Jun 12 2012

The Science of Prometheus

I’m a huge fan of science fiction, especially hard science fiction, and also of scientific deconstructions of popular works of science fiction. I also enjoy other forms of speculative fiction – I don’t require scientific accuracy, or even plausibility, to enjoy a good book or movie. I’m perfectly willing to suspend disbelief or allow for “gimmies” – OK, there’s subspace and you can travel faster than light. I’m good with that. I appreciate, however, when sci fi writers try to work within the scientific framework as much as possible, to minimize “gimmies”, and to extrapolate thoughtfully from established science. What I am not tolerant of, however, is gratuitous errors in science. There’s just no excuse for that in science fiction.

I saw Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel, Prometheus, over the weekend. What follows is a sequence of spoilers, so be warned. I will try not to discuss plot points unnecessarily, but if you don’t want any spoilers wait until after you see the movie to read further. This is also not going to be a movie review, just a discussion of some of the science in the movie.

Let me start with something that I really enjoyed. The planet that the ship Prometheus and its crew visit in the movie is actually a moon of a gas giant. I find this idea fascinating, and have speculated about this before myself. We are in the midst of an explosion of exoplanet discoveries. We are just now starting to get some data about what the typical configuration of other stellar systems is likely to be. We still don’t have enough data to answer this question, and our methods of finding exoplanets are biased toward large planets close to their suns. But we are starting to find smaller Earth-sized worlds far enough out to be in the goldilocks zone where liquid water can exist on the surface.

Obviously there is a great deal of curiosity about how many planets out there might be capable of harboring life. We may need to expand our concept of what such a planet might be like, and one possibility is that it could be a large moon of a gas giant planet. This would certainly make for a beautiful sky, and it would be very interesting to work out what the experience of someone living on such a world would be like. A moon of a gas giant would likely be tidally locked, so that the planet would always be in the same place in the sky. It would also likely be frequently eclipsed by its giant companion, so the day-night cycle would be partly a factor of the rotation of the planet, which would likely be slow, and also a function of passing into the shadow of the gas giant.

I appreciated that the film involved a habitable planet that is a moon of a gas giant, but they did not explore this more complex astronomy at all, so that was an opportunity lost. In fact there is a suggestion in the timeline of a typical 24 hour day, or something close to that, which would likely not be the case.

Now on to what is perhaps the worst science gaff in the movie. At the beginning of the film archaeologists find evidence that many primitive human cultures had the same legend of contacting gods from the sky, and left behind paintings or carving depicting a specific pattern of five dots. The implication is that this pattern of dots is a map. They explain in the movie that there is only one system with that configuration, and there is a star in that system. This left me wondering what the hell they were talking about.

First, what do the dots represent? It would seem that they must be stars and that the pattern of dots is a star map of sorts. This is problematic for multiple reasons. There are so many stars, even just in our neighborhood, that there would likely be many possible matches to a random clustering of five stars. Further, is the clustering their real location with respect to each other, or their apparent position as seen from earth? Either way, there is an additional problem that the star map was tens of thousands of years old, and stars move, so the precise real or apparent relationship would be slowly shifting over this time. Any star map, in other words, would be outdated – even if a cave painting could depict the star relationship with sufficient precision to be useful as a map.

All of this, however, is difficult to reconcile with the statement that “there is a star in the system” – so what were the five dots if not stars? Are they planets? That would make absolutely no sense, many systems would have five planets and in any case the five dots did not give relative positions of planets. Finally – what kinds of systems don’t have stars in them? I guess they could be referring to stellar systems in which the star is no longer on the main sequence and is now a white dwarf or something. In any case, the star map bit made no sense.

Another main scientific pillar of the movie is the notion that (just another warning – this is a big spoiler) the race that made the aliens were essentially human (although bigger, balder, and paler). The crew discover that their DNA is a perfect match to human DNA, which then makes it difficult to explain the morphological differences that do exist. Far worse, however, is the explanation for the genetic similarity.

At the beginning of the movie we see a humanoid seeding his DNA into the oceans of what appears to be the early Earth. We then see that DNA reproducing and leading to cells dividing – the implication being that life has now been kickstarted on Earth. There is no scientific problem with the notion that aliens seeded the early Earth with RNA or DNA and that these replicating molecules eventually evolved into life on earth. This is, in fact, a serious scientific hypothesis known as panspermia – the idea that life may have evolved elsewhere and the components of that life came to earth via comets or meteors, and those bits of life seeded life on Earth. Panspermia does not involve deliberate seeding by aliens, but that is the same idea. In fact it’s more plausible in that living organisms would be unlikely to survive millions of years in space, and even DNA would tend to break down from exposure to cosmic rays. Panspermia is not impossible, but it would be helpful for aliens to dump fresh DNA onto a virgin planet to get the whole evolution thing going. (None of this is to imply that seeding is necessary for life to get started.)

Other than this basic concept of seeding, there are major problems with this aspect of the plot. How long ago did the alien seed the Earth? It would have to have been 3.5 or so billion years ago. That’s a long time, and it’s hard to imagine that the same humanoid aliens (to be clear, not the weaponized aliens that give the franchise its name, but the humanoid aliens that created them) would be around a few billion years later without any physical change. That’s remarkable evolutionary stability.

The solution that the seeding occurred more recently in the past, say tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago, or even a few million years ago, creates more problems than it solves. I will just say that there is copious evidence for life on Earth going back billions of years, not thousands or millions.

Another possible solution is that the humanoid alien seeded its DNA on an Earth let’s say hundreds of thousands of years ago while there was already native life no the planet that evolved without alien help, but the alien’s DNA is what led to humans. This, however, creates the problem of why the alien DNA was so similar to not only human DNA but Earth DNA. Why would this alien have DNA that is identical in terms of its genetic code to life on Earth. That would be an amazing coincidence (so much so that it can be treated as impossible).

The biggest problem with this whole idea is that seeding the Earth with alien DNA would lead, somehow, to the evolution of humans. This is simply not the case. The implication is that the program for humans, or at least humanoids, was somehow in the DNA, but there is simply no mechanism for this.

It is impossible to make scientific sense of the information presented in the movie. The only way to rescue the science is to assume that there are massive gaps in the information presented. We would need to fill in an elaborate back story in order to jerry rig the science to have it make sense (perhaps there is a Star Trek fan with some extra time who can help out). This would mean, however, that the scientists in the movie were unaware of the massive scientific gaps in the information they had. They seem to take in stride that the humanoid aliens had human DNA, and never question the incredible implications of this fact. They simply conclude that they must have created humans, but never address the massive scientific problems with this.

In the end I am left not knowing what happened, or what the movie is even trying to say. I’m OK with mystery. I love the film 2001 and the fact that not everything is explained and wrapped up in a bow at the end. There is good mystery in fiction, however, and then there is just head-scratching confusion created by sloppy science writing. Unfortunately Prometheus is the latter.

It’s too bad. Overall the movie was good (not great), and fell short of being epic primarily, in my opinion, because of superficial writing. I recommend that such big budget blockbuster science fiction movies in the future add a tiny budget to pay for some science consultants to get the science not only correct, but also interesting and thought provoking. Great 3-D special effects are no longer enough. We want good writing too.

