Prometheus: lower your expectations.

I went to see Prometheus this week; it was so bad, it’s been irritating me ever since, so I just have to air some of my grievances about it. I had read some reviews in advance, so my expectations were lowered already, but they obviously weren’t low enough. It didn’t help that I chose to see the 2D version – talking to friends who saw it in 3D, it seems most of the plot devices are only there to enable whizz-bang special effects. When you take that away, everything makes a lot less sense.

I can’t stand 3D, I don’t think it adds anything to the experience, in fact the picture clarity and colour depth are reduced, and the light is given a metallic quality that makes it feel more like a video game than a film. I’m sure some people like this kind of thing, and will probably tell me that games are very realistic these days, but I’m not convinced. One of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen was Touching the Void – a documentary about a climbing accident. The aerial shots of the mountains were breathtaking, and didn’t need to be viewed through a flickery pair of glasses to appreciate it.

The best science fiction films leave you wondering, trying to make connections, and working out how it all fits together. Bad sci-fi, however, only makes you wonder why on earth nobody else has noticed the gaping holes in the plot or that fundamental laws of physics have been completely broken. For example:

Why start with a manned mission, when you could send a probe first? I guess because this is the movies, and not the real world, but I’d want to know a bit about where I was heading before setting off. Maybe by scanning and mapping the moon, you’ll find some likely landing spots, and … no forget it, just fly down between some enormous mountains and somehow land in exactly the right spot.

How come these “scientists” are acting like a bunch of excitable children? If you’ve spent most of your life (and two years hurtling across space) working towards a fundamental piece of research, would you take your time studying everything you find? Or have a quick look then hit the bottle because you didn’t get the answer you wanted in the first five minutes? And they all seem to have very broad knowledge base. Not only do the archaeologists know about ancient Egypt, stone age Scotland, the Aztecs, etc., Shaw also knows how to perform abdominal surgery. They’re scientists, it’s all science, yeah?

And how can Shaw do all that running about after major abdominal surgery? Has the human body evolved to magically heal many times quicker than at present, or was it those whizzy, futuristic paracetamol she took?

I was going to complain about Shaw’s wandering accent (as a child, she was clearly from southern England, but as an adult she’s more mid-European), but it seems that Noomi Rapace is Swedish, so I’ll half forgive her. Some actors can change accent convincingly (exhibit A: Idris Elba), but some find it more of a struggle (I’ve never been convinced by Hugh Laurie’s American accent. Maybe it’s because I just picture him dancercising with Stephen Fry).

If the “silicon storm” blowing in (what is it, sand?) is so dangerous to their space suits, how come the ship is ok to sit through it for a few hours?

Having brought the head back in for examination, why were the “scientists” so hasty to rip it open and examine it? What’s the rush? Why risk damaging it? And then, having opened the helmet, isn’t it amazing that after 2000 years, the head within is perfectly preserved? Not mummified, not fossilised, but looking like it had just died five minutes ago. That would probably explain why they were able to stimulate the nerves with a large needle behind the ear. Shame that their hasty actions resulted in the sample being lost before they could fully examine it.

When David went back into the bridge of the Engineers’ ship, how did he manage to get the dune buggy into the mound? We all saw them walk through a narrow opening and climb down a huge step to get in. Perhaps he found another door. He did seem to be strangely prescient.

When Vickers and Shaw were running away from the falling ship at the end of the film, why the hell did they keep running forwards? They were like a pair of rabbits running away from a car. Run to the side, you idiots! Maybe Shaw’s major abdominal injury was distracting her.

Why was Fifield turned into some kind of superhuman mutant, when everyone else who had contact with the black oily substance died? This is the point when I almost walked out of the cinema – this fight sequence was so ridiculous it was almost from another film entirely.

How come David knew how to open all the doors/press the right button on the bridge/play the recorder/etc.? Clearly he has a brain the size of a planet, perhaps he also got lucky quite often too.

There are many more questions ably answered here (thanks to @baxtron3000 for the link) – in particular I found the stuff about the relationship between Prometheus and Alien interesting. I thought the end was set up to completely align with the beginning of Alien, but clearly not.

The one thing I’m still struggling with though, is how the Engineer seeding human life on Earth in the prologue is supposed to fit in with contemporary knowledge. The short answer is: it doesn’t. How can individual strands of DNA flowing down a stream reform into complete humans? Do the humans grow in the stream then walk out fully formed? How does that fit in with evolution and the fossil record? We know that homo sapiens first evolved in Africa’s Rift Valley, but that scene looked more like Iceland, or maybe Alaska or Kamchatka. Or maybe he was just seeding life in general, but there were already grasses visible in the background, and in any case the DNA was an “exact match” with human DNA.

I know it’s only  a film, a story, a piece of entertainment, and I should be able to suspend my disbelief for a couple of hours and just sit back and enjoy it, but I think Prometheus just went too far over the line from the faintly plausible into the clearly ridiculous (Dr Who regularly dives into the ridiculous – he can time travel for a start – but any difficult explanations are handled pretty well). Maybe I’m mostly annoyed because I have to sit through a lot of children’s films these days and so rarely get to see a grown-up film, it needs to be a good one. Having said that, Aardman Animation’s The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists is great. Don’t go and see Prometheus, watch Pirates instead. There’s even a cartographic joke about the sea creatures drawn on ancient maps…

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Tubular Fells

Spotted in the window of a Keswick bookshop:

Wainwright map

‘Tubular Fells’: All 214 Wainwrights on one colourful poster!

There is an endless amount of recycling in popular culture, from tv and movie remakes, to pop bands covering and re-covering old hits, to “Keep Calm and Carrry On” (which seems to be everywhere), to Harry Beck‘s famous tube map.

Often the imitators are of a lower quality or completely miss the point of the original. For example, the ‘Keep Calm’ poster’s great strength is not only its simplicity, but the choice of font, Gill Sans. Some of the reproductions use a different font, so don’t have the same impact.

There have been many reworkings of the tube map, and one of the earliest (and I think most successful)  was Simon Patterson’s ‘The Great Bear’. Stations were renamed after famous people and lines given themes such as explorers, philosophers, comedians, etc. The artist has obviously put a lot of thought into these, as some people fall into more than one category (for example, Gary Lineker was at the intersection of footballers and artists).

A little less thought has gone into the Wainwright poster though. The map is nicely and simply laid out, and I like how the Lakes have been generalized into rectangles, but I’m struggling a bit with the map’s actual purpose. I haven’t looked at a Wainwright book for a few years, but as far as I remember, each book contained a number of different walks over the peaks in a certain area (with the exceptions of the Cumbria Way and Coast to Coast of course). I don’t think each book showed just one continuous route over every summit, which is where the tube map analogy falls down.

Then again, maybe I’m just finding fault where there isn’t any. It’s certainly a lot better than this “map”:

Direction map

I think I’d need another map just to work out where it is. Oh well, at least they’ve given the postcode, so you can put it in your satnav…