus on those huge, entertaining explosions and chase scenes and don't sufficiently tie them together with quieter scenes needed for plot point and character motivation revelations.

Deborah Sharp said...

Sheila: I actually love to see those same-extra-numerous-times kinds of gaffes. Plot holes, not so much.
Beth: God forbid there should be a quiet scene in an action-adventure flick, right?

Kathleen Ernst said...

I do agree that a moviemaker's focus on effects and snazzy visuals can overpower telling a good story. But I sometimes read books--best sellers-- that also seem to give plausibility and motivation short shrift. I guess it all comes down to what viewers/readers want, and perhaps sometimes a quick, light read or a pretty movie is satisfying!

Liz Roadifer said...

I agree. So many things my critique group would have questioned and insisted be fixed.

Like Vickers disappearing when key plot points were changing, only to reappear when the problems/danger that needed to be addressed were already past. Or David reading the alien writing but no one asking him what it said. Or even David speaking the alien language when anyone who has seen the Stargate movie knows how impossible it is to speak an ancient language when no one knows the phonetic links to each character in a word. (Kept wishing Dr. Daniel Jackson would show up.)

So disappointing. The special effects were excellent but I still left the theater feeling empty. If anything, it exemplifies what a great job Joss Whedon did on The Avengers, excellent writing and special effects.

Maybe all screenplays should be edited by a publishing editor or literary agent before being made into a movie.

Jennifer Harlow said...

I just saw it yesterday and was more than a little underwhelmed. It looked great, but there were so many plot holes and I didn't care about the characters at all. When the robot has the most personality you know there's something wrong.