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71 responses so far

71 Responses to “The Science of Prometheus”

  1. locutusbrgon 12 Jun 2012 at 9:46 am

    I just saw the movie this weekend and agree completely. I was completely annoyed how the “BIOLOGIST”, stated so 200 years of “Darwinism” is wrong. All the scientist there are like okay if you say so. The cave painting is conclusive. Did a creationist write this scene?
    Steve the star trek fan bashing has to stop. Yea we all love 2001 because of the science. yes the creators of start trek based space travel on ocean travel because that us what they know. This leads devotees to post hoc reasoning. The creators did try to relate updated science as the show became more and more popular. They were restricted by the foundation of a cheap TV shows production costs. There was upside ie transporters. You think people would have related to the visual of identical rotating cylinders all at different x y z axis. It is entertainment not documentary.

  2. Steven Novellaon 12 Jun 2012 at 9:52 am

    locutusbrg – I am speaking as an avid Star Trek fan who has engaged in post hoc techno/science apology for the franchise. So my Star Trek bashing comments are always self deprecating. Sorry that wasn’t clear.

    Live long and prosper.

  3. atombon 12 Jun 2012 at 10:25 am

    I enjoyed the movie thoroughly but I agree that the biologist was hard to listen to. She was definitely as they said a “true believer” and didn’t seem to bring much critical thinking to the expedition. On the critical thinking aspect I think all the characters were making some ridiculously dumb moves.

  4. Andyon 12 Jun 2012 at 10:41 am

    I enjoyed the movie, but the “science” bugged me too. The bit about seeding the earth with alien DNA didn’t bug be so much. If I remember correctly, there was already life on the earth in that first scene, and the alien did dissolve by drinking that magic black goo. Maybe the point was to guide evolution towards humans using… unobtanium nanobots that were built by a wizard or something? I guess I was more accepting of it because “aliens created us” was a central plot point, even if they dropped the ball in explaining *how* the aliens had created us.

    The part that really bugged me was when they had the severed alien head in the lab, and they jabbed an electrode into it’s locus coeruleus to “trick it into thinking it was still alive”. They concluded from a quick scan that it’s neuroanatomy was the same as ours (this was before they had analyzed its DNA). That, and they were able to electrically stimulate a brain that had been dead for a long time. It was definitely an “oh, come ON” moment.

    I still enjoyed the movie, though. I also liked the fact that the aliens were complete jerks. It was kind of a nice change of pace from the “benevolent creators” theme that I’ve seen so often.

  5. Karl Withakayon 12 Jun 2012 at 10:47 am

    My thoughts nearly exactly.

    I don’t know why I didn’t think of writing a Deconstruction of the movie on my blog. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have the ability to take notes while watching, and I like to be able to refer back to the source I am Deconstructing to ensure I am remembering it correctly.

    A good movie, but not the epic I was hoping for.

    I also have no idea what the “and the system has a star!” line was supposed to mean.

    The star map thing might have been better if they had copied the idea form the Pioneer plaque, indicating the relative position of the planetary system to the center of the galaxy and numerous pulsars.

    Horrible science and ludicrous exploration & safety protocols. The writers had no regard for actual science and all too easily completely cr@pped all over established genetics and evolution.

    Typical Prometheus crew exploration & safety protocol: The air in the cave is the right mix and we don’t detect any (KNOWN) airborne contaminants/organisms, let’s all take our helmets off and breathe the air. (Hey, wait a minute, aren’t we here searching for the UNKNOWN?)

    Although I didn’t care too much for the religious pandering, it’s about what I expected. Did anyone else find it a bit unrealistic that on a boatload of scientists, not one criticized a fellow scientist for using the “It’s what I choose to believe” line?

    I’m a little surprised you didn’t mention the “half a billion miles” line from the movie. (A few dozen light years is a little further out from Earth than the orbit of Jupiter is from the sun)

  6. ConspicuousCarlon 12 Jun 2012 at 12:01 pm

    This is why Galaxy Quest is the best scifi movie.

    “What are you doing! You don’t just open the door! It’s an alien planet! Is there air!? You don’t know, do you!”

    [sniff sniff] “Seems ok.”

  7. Steven Novellaon 12 Jun 2012 at 12:09 pm

    I forgot to add the “half a billion miles” line. I caught that to. But in that case that one character could have misspoke or just been wrong – it wasn’t central to the plot. There lots of other nitpicking to do also, but I only had time for the big ones.

    Yeah – typical horror movie cliche stupid moves. “Screw you guys, we’re splitting up and getting lost” Hey, let’s play with the cute alien creature and completely ignore the countless deadly attacks it might have evolved. Pay no attention to the obvious threatening behavior.

  8. Kostason 12 Jun 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Just cause I love (being) anal, a few points:

    Technically if its orbiting a planet, its not a planet.

    Also: Whether you can determine a star by a pattern of five stars depends on several conditions most important of which is the distance. If they are all within lets say 20 ly then its probably possible. (I havent watched the movie). The movement thing can be worked around by extrapolating the movements of the stars into the past. This can be done even with our current knowledge. Also when you say “is the clustering there real location with respect to each other” (btw typo here) i dont see how that can be so. A 2d star map is the projection of a “real” 3d map on the celestial sphere of the observer.

    About that DNA seeding crap, well there’s no excuse for that. Its exactly the same as the TNG episode where they tried to explain why all humanoid species look so much alike. Simply pathetic.

  9. Steven Novellaon 12 Jun 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Kostas,

    I agree with the extrapolation – except we are given no time reference. So they would have no idea how far back into time to extrapolate.

    My point with their real position was – is this just a constellation and the stars can be very far from each other, or are they really a cluster of stars. The relative positions would still need to be from a certain perspective, however.

    What they should have done was have some graphic that when decoded contains information about distance and direction and perhaps a time reference. Five dots are useless.

  10. Kostason 12 Jun 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Well you do have some reference. A few thousand years. Technically you could feed the pattern into a programme that could look for that pattern diachronically. As for the reference point you could assume its the earth even though it wouldnt be necessary given a few other (noncrazy) assumptions like what i said before (dont include very distant stars). Also i agree that by identifying the pattern you arent identifying a specific star but we could assume that the pattern corresponds to five spatially correlated stars, which is why they found the coincidence intriguing in the first place !

    I know i am taking it a bit too far but my point is that that this isnt stupid in the same sense as all the other stuff you normally see on sci-fi blockbusters (like Armageddon… Dont even get me started…) or the other example with the DNA

  11. irenedelseon 12 Jun 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Back in 2009, Avatar also had the habitable alien planet in the movie be the moon of a gas giant. And at least, it didn’t make a mess of travel time and interstellar distance ;-)

    As for Prometheus, I’d be willing to close my eyes on the crappy science (because movie logic, blah, blah) if only the plot was good. But it doesn’t even make sense. I mean, come on! The big white humanoid guys somehow create humanity: OK. They leave behind a sorta kinda stellar map? Whatever. But then it leads explorers to… the military base where the big white guys developed and stored weapons of mass destruction aim at the Earth?? WTF? What were Messrs Scott, Spaihts and Lindelof smoking? Or did they each write part of the screenplay without showing it to the others before day 1 of shooting?

