Knowledge of the Gods: A Defense of the film Prometheus (Part 1)
Jonathan R. Lack over at WeGotthisCovered.com wrote a scathing in depth review of Prometheus in an article called “The 100 most glaring logical issues with the film Prometheus.” Apparently he really hated the film, since his conclusion is, and I quote, "[T]his movie is stupid."
No big surprise here. Many movie goers came to the same conclusion. I don’t see why. I thought the film was superb. Then again, I heard the International version, which I first saw in the theater is the uncut rated R version being released on DVD. So I waited to review the film until I could get the definitive edition. This review is about the Bluray release included in the four-disc collector’s edition.
Now, I recently wrote a review of Prometheus defending its intelligence, and I went out of my way to make it clear that most people who didn't get it or felt it was stupid were, in fact, making a statement about their own intelligence. Granted, that statement won’t win any points in my favor, but even so, upon listening to the director’s commentary I was pleasantly surprised to hear Ridley Scott voice the same opinion.
Usually I ignore movie reviews, as it inevitably seems that everyone is a critic. But when there is a substantial group attacking a film, and a film I think is rather excellent, I pay attention. I want to see if it’s just a fan boys complaining, and mostly it is, or if there is a genuine complaint. A lot of people seem to follow the herd and will dislike a film simply because their friend said it was crap. Word of mouth can be damaging, in such cases. Just look at the excellent John Carter of Mars movie. One of the best science fiction films to come out in years, and because of bad marketing and some promotional blunders, nobody knew just how good it really was. So negative reviews began pouring in, and it was clear that most of the people writing the reviews hadn't even seen the movie!
However, on the rare instance when a reviewer takes the time to do a very detailed criticism of a film, then that’s the review I’m interested in. Jonathan Lack (from here on JL) wrote just such a review. JL goes out of his way to list 100 reasons why he feels Prometheus is a stupid film. After reading his reason, however, I feel the majority of them simply don't hold water.
What follows is my response to JL’s complaints.
[Warning: This is an in depth rebuttal to an in depth analysis, and is spoilers from beginning to end. If you haven't seen the film, then go watch it first and then come back later. If you've seen the film a dozen times, give or take, then I'll let you be the judge of whether or not JL's complaints are valid and whether or not my rebuttals adequately address and ultimately answer them. My responses to JL's complaints are in blue.]
Like any science fiction story, we must acknowledge that the science always plays second fiddle to the story. Prometheus is what is considered Hard Sci-Fi, meaning, it is based off real science and all the technology and concepts should at least be feasible. I felt the film stayed true to the spirit of science and I didn't see anything in the film which was out of the realm of possibility, but JL begs to differ. Let’s consider what he has to say and see if his complaints hold up, shall we?
Part 1: The Engineer's Sacrifice
1. What is the planet in the opening sequence? We never find out, and while ambiguity is fine in theory, what few conclusions the viewer can make given subsequent evidence make absolutely no sense. For instance, if we assume that the planet is Earth, major logical issues arise, because…
What biology tells us is that unicellular biological life arose on earth circa the Mesoproterozoic Era (c. 1600-1000 Ma). Multi-cellular life is separated from its unicellular cousins by over 500 million years. So it is not difficult to assume that there would be mountains with green fungi and water on the Earth's surface in the beginning of Prometheus.
The competing hypotheses for the origins of complex life include: The symbiotic theory, the cellularization (syncytial) theory, and the colonial theory. In the film Prometheus, however, the filmmakers are employing a concept found in genuine science which claims that the ingredients for life may be extraterrestrial in origin. In 2009 NASA confirmed this possibility with numerous samples taken from comets which all had the amino acids needed for the formation of the complex life.
Here's the thing though, if aliens, like the Engineers in the film Prometheus, did land on the planet Earth 500 million years after unicellular life arose, there is nothing to suggest they couldn't have kick started multicellular life. So JL's first argument is not withstanding.
2. This cannot be the origin of life on Earth. It is what we are led to believe later on as we learn more about the Engineers, but science tells us that life began hundreds of millions of years ago, and the terrain we see in the opening sequence – mountains, rivers, snow, etc. – is consistent with the modern geological era. When life originated on Earth, the planet would look almost entirely different. Even if we just traced humanity back to primates, we would be in a different geological era.
