The Sci-Fi Discussion: 'Prometheus' and 'Men in Black 3' Have the Exact Same Problem
On the surface, Prometheus and Men in Black 3 are completely different films. However, this dark, adult science fiction horror flick and Will Smith's third alien-hunting comedy have a lot in common. Specifically, they share the same fatal flaw: a half-baked script.
Interestingly, both incredibly flawed screenplays were written under completely different circumstances. The mess that was the production of Men in Black 3 is public knowledge, so much so that audiences and critics alike were pleasantly surprised when the final movie turned out to be a forgettable trifle and not an outright disaster. The script, like too many blockbuster productions these days, was written piecemeal, with the modern day sequences that bookend the film written months before the time traveling 1960s scenes (production was actually shut down for several months so these scenes could actually be written).
The result: the film feels scattershot and unwieldy. Things happen, but there is little coherence. It's all painfully perfunctory. True script problems can only be discovered if you sit down with ah complete, finished draft and read it cover to cover. Does the opening inform the closing? Is there a narrative consistency to the entire project? When you begin shooting without a finished script, these are problems you don't dissever until you're in the editing room, but by then, it may be too late to put a bandage on the wound.
Prometheus, on the other hand, has a bad script that was not the result of a busy, studio-mandated production start, but rather the result of a creative team whose reach exceeded their grasp. Prometheus is a movie written and made by people who believe in the project with every fiber of their being and have, unfortunately, bought into their own hype. Just look at the marketing and hype leading up to Prometheus. "The co-creator of Lost! The director of Alien and Blade Runner returning to the genre that he helped define" and so on and so forth. Unlike Men in Black 3, Prometheus is a movie with huuuge ambitions. It doesn't want to be a slight experience. It wants to be a defining experience. It wants to be Alien. It wants to be Blade Runner. Considering the lack of solid answers behind much of anything that happens in the film, you can argue that it wants to be 2001: A Space Odyssey.
And that's what makes Prometheus so darn frustrating. In the end, it's a silly B-movie, a monster vs astronauts movie straight out of the 1950s…it just has delusions of grandeur. Everyone involved was so busy trying to be Big And Important that they forgot to tell a competent story. Prometheus may be one of the best looking movies ever made and if you watch any scene out of context, you may be tricked into thinking you're watching a great movie (hence those ah-may-zing trailers), but it's screenplay is a house of cards. It's sure doing something difficult, but it's never going to stay up.
The moral of this story: write your damn screenplay, read your damn screenplay, re-write your damn screenplay, re-read your damn screenplay and then rewrite your damn screenplay again. Repeat. Your audiences will thank you.
Introducing the Last Sci-Fi Blog Book Club
Two weeks ago, Ray Bradbury passed away and I realized that I had not read nearly enough of his work. That got me thinking about the sheer number of great writers I've neglected, the massive stack of books that I've put off reading. No more. It's time for me to be a better science fiction fan and I want you to join me.
Welcome to the Last Sci-Fi Blog Book Club. Every two weeks, we'll convene here to chat about a book. Our curriculum will be a mixture of old and new, famous and not-so-famous, books that I've read before and books that I've never touched. We'll not only talk about the book, but we'll discuss any film adaptations and how they compare to the original (and if they haven't been adapted, we'll fan cast and talk about how we would make them!).
In honor of Bradybury, we'll be kicking things off with one of his most celebrated short story collections: The Illustrated Man. The schedule for the next two months is below, so feel free to read ahead! I'll see you in two weeks, folks.
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (7/5/12)
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein (7/19/12)
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (8/2/12)
Foundation, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov (8/16/12)