  12. Steven Novellaon 12 Jun 2012 at 1:06 pm

    Actually the picture of the stars were found in various cultures, including a cave painting that was not precisely dated but was probably “much more” than 30,000 years old, and also more recent cultures from a few thousand years. Since it was spread out over so much time there is no reason to assume that the cave painting was the first occurrence.

    What they could have done, since finding the cave painting was apparently the trigger for the expedition, was say that they could not match the star pattern, but then after they found and dated the cave painting and adjusted the star positions accordingly, they found a nearby match. I still think some more info in the picture would have been more realistic than just five dots.

  13. Kostason 12 Jun 2012 at 1:17 pm

    Well i guess so, as i said i haven’t seen the movie. But i cant help but feeling you re setting the bar a bit too high. For whatever reason it seems these people don’t even bother to run the script through an undergraduate physics student, they simply couldn’t care less. Have you ever seen a movie that meets your standards? I don’t think i have. I am also a huge Star Trek fan but still its a rare pleasure to come across an episode that doesn’t let me down in some such way. I ve learned to live with it i guess…

  14. Jacob Von 12 Jun 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Yea, I had similar issues when I saw the movie this past Sunday. More of an irritation for me were the cardboard characters and the thin story line. IMO a truly epic movie visually that fell short of some basic storytelling standards which may have been an attempt to not have the audience think too much. And sadly now my hope for a great sequel to Blade Runner, that is reportedly in the works, is somewhat diminished given how that movie was all about the story, characters and mood.

  15. starskepticon 12 Jun 2012 at 2:24 pm

    # irenedelse: I’m suspecting some sort of alien political conflict (something like in X files); maybe the seeding technology was stolen or used without permission and one faction had the moral imperative to erase the work that was done.

  16. herge smithon 12 Jun 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Hmm… the fact that the script made little sense generally suggests that Scott and friends were not terribly interested in anything but the visuals.
    I found the ‘faith’ aspect particularly annoying, especially when the fallacy of ‘moving the goalposts’ was deployed in regard to god creating man… ‘Man wasn’t created by god, he was created by the engineers, therefore there is no god’….’ah, but who created the engineers?’… there were a number of groans in the audience at this point.
    In regard to the alien planets atmosphere that was mentioned in the comments above, I know Star Trek is the benchmark for computer analysis of atmospheric conditions. However I have always loved the computer on the Heart of Gold, who when asked what the conditions on Magrathea are liked, rather grumpily replies, ‘it’s okay… but it smells a bit’.

  17. Karl Withakayon 12 Jun 2012 at 3:09 pm

    “What they should have done was have some graphic that when decoded contains information about distance and direction and perhaps a time reference. Five dots are useless.”

    Well, a time reference might be a little tricky, since it’s hard to establish a reference point unless you have a common observed event like a supernova. One reference point would be the time of the (start of the) big bang which we only know with a certainty of about +-110 million years.

    Otherwise, something closer to this, perhaps?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pioneer_plaque

    With the pulsar references, a time reference probably wouldn’t be needed as you could find the current positions of pulsars with those frequencies and extrapolate back to when their relative positions matched the plaque and locate your target.

    Speaking of time reference, I also recall a carbon analysis reference in the movie, which I inferred to refer to carbon dating, which would be useless on a different moon or planet in another star system, since the rate of replenishment of C-14 would very likely be different (and might not be constant) in a different atmosphere on a different world in different star system.

  18. irenedelseon 12 Jun 2012 at 3:16 pm

    #starskeptic:

    Oh, I guess we can generate explanations for the holes in the plot, and have fun doing it while waiting for the next movie. Still, my gripe is that Prometheus was so sloppily written that nothing in it hints at a possible explanation for the inconsistency, or even acknowledge that there’s a mystery here.

  19. herge smithon 12 Jun 2012 at 3:58 pm

    Damn it, actually left a comment but forgot to make the point I wanted to make…

    My point was that the film Sunshine actually had a scientist as a consultant, the very brilliant Dr Brian Cox. And it still turned out a mess.

    Hollywood is only concerned with paying vague lip service to science… only the indie underground get close(ish) such as the amazing film Primer.

  20. Dave Mileson 12 Jun 2012 at 4:15 pm

    I think that the seeding of Earth was accidental. The dissolving guy at the beginning was being punished (think Socrates drinking hemlock.) When the Engineers discovered that an entire species descended from a heretic had evolved, they had had to take drastic measures to clean up the mess. The science is still screwed up, but at least the hostility of the Engineers starts to make sense.

  21. aliaskeion 12 Jun 2012 at 6:08 pm

    Why is an explanation for the alien hostility a requisite? If they cleaned up the science, I’d be perfectly happy with not knowing why the alien “engineers” were so aggressive. Motives are an acceptable plot point to leave unexplained, when the subject matter is a life form we lack communication with.

    They had what seemed to be a weapon sure, but with the ambiguity of the film, it could easily be just some form of technology that the not terribly observant crew jumped to conclusions about because of their adverse reaction to it.

    Hell, for all I know it was a tomb of melted aliens. There was little evidence of what they were running from. It could have just been a mass suicide ritual.

    (I don’t know about you, but I don’t go around just handling untested foreign substances and calling them weapons when they make me sick or mutate.)

    Why were there surviving dead bodies of the aliens and not what attacked them? Could they not kill it? Did it have space travel? Why did the decapitated head explode with an electrical pulse? Isn’t reanimating corpses that way a terribly 19th century idea? Do we still do that? Did they expect it to work?

  22. reedonlyon 12 Jun 2012 at 7:09 pm

    I, too, was bugged by the sloppy science, and wrote a long blog post about it.

    http://reedonly.posterous.com/critique-of-prometheus-a-big-beautiful-film-t

    However, it did get me thinking… What if the Engineers weren’t “extraterrestrial” at all? (This neither excuses the bad science nor is it totally consistent with the film, but is just an interesting scenario.) What if the Engineers actually evolved on Earth, contemporary with or slightly before Homo sapiens arose in the human lineage? What if they were sufficiently more intelligent, stronger, etc. and developed a technological society hundreds of thousands of years before Homo sapiens did.

    What if the Engineers “domesticated” Homo sapiens, taught them to grow crops and herd animals? What was the ancient Prometheus’ sin? What did he give humans that was forbidden? Not fire, but maybe art? Writing? Mathematics?

    The Engineers could have developed space travel, terraforming “hyper-evolution goo” and disappeared into the cosmos. Were our gods just another (albeit superior) species of Earth-born humans? Could an ancient human-like species have been the source of our stories of giants, gods, Titans? And could our only evidence for them now on Earth be in the deep cultural roots, the mythology and religions of humanity?

    That, I think, would be a cool story to work out. When Shaw sets out to find the origins of the Engineers, her path leads ultimately back to Earth.

  23. starskepticon 12 Jun 2012 at 7:32 pm

    # irenedelse: assuming that an alien race is made up of individuals who must all think and behave alike is an even bigger hole than what’s in the plot of the movie. A few reviewers have come up with some really inventive interpretations – (one involving Christ having been an engineer) – most of which are probably wrong – but that’s the fun of it…

  24. NewRonon 12 Jun 2012 at 8:05 pm

    This is missing from the movie – good acting but some anachronisms.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48rAFLqJo2M

  25. bswalshon 12 Jun 2012 at 8:34 pm

    Steve, one minor point about your review. They indicated that the system had one sun, not one star. I took that to mean that only one of the stars had a planetary system.