Land masses, i.e. continents, stabilized in the Paleoproterozoic Era (c. 2,500 to 1,600 years ago). During this time bacteria which use the biochemical process photosynthesis arose to produce oxygen. Things which use photosynthesis usually turn green. Roughly 600 million years after this is when multicellular life would have arisen, so JL is wrong about the science. A simple Wiki search shows it is very possible to have a green planet 500 to 600 million years after the start of photosynthesis. In the film only tundra and green lichen appear. The rest is all rock or cold water. So the opening scene actually matches up with the geological time frame and is not incorrect.
3. If it is not Earth, what is the point of this scene? The only way this sequence actually serves Prometheus in context is if it depicts the creation event characters discuss later on. But if it’s not Earth – and it cannot, by simple math, be Earth – then it serves no point in the narrative.
Well, it's Earth. See rebuttals to 1 and 2. Deal with it. Moving on.
4. If we share a perfect DNA match with the Engineers, why does the sacrificial Engineer’s DNA have to reconstitute itself? We see the DNA break up and reform before starting cellular mitosis, but this is not scientifically possible or necessary since Elizabeth Shaw later discovers humans and Engineers share the exact same DNA strands, indicating simple sexual reproduction and environment-based evolution, not complex DNA reconstitution.
This is just a cinematic representation of the symbiotic theory of the multicellular generation of life. It's probably not visually accurate, but come on, it's a fictional movie for crying out loud. Not a science documentary. The thing to take away from this though, is the science isn't that far-fetched. The symbiotic theory is one of the three leading contenders for describing how life may have actually arose on planet Earth.
5. There are no thrusters on the Engineers’ ship. When the Engineers’ spaceship leaves the mysterious planet, we see no propulsion system of any sort that would allow it to fly. Even in futuristic science fiction, the laws of physics should be obeyed.
The Engineers are an advanced race which were technically and intellectually superior to humans 500 million years before life even arose on Earth. So if they couldn't figure out how to manipulate the magnetic fields and use a magnetic levitation drive, with nearly a billion years of technologically advanced science between us and them, and the Prometheus basically a toy rocket by comparison, I would have to admit that I'd be surprised.
I'm not expecting your average movie viewer to be on the scientific cutting edge or anything, but hover cars are not exactly a new concept. We've seen hover cars in all kinds of films, from The Fifth Element to Star Wars to the Matrix to Back to the Future. Just because those vehicles had blinky lights and glowing undercarriages doesn't mean they're more or less realistic than the Engineer's ship. The whole idea behind Prometheus is that there is a mysterious advanced civilization so superior to us that they seem like gods. If their ship used puny thrusters... or generic binky lights... well... that wouldn't be very god-like, now, would it?
The fact that the Engineer's ship rose slowly, more like a dirigible than a rocket blasting off, suggests it was using some kind of magnetic field manipulation to break free of the planetoids gravitational pull. To me this seems something a super advance race of beings would be capable of doing.
Besides this, NASA has been looking into anti-gravity technologies since. The Russian physicist Dr. Eugene Podkletnov, at Tampere University of Technology in Finland, claimed to have created anti-gravitational fields while working on rotating superconductors in 1995. The Max Planck Institute of Physics has also done research in this area. Ning Li and her team theoretically demonstrated how a time dependent magnetic field could cause the spins of the lattice ions in a superconductor to generate detectable gravitomagnetic and gravitoelectric fileds. In a 1999 issue of Popular Mechanics science magazine, Li claimed to have developed a working prototype anti-gravity device. As recent as 2008 Martin Tajmar et al. claims to have discovered artificial gravitational fields around rotating superconductors.
There's more, but I think this is all I need to make my point that if an advanced alien civilization began such research over 500 million years ago, is it really out of the realm of possibility that they figured out how to manipulate gravitational fields? Not at all.
But it seems the only reason JL objects at all is because he's hung up on blinky lights and the cool effects of fiery thrusters--and could care less about what the story is trying to say.
Part 2 – The Beginning of the Voyage
6. “I think they want us to come and find them.” Why?
Let me see if I can answer this without resorting to sarcasm. Why do they want the humans to come find them... um... just taking a wild guess here... but maybe it's because they left a star chart behind? A star chart that matched up with a real solar system no less.
At this point I am not entirely sure if JL was watching the same movie I was, because I thought that clue was perfectly clear. They even said it was a "map" and then they follow that map and it led them to the giant red X on the map. It doesn't answer the exact why of the Engineer's purpose for leaving the map in the first place (never mind that this question is probably what will lead us into a sequel), but it just seems to me that using some simple abduction, we can deduce that maps with arrows all pointing to a giant red X on them, and the arrows all point to the same location on each map, is usually a good indicator that they're meant to be followed. The guy in the cave painting is pointing his finger, as if to say, go there. All one needs after the initial confirmation that it's a real star system is the curiosity to follow the clue to its logical conclusion, "Maybe they want us to find them?"
This is a logical issue that plagues all of Prometheus, but it begins here. Dr. Shaw and Dr. Holloway see a cave painting where a large figure points at a series of circles. Dr. Shaw says the above piece of dialogue. Even if they had a way to know for sure what those circles meant, and who the people in the paintings were, what about the picture indicates humans are meant to go on an epic voyage? Dr. Shaw’s reasoning is never provided.
Except that it's not a message so much as it's a map. Again, giant red X's always mark the spot. Now remember the mission is basically to go to that spot and see if there is any life. Why that spot and not another different one? Well, because they were given a map that lead to that spot! Does JL really think it would make more sense for the scientists who pieced together a highly accurate star chart from various ancient signs from multiple unrelated ancient civilizations simply ignored that. Oh, it's just a coincidence. If that's the case, then where's the motivation for them to seek funding, get a Prometheus, and fly to an alien world? Oh, wait, there is none. There would effectively be no plot device to get the plot going. The story would end before it ever began.
7. Unit of Measurement Issue: 3.27 x 1024 km is the distance given for how far Prometheus has travelled from Earth. Using kilometers is ridiculous. Cosmic distances are not measured that way, but through special cosmic measurements, like parsecs and light-years, that were created so every scientist or observer could be on the same page about celestial distances.
While I agree that light years and parsecs are the standard means of astrological measurement, all a parsec or light year really is, is a measure of kilometers. I see nothing wrong with stating the astronomical units exactly. A parsec is 30.857 x 10 to the 12 kilometers, so it wouldn't make much sense to say, "Sir, we've almost traveled a fraction of a parsec." In actuality, there is no real glaring logical issues here.
8. Why are Dr. Shaw’s dreams fully edited with multiple angles and cross fades when David watches them?
Because the software which translates the dreams into visual images is programmed to display them cinematically, since that's what humans have grown accustomed to? Does it even matter? It's just a cool scene in the story. This is one of those instances where there is no harm no foul. Just roll with it people.
9. Who is the little girl with the violin seen in dreams and other ship images over and over again? Again, ambiguity isn't an inherent problem, but when there is no interpretive context, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Ever heard of a music video? Complaints like this annoy me, because there is really no purpose to bring them up in the first place. Basically JL is saying he doesn't like this violin scene because he can't see how it fits into the story. But why does every little element need to fit into the intricate plot precisely? Can't it just be dressing to add a bit of texture to the film? It's not too hard to think that humans would take music into space. Heck, astronauts do it all of the time. Does it need to have a meaning? Or is JL just over thinking things way too much?
I should mention that in the deleted scenes the violin sequence does actually play a more significant role in the plot. There is a cut scene where Dr. Shaw is on the emergency vehicle hiding behind the bar, and the Engineer stops to enjoy the music. He follows the music with his hand, showing in a brief glimpse, that he appreciates music--and perhaps shares a closer connection to his human progeny than we were earlier led to believe. But that scene got cut out of the film, and the Engineer comes off as cold, cruel, and helluva frightening. I like the scene, and am glad they included it on the special features.
Ridley Scott goes one further on the commentary stating that music is a universal code, a type of language that transcends cultures, and this is true. He had it in his mind that music might be used as a means of communication between intelligent beings, sort of like in Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters film. Although this is just background information from the Director's commentary, but it shows perhaps the motivation for the scene.
10. Why does the Prometheus begin flashing red warning lights, having other lights flicker in and out, and start tipping from side to side when it nears its destination? We see no evidence of any outer interference that would cause these issues.
Wind turbulence perhaps?
As I recall, there is substantial discussion about a storm picking up in the film as they are landing. "Now that's weather!" one of the crew members shouts.