  26. aclademaon 12 Jun 2012 at 9:56 pm

    If not mentioned already from a medical standpoint the lacunae was rather a giant black hole. Yanking an umbilical cord without removal of the palcenta is practically unheard of. Be it the 18th or the 25th century it is a potential hazard leading to the inevitable outcome in a matter of minutes as a result of hypovolemic shock.
    Secondly, in the scene where David discovers the only living lifeform on the planet he also unravels the intentions of those aliens as shown on the hologram. But, ancient earthsince the tie of the paeleolithic period had no evidence of continental drift as well defined in the movie. Where the hell was pangea? I did not see any of tht.Irony of it, all it takes an animation production house to explain one of the most significant milestones of geology and probably our origins. With the help of a mammoth, a sabre and a sloth. :)

  27. locutusbrgon 12 Jun 2012 at 10:30 pm

    @ steven novella
    The other “horror movie” trite plot line that pissed me off was… The lost guys make a good sensible move by going away from the questionable lifeform reading. Only to go sit in the room with the melting containers and black ooze with the snake creatures that weren’t there before. Yea that is the movie equivalent of putting red shirts on and going down with spock, mccoy and Kirk. Also why pay Guy Pearce to play an old guy in poor make-up. If you weren’t going to make him young somehow, or possessed why not just cast an old man for the 10 min of dialog he had in the movie?

    To quote Lrrr of Omicron Persei 8 “I give it a b minus not bad not great, we will not destroy your planet, but neither will we share our recipe for immortality.”

  28. Shulinon 12 Jun 2012 at 10:45 pm

    When I initially watched the movie, I thought that the humanoid alien was spreading his DNA out into the world to change it in hopes of life evolving…

    But the instant the Prometheus crew landed, I changed my view. Now I’m starting to think that what the humanoid did was essentially just spread the agent into the world that would kill everything off. Their objective is to go around and destroy all the places where they started their ‘life experiments’, this seems like the method they would use to destroy everything on it.

    The only reason I think this is that at the beginning of the movie they show that luscious life-enriched planet, but then later when Prometheus gets there they show this desolate landscape. Where there were once massive waterfalls, now there are only cliff faces with scattered rocks at the base on a dried up planet. The terrain looked very familiar to the rich planet except now it’s void of life.

  29. Marshallon 12 Jun 2012 at 11:16 pm

    Just saw it. I suspect that movie writers think that real scientists would “ruin the fun.” Think of how scientists are portrayed in every movie–always playing the skeptic when the audience knows “the real truth.” It’s always the believers in the movie who are right, and the scientist/skeptics are wrong, because they’re missing that one part of humanity.

    Remember the biologist in the movie? “Stop being such a skeptic.” That line was delivered with acridity. The stupid biologist had no faith, because he didn’t believe in something so utterly extraordinary.

    Anyway, back to my original point–real scientists are incredibly imaginative people (or some of us are). With literally a few minutes, I could come up with a much more interesting explanation/twist on the Engineer/jumpstarter idea, and have it fairly compatible with actual reality. It’s frustrating that the big screen doesn’t even ATTEMPT this–mainly because, I think, they don’t think what results would be as fun. I disagree.

  30. ConspicuousCarlon 12 Jun 2012 at 11:28 pm

    Alex Jones has some thoughts about Prometheus:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enzaao300M0

    This is actually an interesting case. Alex Jones is a nut who believes that the “Illuminati” controls the world. But in this video, he appears to be claiming that this imagined secret group is crazy because they believe in panspermia.

    I’m not crazy, but the voices in my head are bum-nutty-bonkers!

  31. ConspicuousCarlon 12 Jun 2012 at 11:33 pm

    And actually, I would like for Steve to tell us if this is a common thing among people with mental disorders. It sounds like a joke, and I don’t know if Alex Jones is actually as crazy as he pretends to be. Would he be the first to create an imaginary friend and then be worried that his imaginary friend is crazy? It’s kind of a mind-blower.

  32. Fredboon 13 Jun 2012 at 1:11 am

    I haven’t been so disappointed in a movie. “Prometheus” was terrible.
    1. The archeologists make their discovery and have a theory as to what it all means. How long would it take for the peer review process and logistical machinations to occur to launch the expedition? Certainly more than a few years…
    2. How did they get to the moon-planet so fast? Ion propulsion at 1 G acceleration for the first half of the trip and 1 G deceleration for the second half would take longer than a couple of years. The inertia of the chrome pool balls was brilliant!!! I’m kidding…
    3. Why would the spacecraft land on the surface? There are numerous reasons you would not do this Why not send down a shuttle craft?
    4. Why would the crew be strangers to each other and so unprofessional? Wouldn’t they have trained together???
    5. Why does the astoundingly advanced technology of the Engineers look like they were made by ancient Egyptians? Squishy egg buttons on the control panels and carved-in hieroglyphs everywhere…come on!
    6. How could the geologist and biologist get lost when they had a map of the tunnels on the ship?
    7. What does Ridley Scott really think he made? Is he so unhinged that he really believes in this movie?

    This movie was a complete joke…

  33. NewRonon 13 Jun 2012 at 3:27 am

    Why is it that Prometheus has provoked controversy that the more or less contemporaneous The Avengers escapes? Did The Avengers have a scientific advisor? I even heard it praised on the SGU. Perhaps we could have a scientific deconstruction of Alice in Wonderland, the Wizard of Oz or Dante’s Divine Comedy – the Bible has been done to death.

  34. Karl Withakayon 13 Jun 2012 at 11:15 am

    NewRon, Do you really not see a difference?

    The Avengers is a comic book movie that rests on (established) comic book fantasy: Gamma ray induced super powers, gods, super soldier serums, etc.

    The key points of criticism of Prometheus in Steven’s posts deal with plot points in the movie that are directly based (incorrectly) on (a misunderstanding of) real world science: astronomy, genetics, and evolution. When you establish fantasy aspects like gamma radiation creating The Hulk, we point out that gamma rays don’t do that (which was already done long ago and now needs no repeating) and then we move on.

    But Prometheus did not establish fantasy genetics, it attempted to establish a plausible fictional universe utilizing established genetics to convince us of the plausibility of (at least that aspect of) the fiction. So when they include key plot points regarding genetics that are fatally flawed, we rightly criticize them.

    Ray Bradbury might make the point that we criticize the bad science in Prometheus and not The Avengers because of Bradbury’s distinction between science fiction and fantasy.

    And it’s not just nit-picking. Key aspects of the plot don’t make sense or really work because of the science flaws regarding genetics, and no fantasy genetics were presented to resolve this problem. When you rest your central plot on a real world science like genetics and get it wrong, it’s fair game for others to point that out.

    Additionally, there is the issue that while few people are likely to watch The Avengers and assume gamma rays might create super powers, it is not as clear that the average viewer will understand the gross errors and implausibility regarding genetics and evolution presented in Prometheus. Considering the number of people out there that support creationism/ Intelligent design, I don’t consider this trivial.

  35. Karl Withakayon 13 Jun 2012 at 11:39 am

    NewRon,

    If in The Avengers it was mentioned that the Earth was the Center of the Solar System, the Moon had a permanent dark side, or the sun created energy through the splitting of atoms by fission, we’d be all over that like white on rice.

  36. Bronze Dogon 13 Jun 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Aside from the Next Gen episode previously mentioned, I’m reminded of Robotech. The characters have been fighting with an alien race called the Zentradi who look like giant humans and have been bred and raised only for war. When some of them decide to ‘micronize’ and defect, it’s discovered that they’re genetically identical to humans. Even Rick Hunter, a pilot with no biological expertise, seems to realize that it’s too wildly improbable for it to be a coincidence.

    After that, they kind of drop the subject.

  37. tmac57on 13 Jun 2012 at 6:08 pm

    Anyone care to weight in on the historic accuracy of ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ ? ;

  38. banyanon 13 Jun 2012 at 6:40 pm

    I keep saying the same thing to people when talking about Prometheus: I wish we could finally get a movie where a major character “chooses to believe” something… and then is wrong.

  39. NewRonon 14 Jun 2012 at 2:01 am

    I still say that anyone going to a movie and expecting scientific accuracy is on a planet I do not live on and might as well read the bible.

    In an earlier post @herge smith mentioned a movie – Sunshine – that had the physicist Brian Cox as an advisor. As I recall it, the central plot involved a mission to the sun by a group of earthlings who were to fire a missile that in some unspecified way would alter the sun’s behaviour and thereby save humankind from extinction. I feel sure that no physicist would consider such to be even remotely possible or could put forward any scientific evidence to support it. Even though the movie – probably unlike Prometheus – was a box office flop, it had for me a spellbinding effect regardless of scientific accuracy.

    I suspect the antipathy being expressed towards Prometheus has deeper motivations than revulsion at scientific inaccuracies and impossibilities. One could take a scientific scalpel to many science fiction tales: the operations would be successful but the patients would die in the operating theatre.

  40. banyanon 14 Jun 2012 at 10:08 am

    @NewRon: Again, you’re missing an important distinction. “Gimmies” are acceptable; they’re often necessary in science fiction. Sunshine (which I agree was an excellent film) used one gimmie: the sun is quickly going out and we have a device that can restart it. What would have been unacceptable is if Sunshine had misrepresented how far the Sun is from the Earth or something like that.

    I think the best example comes from the recent Star Trek movie, and Phil Plait has mentioned this a number of times. They have “red matter” that can create black holes from anything. That’s fine, it’s a gimmie. Never mind that it almost certainly is impossible. HOWEVER, when they create the black hole from the planet, they repeat the old myth that black holes “suck in” things, when in fact a black hole formed from a planet would have the same gravity as the planet did. That’s the sort of mistake worth complaining about; they didn’t make up an implausible bit of fantasy science; they got a piece of real science wrong. (It’s possible that the red matter somehow caused the mass to increase, but there’s no indication of that in the film itself, so I consider it a convenient post hoc rationalization of what is really an error.)

    Applied to Prometheus: notice that no one is complaining about their cryonic sleeping chambers or whatever those things are, nor is anyone complaining that the android is unrealistic, or talking about the ship’s engines, etc. They are allowed to make up stuff, but I call bullshit when they apparently claim that humans look the way they do because life was seeded by a being with human DNA, when that premise shows a horrible degree of ignorance about how life actually evolved.

  41. Karl Withakayon 14 Jun 2012 at 10:34 am

    NewRon,

    “I still say that anyone going to a movie and expecting scientific accuracy is on a planet I do not live on and might as well read the bible. ”

    Go watch Contagion. It’s available right here on planet Earth.

    Almost any opportunity to talk intelligently about science, even in the critique of a movie, is a worthwhile endeavor, and in the case of Prometheus, many of the scientific errors are at the core of fundamental plot holes/issues in the movie, so they are relevant to a discussion of the movie’s plot problems.

    “I suspect the antipathy being expressed towards Prometheus has deeper motivations than revulsion at scientific inaccuracies and impossibilities. One could take a scientific scalpel to many science fiction tales: the operations would be successful but the patients would die in the operating theatre.”

    There’s no conspiracy here. It’s not like Prometheus is being singled out. People do this all the time, and others complain about those people all the time.

    Let me turn your comment around for you. “I still say that anyone expecting some people to not comment about scientific accuracies in movies is on a planet I do not live on and might as well go to bible study.”

    Perhaps this person should just wipe his site from the web on stop wasting his time? http://www.intuitor.com/moviephysics/

  42. GlobalCopon 14 Jun 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Steve, you are in fine company. This in-depth “second look” did a wonderful job of deconstructing the movie, both scientifically and also plot-wise.

    http://www.hitfix.com/motion-captured/prometheus-second-look-digging-deep-into-spoilers-and-questions

    I loved your blog post here and I hope you expound on it during the podcast. Unfortunately you’ll probably be unable to due to spoilers. I am glad that more and more online conversations about movies and TV are going in-depth and “spoiling.” It is much more interesting to engage in this kind of discussion after seeing the movie.

    Does anyone actually just read a review anymore, before a movie, do decide if it is worth seeing? I usually know what I want to see without reading a review. I want to join a discussion after the movie! Thanks for this post, it rocks. Keep the conversation going.

    BTW, worth mentioning, Slate has a great Spoiler Specials podcast for anyone else who enjoys this sort of thing, I just wish they did them more often and were longer.

    Ed

  43. Steven Novellaon 14 Jun 2012 at 3:50 pm

    Sometimes we nitpick science in movies just for the fun of it – as a mental exercise. It’s a fun way to challenge one’s understanding of science, and to teach science to the public. Just ask Lawrence Krauss, author of The Science of Star Trek – the book idea that made him famous.

    Sometimes bad science ruins a science fiction movie. Sometimes we allow for fantasy gimmies because that is the nature of speculative fiction.

    Bad science definitely dragged down this movie. It was a constant unnecessary annoyance.

    But there was much more wrong with this movie than scientific gaffs. I still enjoyed the experience, great eye candy, some good action. But as a film it stunk. The more I think about it, the less I like it.

    All the science characters in the movie were chumps. It’s hard to figure out their actions. The plot was lazily pushed forward by having characters that should have been brilliant doing incredibly stupid things. There was a lack of seriousness to the whole expedition that made everything feel like a cheap plot device and took you out of the movie.

  44. Scotsman_Ianon 15 Jun 2012 at 12:17 am

    I enjoyed Prometheus when I watched it but as time progresses it increasingly resembles a [mild] hangover.

    The movie takes a curious middle road between action and horror and tries to develop an intelligent and intriguing back-story to the Alien franchise. I agree with Steve’s assessment that the primary failure here is the writing and I echo Karl Withakay’s response to Newron that Prometheus’ bad science (as discussed in this blog) DOES matter. The script strives for intellectual depth with the discussion of a multitude of scientific, biologic and philosophical matters surrounding the origins of the human race. Accurate (within reason of course) science matters in the context of the subject matter. The science failings didn’t destroy my enjoyment of the film but they certainly diminished it and that’s fair game to discuss on a science blog.