It seems that on a planet with an atmosphere similar to Earth's, there would be air currents. When they land there is cloudy dark skies with lightening, not exactly indicators of friendly weather. The storm picks up later on. In fact, the storm plays a key element in the plot. So, as I figured it, they're basically flying into a storm, and just set down a few hours ahead of it. Why is this so hard for some to piece together? Does there have to be exposition for every freakin' scene? One of the things I liked about this film was that it didn't hold your hand. It didn't consider its audience to be a bunch of dupes. They landed, and a storm came. So it makes sense to consider that, perhaps, they were getting nipped by the approaching turbulence of that same storm.
11. How could David, an android, play a flute? As a robot, he would be in no need of lungs or a diaphragm, so where would the air needed to blow into the flute come from? In fact, Holloway and David converse, while prepping for the first expedition, about how David does not breathe, therefore not having the capacity to blow air into a flute. David can presumably speak without lungs or a diaphragm because he has a voice box or chip – which is how he can communicate after his head is severed – but he wouldn't be able to play a flute.
It could be said that David doesn't breathe because he doesn't have to breathe. However, this doesn't mean he doesn't have lungs. Even the most primitive robots around today, such as Cardiopulmonary resuscitation mannequins have lungs. It would make sense that David, a highly sophisticated android, would have lungs too. Whether or not he needed to use them is a different matter.
Meanwhile, I have a much bigger problem with this criticism. There is a scene in the movie where one of the crew says it is strange to see David eat food. David simply replies that the reason he eats is to create the illusion of being human, because humans become extremely uncomfortable around robots that don't look entirely human. Therefore these humanism's help to create an illusion of normalcy. I think it's safe to say we can assume the breathing is another feature built into David's design to complete that illusion.
Now here's my problem, the fact that this conversation is actually in the film, makes me think that this gripe is a rather silly one. It's one thing to over think the finer details of a film, it's entirely another thing not to think at all when critiquing the film. I think this gripe reflects the latter rather than the prior, and once again shows the logical deficiency here isn't to be found in the film itself.
Part 3 – The Arrival
12. Why does David not know what ‘casualties’ are when Meredith Vickers asks him? As a hyper-intelligent android, shouldn't David have a dictionary in his memory banks?
David isn't confused about the term, he's saying, "Casualties, mum?" As in, "WTF do you mean, bitch? I gotz it under control!" Then Vickers gets pissy with him, "Did anybody die?" And he reiterates, "No, mum." David clearly knows what casualties are, he's just answering Vickers in a British accent. It's strange that this is the second time JL has been tripped up by British conversation. Here's an idea, watch some British television once in a while! For Pete's sake!
13. The geologist tells the biologist “I’m here to make money.” Why would Weyland hire someone motivated solely by greed for this crucial mission? Seriously. Over a trillion dollars were spent preparing the voyage, and the mission is to seek out the single biggest scientific discovery in human history. I understand that the scientists were not briefed beforehand for security reasons, but wouldn’t you try finding someone a little bit more…eager?
So, my question is why couldn't Earth's best geologist also be a bit of a mammon worshiping douchebage? I mean, there is nothing that says a professional can't have vices. Why is this even a complaint? Maybe the guy just happens to be the best at the job--and at the same time--be a total prick. Also, from my viewing I felt the geologist character was a bit of a coward, explaining why he may not have been overly eager. So again, I don't see why this is a complaint about the film. It's called character building.
14. Why is Guy Pearce playing an extremely old man? The make-up is awful, the performance is hokey, and it’s all because Pearce is not Weyland’s actual age and has to overcompensate wildly. Why could they not hire an actual elderly actor. In fact, since Pearce’s old man voice sounds almost identical to legendary performer Malcolm McDowell, who happens to be much closer to Weyland’s actual age, why not just hire the actual Malcolm McDowell?
No, the makeup isn't awful. The dude is supposed to be over a hundred years old. It's like JL has never actually even seen an extremely, older than dirt, person before. They actually look like Weyland looked in the film.
Additionally, in the special features Guy Pearce asks the exact same question, why pick me to play the part of an old man and not an elderly actor? He then answers that question. Ridley Scott wanted to portray Weyland with an exuberance and determination which is found in people typically more youthful. This energy of a stubborn old man comes out in the imperfect performance of a younger man playing an older one. I for one think Pearce did a marvelous job. The end scene when the Engineer awakens and Weyland is trying to talk to him was extremely convincing. Again, I don't think this is much of a valid complaint.
15. The position of hieroglyphic circles would not lead Prometheus to a specific spot in space. This is the explanation Dr. Holloway gives for how they found the planet, but there are multiple flaws in his reasoning. First, if these cave paintings really were separated by centuries, star coordinates and positions would be drastically different to each separate culture, as they move and change through time. Even then, five circles painted simplistically on a wall could never serve as actual cosmic coordinates to a tiny, minute section of space, because the universe is incredibly vast. That pattern of five circles would appear all over the Milky Way galaxy, let alone other galaxies. It’s not nearly specific enough to serve as a map.
This is the first valid nitpick we come across, but again, it really doesn't matter. This is one of those instances that the storytelling trumps the science because length and pacing to keep the plot moving along are more important than going into technical specifics to explain how the scientists may have pieces together the puzzle. The piecing it together isn't what's important here. The important thing is they did, and it lead them to the planetary system which gets the story rolling. So although the criticism about the technical aspects of stellar cartography is correct, it's irrelevant as such details are superfluous and aren't needed to progress the plot. It's much easier to suspend one's disbelief and just go with it--because hey--it's a freakin' fictional movie--not an astronomy documentary on how to read star charts.
16. What does Dr. Holloway mean by a “galactic system?” This is what he calls the place they are going, but he describes the system as a star similar to Earth’s sun with a nearby planet and moon. That would technically be called a solar system, like the one Earth exists in.
Actually, this is incorrect. The Solar system is just what we call our planetary system which revolves around our sun, which happens to be named Sol. Ah, Sol, Solar, get it? There are also star systems minus any planets. The technical term used for other star systems is "extrasolar" or "exoplanetary" systems.
So the question remains, is Holloway's techno-babble incorrect? I don't know. We could assume he is referring to a galactic coordinate system, or galactic system for short. As he is talking about identifying the star system they have arrived at, it makes sense to talk about it as a galactic system. Just saying.
17. Odd syntax: “There seems to be a planet,” says Dr. Holloway, “but there is a moon capable of sustaining life.” Why can the crew’s interstellar scanners pick up minute details like a life-bearing moon with absolute certainty, but only ‘seem’ to show an entire planet?
This is an example of a movie viewer simply making himself confused because he didn't pay attention to the movie. They knew the planet was there. But when they got there they found out it's not capable of supporting life, which is what they have come all this way to find. Low and behold, there is a small moon which is capable of supporting life. It makes sense that this moon was either hidden by the massive gas giant it orbits, or that their long rang scanners weren't precise enough to pick up the moon the first time around. Now that they have arrived at their galactic coordinates, they discover the moon. Not that hard to follow.
18. Why does Dr. Shaw assert that the paintings are “an invitation?” It seems like a very broad assumption to make based on such a minuscule amount of evidence.
See my answer to 6.
Additionally, Holloway earlier states that "Maybe they want us to find them." But this is ultimately their "thesis." However, I would like to reiterate something here. If all the ancient civilizations of mankind did have the exact same "star chart" hidden in their ancient art, then wouldn't that be an indicator that something wanted these civilizations to discover the same thing? If so, that denotes intelligence behind the symbol, and if the symbol is an arrow pointing in a direction to a destination, then that seems pretty obviously a type of invitation to follow the yellow brick road.
I felt I had to paint a broader image of giant arrows all pointing to the same spot... because, to me, that would be an implicit sign to, you know, go in that direction. It also happens to be why I find this complaint so stupid. JL is basically standing on this road with blinking arrows, arrows from various paths which all point in the same direction down this exact road, see? But JL asks, "What on Earth could it all possibly mean?" I mean, seriously? It's a rather numskull gripe if you ask me.
19. Why do Drs. Shaw and Holloway assume the tall creatures in the paintings are aliens? The only distinguishing characteristic about the so-called ‘aliens’ is that they are tall, and pointing at circles. Why do those circles have to be planets? Why do those beings have to be aliens? What makes Shaw and Holloway think of such a thing in the first place, let alone assume it to be undeniably true? Still, it’s not nearly as massive a logical leap as…
This complaint is technically about back story. Yeah, we don't know anything about their research other than they have collected all this data about these types of archaeological artifacts, and, well, that's all we know. Maybe they have other information the audience is unaware of that leads them to that conclusion. In this case, the back story isn't necessary. It's stated they are extraterrestrial, for whatever reason, and that's all we need to know.