    I disliked the “black goo” aspect of the film as well as the creature element. Both aspects were poorly developed and often just served to reflect what the plot needed…The black liquid coming from the cans did…what exactly? It had transformative properties that seemed to change biological organisms but to what purpose and into what? Fifield became some kind of zombie (groan)…Holloway seemed to be heading in the same direction. The white creatures [snakes] were quite possibly maggots that had been transformed by the black goo but if so how/why. If they weren’t the maggots…what were they and where did they come from? If Holloway got sick/infected…why did Shaw simply get pregnant after having sex (wouldn’t she be infected as well). Finally, why did the resulting embryo turn out to be a “engineer face-hugger” that would go on to produce something that “looks like my ex-wife” as Plinkett would say (www.redlettermedia.com).

    The focus of this film was not developing the life-cycle of terrifying creatures and perhaps this will be explained in further films but I think these are just excuses for a relatively mediocre script. Alien successfully developed a terrifying creature with a relatively simple life-cycle. This was something this film missed out on. Incidentally the life cycle of the xenomorphs was actually more interesting in the Alien director’s cut but this was eventually altered in Aliens.

    Another irritating feature for me was the linguistics of the film. I suppose they may have found a cipher or something that enabled them to translate and understand the engineers’ language but this was something they did not address intelligently. Their answer was David…the miraculous plot device of the film. He apparently learned the language by studying various human languages for 2 years. Hmmmmm….

    Minor point: although certain “gimmies” should be accepted and were largely ignored by me…the plot takes place in 2093. I know that the time-line is somewhat constrained by fan-fiction but a lot will need to be developed within the next 81 years. I will not say for certain that we won’t have invented hypersleep, gravity on our space ships, artificial intelligent beings that perfectly resemble us, or faster than light travel…but we probably won’t lol. I really wish they had set the movie farther in the future.

    “Kids” seem to like hyperbole these days and I’ve heard many people claim this is the most disappointing movie since “The Phantom Menace.” While that may be true for some, it hardly is the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Jack and Jill starring Adam Sandler and Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever are deserving of such negative attention. Prometheus on the other hand is a technically well-made film (soundtrack aside — RIP Jerry Goldsmith), with generally excellent acting and several well placed scenes. It may even win Oscars for it’s technical attributes. it suffers from script-writing, a confused story, and editing. I have to say this movie deserves 6 aliens trapped in Ridley Scott’s chest out of 10.

    Alien, Aliens and Blade Runner are in my top ten favorite films and are masterfully made so it hardly seems fair to levy any expectation at this film that it would meet their exceptional standard.

  45. NewRonon 15 Jun 2012 at 12:20 am

    A new federal agency should be established ASAP that will ensure science fiction movies should only contain scientific ‘facts’ – except, of course, for a prescribed number of gimmies acceptable to a reputable body of consensus driven scientists.

  46. Fredboon 15 Jun 2012 at 1:22 am

    New Ron,
    Wow…the problem with Prometheus is not that it is just a pretty shoddy movie, which is only my opinion and you can “choose to believe” what you want to about it, but the real issue is that the movie unnecessarily mocks the science it portrays by its egregious errors of fact and shows all of the “scientists” as complete fools. Shame on me for expecting a little more from a film that i thought was promoted as something a bit more serious than The Avengers! Fantastical movies, as opposed to Science Fiction films, are by definition fantasy and are limited only by the imaginations of its creators. If there is a legal drama that makes a mess of how the law works, by your logic it would be folly to criticize it because it is only legal fiction and anything goes in fiction…oh well.

    If you can’t judge a science fiction film on any aspects of its science then there is no need to call it science fiction at all. So I guess what I’m saying is that perhaps this confusion could be avoided by not equating science fiction with fantastical fiction…but that requires nuance.

  47. NewRonon 15 Jun 2012 at 3:07 am

    Fredbo,

    I actually agree with you both about the science in, and the quality of, Prometheus. My opinion (admittedly an opinion not informed by a science fiction education or even interest) is so what if some scientists are portrayed as being foolish (many of them are) in fact it is only their foolishness that makes them at all bearable. I was forced by my sometimes infantile wife (whom I love dearly) to see The Avengers – she poked me awake when I began to snore. My knowledge of the law (a profession made even nobler by my own engagement in it) is somewhat more advanced and any fictional portrayal I have seen (perhaps apart from And Justice for All) falls far short of its mind bending realities. At least Prometheus had some sort of pretence of loosely (but poorly) representing one of the Augustinian proofs for the existence of god. Even after cross examining my wife, I could find nothing in The Avengers that would appeal to me – of course next morning after telling her how beautiful she looked I feigned a mild interest (a necessary legal ploy) that betrays a despicable uxoriousness.

  48. Karl Withakayon 15 Jun 2012 at 10:46 am

    @NewRonon

    “A new federal agency should be established ASAP that will ensure science fiction movies should only contain scientific ‘facts’ – except, of course, for a prescribed number of gimmies acceptable to a reputable body of consensus driven scientists.”

    Thanks for the straw man; is it keeping you warm?. Nobody here has proposed that, just as you have not proposed the ASAP establishment of a federal agency that will ensure the immediate smack down of anybody who attempts to criticize scientific inaccuracies in movies.

    You appear to think we are all beating our heads against a wall in criticizing scientific errors in movies and expecting or hoping for any amount of scientific accuracy in any motion pictures (despite that fact that I have given you one very good example), but you fail to see the irony of the discussion you are engaged in. Is there any scientific error so egregious that you’d be OK with someone pointing it out, or is everything off limits, no matter how bad the error is or how much the plot depends on it?

    Let me polish that mirror off for you just a little bit. You’re beating your head against a wall in telling us we’re beating our heads against a wall in criticizing bad science in movies.

  49. Fredboon 15 Jun 2012 at 10:48 am

    NewRon,
    …and I rest MY case.

  50. quantheoryon 15 Jun 2012 at 3:26 pm

    ‘The part that really bugged me was when they had the severed alien head in the lab, and they jabbed an electrode into it’s locus coeruleus to “trick it into thinking it was still alive”.’

    I thought that was strange too. Not in the least apparent why they thought that that was the best thing to do with a severed head in the first place!

    I also thought that it was strange how inconsistent their anti-contamination procedures seemed to be. Why would you bring alien tissue out into the open rather than keeping it in a sealed container while operating on it? Why would anyone with half a brain take off their helmet on an alien planet where they know (or believe) life once existed, just because the few parts they’ve been to *seemed* sterile, after only a cursory examination? (Worse, why would everyone else follow suit?)

    @NewRon You come off as remarkably condescending, not least because, although your wife may be someone whom you “love dearly”, you seem to be signalling that you don’t particularly respect her. (You also display no particular awareness of the possibility that that might reflect badly on you. To me, the very word “uxorious” seems to be an expression of a particular form of patronizing sexism that views it as irrational and sentimental for men to humor women’s desires, but does not acknowledge the reverse situation. Even when it is an accurate literal description of a particular person, I personally would never use this term, given the connotations behind it, and I’d recommend the same to others.)