20. What reason does Dr. Shaw have to assert that the aliens “engineered us?” Here’s how the exchange goes in the film. “We call them engineers,” Shaw says. The geologist asks why. “They engineered us,” she replies. No further explanation is given. Shaw simply makes the ridiculously cavernous leap from ‘cave paintings with stars’ to ‘we have found the origin of all life on Earth.’ She has not a shred of evidence – not even a little detail that suggests her larger conjecture – to prove this, and yet she asserts it as absolute fact. When the Geologist continues to grill her on the point, as any sane person would, she has no answers, no evidence, no shred of logical reasoning to explain why the entire history of human scientific theory is now null and void. All she says is “It is what I choose to believe.” Which is infuriating, and leads me to my next point…
Again, this deals with the working hypothesis about the origins of life being extraterrestrial in origin (this is the conceptual part of the science in this science fiction). It's part of the premise of the film. Assuming humans still haven't solved the abiogenesis riddle fifty to sixty years from now, it makes sense that alternative theories would come to the forefront of investigation. The fact that they are investigating human life to be extraterrestrial in origin to begin with probably means they ran into such dead ends. As such, I don't think this is anything to complain about. It's just trivial, minor details that needn't be hashed out. I am beginning to wonder why JL is so hung up on these non-questions though.
21. How can Elizabeth Shaw be considered an actual scientist when “It is what I choose to believe” is her only reason behind a trillion dollar interstellar voyage? That’s not science. That’s not even logic. Believing wholeheartedly in something without a shred of proof is closer to religion, and even then, most faiths can point to some real-world event that fuels their belief. Not Dr. Shaw. She’s just insane, and everyone around her goes along with it without batting an eyelash.
Obviously JL didn't watch the film. It's what Weyland chooses to believe too, albeit for entirely selfish purposes. So Weyland isn't funding a 'scientific' mission in the normal sense. He's funding a personal expedition, a search for the fountain of youth--eternal life--which just so happens to be masquerading as a scientific one.
22. Who is the Prometheus sending messages to? Holloway, Shaw, and David discuss how they have had “no response” from the planet, but what was the message? Who were they sending it to? If they have never been to or mapped out the planet, how and where would they send it in the first place? Even digital messages need another digital receptacle. They can’t just be sent out into the ether in hopes of getting a response.
This is simply protocol. If you received an intelligent transmission from another planet, you ping them back in response, thus signaling that you received their message. The SETI Institute is sending out messages right now hoping to get a ping back from E.T.
The reason Prometheus probably sends out a message, is simply to see if anyone is home. Not getting a response, they decide to investigate.
23. Holloway, David, and the script do not understand basic linguistic theory. David tells Holloway he can communicate with the aliens “provided your thesis is correct.” There is no possible way Holloway could formulate a thesis about alien language in the first place, and if he did, no expectation for it to be true. I assume his thesis is that the basis of human languages come from the engineers, which is not only completely and utterly unfounded and unverified by the film’s internal logic, but absolutely impossible in reality. The thesis supposes that humans must be taught how to communicate, or to have it instilled, but it’s actually a natural ability all humans possess. That is why we have had thousands of languages throughout history, even though, for a long time, humans from one part of the world could not communicate with humans from other parts. Even if that weren't true, for Holloway’s thesis to be correct, all languages would have to have the exact same foundation, but they don’t. Chinese and English, for instance, are completely different. There is no possible way David could trace all human language back to one sole root and somehow learn to speak the Engineers’ language.
Holloway's thesis is that multicellular life was "seeded" by extraterrestrials. It has nothing to do with language or linguistics. Moreover, David is studying Sanskrit, which is the basis for all human languages on Earth. If he can figure out the code of human language, then it would simply be a matter of deciphering patterns of speech for an alien language. Assuming Holloway's thesis is correct, that our DNA comes from the aliens, then our biologies might be similar and our capacity to learn language might be similar as well.
My guess is that David, being an android, and having learned all of Earth's languages (from the Sanskrit up—sorry, couldn't resist), is looking for linguistic patterns which might help in learn the Engineer's language. Later in the film, he learns to read their symbols, and then again in the stellar cartography room he learns the patterns on the console by watching the hologram and listening to them speak. So it makes sense that he had enough information to put together basic linguistic patterns and formulate a rudimentary version of the alien language.
24. How does the Prometheus just happen to land exactly where they want to be as soon as they arrive? No scans of the place, no geological surveys; the Prometheus just happens upon a massive alien structure where all the film’s action will take place the moment they arrive.