    Perhaps when you encounter a situation where other people are engaging in a pursuit that has no appeal to you (such as criticizing a science fiction film for bad science), that might be a situation that calls for some self-awareness about a potential gap in your own knowledge or empathetic capacity, or perhaps it should be regarded as a simple difference in subjective taste. I suggest that this is a better attitude to take or display (as a “default” reaction) than addressing that pursuit as intellectually or emotionally deficient, and showing up to say so to the people who are engaging in it.

  51. NewRonon 15 Jun 2012 at 7:39 pm

    Karl,
    Your incisive logic – no doubt honed by years of scientific investigation – has floored me. Perhaps we are engaged in a process of consilience. I am more concerned with boring narrative that endlessly repeats clichés than I am about scientific inaccuracies. One of my sons is a science educator who will no doubt use confusions such as mistaking fission for fusion as heuristic tools. I believe these inaccuracies are trivial and at least among the scientifically literate have served to blur the main argument of the film. I doubt very much they will influence the non-scientific audience.

    My problem with movies such as The Avengers is their reliance on the crude Manichean bifurcation of good and evil to drive their plots. I believe that this has a greater detrimental influence on our culture. We should establish a McCarthy like tribunal or Inquisition to stamp this out.

    I will resist pressing you on your knowledge of the DNA of straw-people – they seem to be springing up everywhere.

    Fredbo,
    The cemeteries are full of dead people who are resting in THEIR cases.

  52. Fredboon 15 Jun 2012 at 8:28 pm

    NewRon,

    Well, if law doesn’t work out for you, you could pursue a stint in comedy. And remember, we’ll ALL be dead soon enough!

    Hugs & Kisses,
    Fredbo

    P.S. – Please tell your “sometimes infantile” wife I said hi as well…

  53. bswalshon 15 Jun 2012 at 8:52 pm

    I haven’t been so disappointed in a movie. “Prometheus” was terrible.

    I found the film to be fantastic, I liked it more than any recent movie I have seen

    1. The archeologists make their discovery and have a theory as to what it all means. How long would it take for the peer review process and logistical machinations to occur to launch the expedition? Certainly more than a few years…

    No, it wouldn’t take any time at all if a multi-billionaire who has his own goals decides to fund it and intentionally crew the expedition with cannon fodder. Which, if you saw the same movie I did, you know is exactly what he did.

    2. How did they get to the moon-planet so fast? Ion propulsion at 1 G acceleration for the first half of the trip and 1 G deceleration for the second half would take longer than a couple of years. The inertia of the chrome pool balls was brilliant!!! I’m kidding…

    Yeah, no idea. Minor gripe really, you wouldn’t have much of a film otherwise. No movie with a space setting could ever be realistic, why point it out?

    3. Why would the spacecraft land on the surface? There are numerous reasons you would not do this Why not send down a shuttle craft?

    They didn’t have shuttlecraft. Also, as was made abundantly clear, the crew was expected by Weyland to die.

    4. Why would the crew be strangers to each other and so unprofessional? Wouldn’t they have trained together???

    No, they wouldn’t have. Weyland was just using them as cannon fodder. As Ridley Scott made breathtakingly clear these scientists were the worst of the worst, not the best of the best. They were set up to fail, just an excuse to get himself there.

    5. Why does the astoundingly advanced technology of the Engineers look like they were made by ancient Egyptians? Squishy egg buttons on the control panels and carved-in hieroglyphs everywhere…come on!

    Why not? Would you actually expect an alien culture to conform to human design sense?

    6. How could the geologist and biologist get lost when they had a map of the tunnels on the ship?

    Well, as you say, the map was on the ship. They weren’t. Also, a massive sandstorm was scattering communications. How wouldn’t they have gotten lost?

    7. What does Ridley Scott really think he made? Is he so unhinged that he really believes in this movie?

    I think Ridley Scott probably believes he made a wonderful film. Which he did.

    This movie was a complete joke…

    Apparently the joke was on you.

  54. Fredboon 15 Jun 2012 at 9:13 pm

    bswalsh,

    I’m glad you enjoyed the film.

    Regards,
    Fredbo

  55. pious fraudon 16 Jun 2012 at 10:48 am

    @hegre smith: “I found the ‘faith’ aspect particularly annoying, especially when the fallacy of ‘moving the goalposts’ was deployed in regard to god creating man… ‘Man wasn’t created by god, he was created by the engineers, therefore there is no god’….’ah, but who created the engineers?’… there were a number of groans in the audience at this point.”

    Saw the movie last night. This scene was a missed opportunity for some really interesting skeptical thought provocation.

    Here is Michael Shermer, responding to creationist Stephen Myers, who says in his book, “Thus, the activity of a theistic God could provide an adequate explanation of the evidence of intelligent design in biology, though other entities could conceivably do so as well” :

    “the creator of life on earth could be extra-terrestrial intelligences (ETIs) from a planet circling the star Vega, and if we found, say, a pod buried out in the desert with the Vegan’s blueprint for creating life, we would then know the origin of life on Earth. But … we would naturally want to know where the Vegans came from… if we discovered that the Vegans were designed by an ETI from the Andromeda galaxy, we would be curious to know where the Andromedans came from, ad infinitum… we will need a bottom-up natural explanation for the origins of life in the first place, and if you do not posit such a theory the only alternative is a nonscientific, theological, or religious explanation involving a supernatural being who steps into our universe to stir up the particles to create life.

    before you say something is out of this world, first make sure it is not in this world. That is, before Intelligent Design theorists turn to supernatural forces operating outside of this world, they must first demonstrate that the known forces operating in this world cannot account for the complexity and diversity of life.”
     

  56. mumadaddon 16 Jun 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Hope this is okay, but can I interject and point everyone to this article by Steven Novella in 1999, it’s hilarious:

    http://www.theness.com/index.php/alternative-engineering/

    I know it’s off topic, so my apologies, but it’s well worth a look. You could cut the irony with a knife.

    If you don’t believe me, here’s a sample:

    What has this new approach created? Well, Natural Design’s newest model sedan, the Millennium 2000, does not use air bags, or even seatbelts. “Seatbelts are dangerous, and air bags are kid killers,” complains Wiere. So he has come up with something better. The interior of the Millennium 2000 is coated with a patented psychoactive material, called Natural Safe. “All a driver or passenger has to do is think safe thoughts, and this miraculous material will do the rest. In a crash, the material will gently repel any safe thinking person in the vehicle, leaving them free from injury.”

    Consumers are convinced. Not to be outdone, GM and Ford both have started putting Natural Safe coatings in their cars. Amy Zinger, of Arkansas, survived a 40 MPH head on collision in one such vehicle. “I was wearing my seatbelt, and the air bag did deploy, but I know it was the Natural Safe that saved my life.” Motivated by such testimonials, more and more consumers are insisting on only buying cars treated with Natural Safe.

  57. Ovyon 17 Jun 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Even if you outright ignore the science, Prometheus is standing on some pretty weak legs, lacking any kind of internal consistency, and benefiting way too strongly from conveniently stupid characters (who, incidentally, are suppose to be scientists hired for a top priority mission).

    The best summary of its flaws that I’ve seen (SPOILERS and foul language warning): http://youtu.be/-x1YuvUQFJ0

  58. ChrisHon 17 Jun 2012 at 3:28 pm

    George Hrab has a spoiler rich review of the movie in his latest podcast, he did not like the movie.