In the film, they spotted what appear to be ancient runway marker when the Prometheus comes down out of the atmosphere, markers similar to the Nazca lines found in Peru. Since geoglyphs are man-mad, it makes sense the Prometheus would have picked that spot to land. Again, it's all right there in the film. No big mystery. If you want a more technically satisfying answer, here it is: the Prometheus is a two trillion dollar spaceship with state of the art computer and navigation systems, which probably scanned the moon as they orbited it and the ship's computer picked the ideal location to land, which just so happened to be an ancient launch pad for an alien ship. Again, no big mystery.
Part 4 – Entering the Monolith
25. Why is Holloway so insistent that they enter the structure right away, when it’s almost night? No scientist would ever lack that much caution. Nobody on that crew would go along with him. Does no one worry about safety?
Not in a science fiction movie that is the precursor to Alien. This is about building suspense. We know they know better. But their intrepid desire to explore and their abundant curiosity get the best of them, and it causes the audience to scoot to the edge of their seats. "You fools!" we scream. "Don't you know any better?" Maybe they do, maybe they don't. But the story would be less compelling if everyone always went by the book. But we're talking about the Alien franchise here, and how does the saying go again? "In space, no one can here you complain." Yeah, something like that.
26. Why does Holloway want to know if the structure is natural or not? How the hell could it be natural? It was obviously constructed. Not five minutes ago, he uttered the words “God doesn’t build in straight lines,” so why does he assume God builds architectural formations?
Okay, so JL answers his own gripe to complaint #25 by actually quoting the very lines from the movie (from the very scene I referenced as the rebuttal to his previous complaint?). Okay, I have a complaint about this article, but I probably should just keep it to myself because it will come off sounding overly mean. I will say this much, it has something to do with logical consistency.
27. How does the crew know where to go in the structure? The Geologist says “Pops are saying this way,” but it’s all just one big circle, and they don’t even know what they’re looking for yet, so what sort of directional measurements are they using?
Well, they start walking in a circle then, don't they? Oh, and I think he says "Pups" not "Pops." It's the swanky accent, but I'm pretty certain the other dog cliches, such as the howling at the moon routine that Fifield does, is a dead giveaway.
28. Why does Holloway take his helmet off? What if the scans were wrong? He would die almost instantly. Even if he had complete faith in the scans, no scientist would ever do something so unsafe, not just for their own health, but because exposing one’s breath to their surroundings could contaminate the archaeological site. And why, then, does everyone else just go along with Holloway, take their helmets off, risk their lives, and contaminate the hell out of the incredible alien cavern?
Because he's a balls to the wall adventurer! This is what classic sci-fi is all about! Danger Will Robinson! Illogical Captain. Why does Dr. Who always rush into the most dangerous areas with nothing more than a sonic screwdriver? Why does Captain Piccard always beam down on away missions when he's not supposed to? Why is it whenever someone finds a new Stargate, turns it on, they decide to walk through it not knowing where they'll end up? Why? They're bold adventurers and risk takers. It makes the show exciting! Don't like it? Don't watch sci-fi.
29. Provides wrong definition of ‘terraforming’ when explaining presence of breathable atmosphere. In a theoretical terraforming process, the whole planet would be covered, not just one contained outpost, and the other goal would be to make the earth arable for crops. Whatever this is, it is not the result of terraforming.
I didn't remember any mention of terraforming, so I had to go back and watch this part of the film again. Actually, the statement is spoken as a suggestion, "They were terraforming here." It's just thrown out there by Millburn, as a suggestion for how there could be oxygen like on Earth, his theory, "They were terraforming." The line probably would be less confusing if he would have said, "They must have been terraforming." But on a closer viewing of the scene, it doesn't seem to be a problem. Nobody else agrees with him, so it is quickly forgotten, much like this complaint, and the story moves on.
30. How does David know how to enter codes into the walls and read the written language fluently? Even if the alien alphabet were somehow connected to primitive Earth languages, David could not magically become fluent from such minor amounts of information. And even if we ignore that, how on earth would David know anything about this complex code system on the wall that have no basis in human communication? Where would he derive the knowledge from?
He has pattern recognition software and advanced algorithms which allow him to figure it out.