  59. Karl Withakayon 17 Jun 2012 at 7:28 pm

    @NewRonon

    At this rick of annoying the other readers by engaging you further…

    “Karl,
    Your incisive logic – no doubt honed by years of scientific investigation – has floored me. “

    Presumably that part separated by dashes is intended to be an ad hominem veiled just enough to give you plausible deniability to claim it wasn’t one when it is pointed out as such. No doubt the only way to develope incisive logic is through years of scientific investigation, and since I am not a professional scientific researcher, my logic must be flawed. Good job there!

    “Perhaps we are engaged in a process of consilience”

    Probably not.

    “I am more concerned with boring narrative that endlessly repeats clichés than I am about scientific inaccuracies.”

    It is a bit odd then that you bother continuing to comment on a post addressing the science flaws of a movie in a blog dedicated to science, skepticism, and critical thinking.

    “One of my sons is a science educator who will no doubt use confusions such as mistaking fission for fusion as heuristic tools.”

    So he wouldn’t be wasting his time then?

    “I believe these inaccuracies are trivial and at least among the scientifically literate have served to blur the main argument of the film. I doubt very much they will influence the non-scientific audience.”

    Your belief is your opinion and being essentially a subjective position, it’s a perfectly valid opinion to have, much as my opinion that some of the science flaws of Prometheus are significant and fundamentally relevant to key plot holes that make the plot unworkable is also a valid opinion. But so far you haven’t been countering that position per se. Up till now, you’ve been arguing that we’re being unreasonable for criticizing a move for any science flaws.

    “My problem with movies such as The Avengers is their reliance on the crude Manichean bifurcation of good and evil to drive their plots. I believe that this has a greater detrimental influence on our culture. We should establish a McCarthy like tribunal or Inquisition to stamp this out.”

    An IF I were participating in a discussion of that topic on a blog focused on such issues, I MIGHT find your input relevant and interesting. Then again, I might not.

    “I will resist pressing you on your knowledge of the DNA of straw-people – they seem to be springing up everywhere.”

    This statement seems to be another thinly veiled plausible deniability statement intended to accuse me or someone else of creating straw man of you, but since I haven’t noticed anyone else making any straw man arguments, and appearances can be deceptive, so I’ll assume I may be mistaken in this conclusion and give no further consideration to this statement.

    “Fredbo,
    The cemeteries are full of dead people who are resting in THEIR cases.”

    Ergo….um…..hum, wait, what? The cemeteries are full of the remains of dead people that are no longer able to press their cases any further, not necessarily people who have successfully supported their cases and are in need of no additional support. Your rejoinder is a non sequitur.

  60. NewRonon 18 Jun 2012 at 4:45 am

    Karl,

    Your crushing reasoning is unassailable.

  61. CamelManon 18 Jun 2012 at 5:30 pm

    I think the lack of decent writers really hindered this film, the concept was fantastic and as a visual spectacle it was amazing. I didn’t pick up on the scientific hiccups but after your explanation they do not make sense…

    What really annoyed me about the film was near the start, they have just discovered the alien ship and been for a walk round. Two of the guys get left behind in there and a silica storm traps them there. Rather than carefully monitoring the situation the rest of the crew decide to just start having sex with each other!!! If any writer can think this makes sense then they aint gonna be able to grasp complex scientific problems, but maybe the problem is that they don’t have any respect for the viewer anymore.

  62. RaySquirrelon 18 Jun 2012 at 6:12 pm

    Ridley Scott has stated that the planet at the beginning of the film is a red herring. It is not necessaryily Earth. So charges that Scott is promoting ID creationism are misguided.

  63. [...] wrote in saying you didn’t like Prometheus. All of the objections are absurd, poorly written and full of complaint holes, but I’ll address them just to shut you up. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, this post [...]

  64. Chris McGowanon 29 Jun 2012 at 8:46 am

    I think the “there is a star in the system” problem is actually from the way the actor delivers the line, not from the line itself. The full line is “there is a star in the system…a lot like ours….” I think he added a pause for dramatical effect, when it really should have been “there is a star in the system a lot like ours…” Not that this validates the silliness of finding a planet based on a 35,000 year old cave painting…

  65. Chris McGowanon 29 Jun 2012 at 8:54 am

    I think the “there is a star in the system” problem is actually from the way the actor delivers the line, not from the line itself. The full line is “there is a star in the system…a lot like ours….” I think he added a pause for dramatical effect, when it really should have been “there is a star in the system a lot like ours…” Not that this validates the silliness of finding a planet based on a 35,000 year old cave painting…

    I also think a lot of the criticism regarding the ineptitude of the scientists is a little off base. Yes, they are inept, but I don’t think this is due to poor screen writing. I think they are actually written to BE inept. If you think about it, the entire mission is simply for the sake of a dying old man who wants to live forever, and who is basing his entire expedition on some cave paintings.

    I found it doubtful that he would a) have the time given his condition to find the absolute best scientists in their respective fields, or b) even be able to find qualified scientists, given the two and half year journey there and another two and a half year back, who would be willing to go.

    I think the scientists do inept things because they ARE inept, and are actually written that way. Is it a coincidence that the geologist with the cool mapping gadget is the very same guy who gets lost, or that the biologist is the one that thinks its a good idea to touch an alien cobra swimming in black goo? If anything, the screen writers almost seem to make the scientists TOO inept just to get the point across that this is not a well thought out expedition.

  66. pious fraudon 02 Jul 2012 at 9:19 am

    Why doesn’t the black goo eat through the soles of their boots when they’re walking upon it in both scenes that take place in that apparent armory room?

  67. fxsoapon 26 Jul 2012 at 5:01 pm

    @pious

    maybe it has to be….organic biological material?
    Same reason it didn’t melt or destroy David’s finger..

  68. KjetilMon 03 Aug 2012 at 8:59 am

    Why oh why didn’t I read all the spoilers before seeing this movie.. then I could have saved me the pain of seeing this moive…

    All the Scientist are Idiots and dies but the True believer survives.
    That’s really all I can extract from the movie..

  69. BurntSynapseon 04 Oct 2012 at 10:58 am

    I’m curious if you saw the Star Trek by the Minute blog? Prometheus and the 2009 Abramanation of Star Trek share alot in terms of hideously bad writing, religious thinking.

    Another gaffe no one seems to mention is that lunatic anti-social people are the last one’s corporate management would pick for a high-value project team.

  70. Christopher_NWon 05 Feb 2013 at 8:55 am

    I kind of don’t care. I thought the movie was awesome despite the gaps in science. It was art, not science, nor was it even art trying to masquerade as science. Enjoy it for what it is, a cool, interesting sci fi.

  71. Steven Novellaon 05 Feb 2013 at 9:00 am

    Christopher – I agree in that I can enjoy a sci fi movie for what it is and I don’t require them to be science lessons. However, there are limits. If the science gets too bad, it takes away from the story. It may also represent lazy writing, and so is just one symptom of overall bad story telling. (which is the case here, in my opinion).

    There were also problems with this movie that go beyond the science. The characters and plot were terrible. It was beautiful, however.

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