This technology already exists. Most frequently employed in Photoshop software like Adobe Photo. Every 'touch up' feature uses this sort of technology to magically take out a blotchy spot and replace it with a replicated pattern which the software recognizes by scanning the surrounding patterns, then using an algorithm, generates the same patterns and replaces the splotch. Retina scanning and finger print biometric security are other examples of pattern recognition software. There's also Automated ECG interpretation software developed by Hewlett Packard to be incorporated into clinical devices. Then there is IBM's WATSON.
I'm sure David, being a highly advanced android, would have no problem computing an alien language. Heck, we have iPhones that talk to us, and almost all recent computers have voice recognition software. Combine all this and you get a means to figuring out alien symbols. Additionally, in the scene, David actually get's it wrong once, testing the panel, and does something different to activate the holograms running down the hall--a sort of video playback of what happened 2,000 years ago on that spot. So this shows that David is actually learning through trial and error and doesn't just automatically know how to work the alien tech.
31. Where did the Prometheus security officer go? Before the crew disembarks, Shaw speaks to a security officer, who demonstrates his weaponry. Where did he go off to? Once they enter the structure, he’s just gone.
He stayed on the ship. Besides, I don't recall real astronauts always taking a security detail whenever they land on the moon. He was there just to "See that the are safe." This could mean that he has prepared them for eventual problems. But Shaw states right off the bat that there will be NO guns of any kind. No weapons means the security officer is just extra baggage and isn't needed. Since this is plain as day in the film, and the no weapons thing was asserted so forcefully, I don't see this complaint as anything other than the expectation of the viewer *wanting the security officer to accompany them on the mission. But he wouldn't have anything to do, so they simply did what the story called for, left him on the ship.
32. Why would the Geologist run away terrified upon seeing the dead body? Actual Geologists also study fossils, and since the body is thousands of years old, it has been fossilized. He should be fascinated by the opportunity to study alien fossils, but instead, he runs away. And why would the Biologist – whose mission in life is to study organisms – be frightened by the chance to study an extraterrestrial corpse?
We have already established that the Fifield and Millburn characters are the Shaggy and Scooby of this film--a couple of yellow bellies. There's no reason to try to rationalize why they don't do their jobs, the point is they're both too stricken with cowardice to do their jobs, which is why they ultimately turn tail and bail out on the mission, only to end up getting lost. Asking why they'd be frightened is simply asking why didn't the writers write more mundane characters. It's a stupid complaint. The fact that they are cowards makes them flawed enough to create tension in the film.
33. Why does David just start messing with stuff in the room? Yes, David has a ‘curious personality,’ but wouldn't the sophisticated android be programmed to least know and follow the scientific method, operating with caution and documenting his findings?
David has an IQ of over 300 (see films commentary), so maybe he's not "messing" per say. Maybe he's intuitively keen as to the functioning of the ship. Also, David is programmed for an altogether different mission from the rest of the crew. This is what makes him such a dangerous character--it's his secret agenda that brings all the chaos and destruction upon everyone.
34. “I think we've affected the atmosphere in the room!” Why would they not have thought about that before, like when they took their helmets off in the first place, which automatically affects the atmosphere? They could have destroyed the single biggest scientific find in human history because they were so gun ho, and when they see the atmosphere changing, nobody takes personal responsibility for the mistake.
This complaint is rather stupid. This scene is after David opens the door to the sanctuary against their judgment, so in essence, the viewer here is merely reflecting the views of all the characters that told David not to open the door--but were too later, since David had already opened the door. Which means this complaint has already been addressed by the film, which means, there is absolutely no reason to bring it up.
At any rate, after David opens the door to the sanctuary, they find out that this changed the atmosphere in the room, which is causing the egg-like canisters to liquidize, which David takes a sample of, and this all ties into David's secret agenda.
35. What’s the giant face on the cliff? When the crew runs away from the violent sandstorm, we see a giant face in the side of the cliff, a big carving like Mount Rushmore. Why is it there? What is its purpose? Why do we never see anything about it again?
Yeah, it's definitely there. Maybe the big structure they're in was elaborately carved out to look like the head in the sanctuary, and the storm blasts away the sediment and build up over the past 2,000 years to reveal the specter like face lurking underneath. Or maybe it's just some cinematic foreplay? It doesn't really matter. It's spooky, and just an artistic choice, and makes the sequence more frightening. Does the mysterious face need to be a key point in the plot? If so, the question would be, why? And how would this progress the plot? Asking ourselves this, we can clearly see there is no answer. As such, it's probably safer to assume is was just an artistic choice to add more texture to the film, maybe a little foreshadowing.