Bad Science in Prometheus

By: Myles Power Edited by: Hannah

In my opinion, Prometheus (Ridley Scott's highly anticipated prequel to Alien) was one of the most disappointing movies I have seen since the Phantom Menace. Now, I know what you are all thinking: “Myles, let's not say anything we can’t take back”, but it's true. Only once before have I had my hopes lifted so high, only to have them come crashing down at warp speed by a film that failed to deliver. Only once before have I ran into the cinema giggling like a school girl, only to come out hardened by yet another betrayal from Hollywood.

Before I get into why this film is so bad, I feel I have to talk about the positives. Visually, the film is stunning (unlike the badly ageing Phantom Menace),  the cinematography is flawless, and the first 30 minutes were very immersive. Soon after however, the plot holes, lack of explanations and lapses in common sense and logic from the characters begin to compound on the movie and 45 minutes in, it was broken. I still have no clue why the android would poison the scientist! I still have no clue why face-melting acid turned the ginger into a monster! I don’t know why they did not cast a old man to play Peter Weyland and what his caricature hoped to achieve by meeting one of the aliens. As well as nothing making any sense, it was not scary in the slightest. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I found myself bursting with laughter at the death of Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), which she could easily have prevented by walking two metres to her left.

Sat there in the cinema I  could not believe I was bored watching a movie that I had been waiting for, for over four months. When I got home I wanted to vent my rage on the internet by writing a review, but I knew that every critic and reviewer around the world was foaming at the mouth with anger after watching this movie. So I thought I would do what I do best, and discuss some of the unforgivable scientific mistakes this movie made.

DNA does not look like that!

The first scene in the movie – a pale humanoid alien drinks a dark liquid in front of a spaceship taking off. His body then disintegrates, before falling into a waterfall, and you see what appears to be a short double stranded DNA duplex floating off.

Now, I work with DNA and if there is one thing that really winds me up, it’s when TV shows and movies show the cartoon version of DNA instead of the actual structure. Usually the camera will zoom in, showing everything else relatively accurately and then BANG! you have a stick and ball double helix. DNA consist of three components: a nitrogen heterocyclic base; a pentose sugar; and a phosphate residue. Not sticks and balls. This is the equivalent for me of watching a episode of House (who, in the past, have also shown the cartoon helix) in which they are performing open heart surgery on a patient, only instead of having a human heart, the patient has a cartoon love heart. I know some people reading will be saying to themselves, “It’s not human DNA, it’s a form of alien DNA” and you’d be wrong. The film clearly suggests that the pale aliens seeded human life on Earth and that they are a ‘DNA match’ to humans. This was clearly meant to be regular old deoxyribonucleic acid you are seeing here.

Carbon Dating

Whilst exploring the alien building, the crew see what I presume are holograms of the former alien crew. They see one of the aliens being decapitated as he is trying to run through a air lock. They then somehow open the airlock and find that unlike the rest of the body, the head has been well-preserved.

They decide to carbon date the head and discover that the alien had been dead for over 2000 years. Carbon dating is a radiometric dating method that can be used to estimate the age of organic remains. Scientists know that plants take up a small amount of the naturally occuring radioisotope carbon-14 from the Earth’s atmosphere, to synthesise organic compounds via photosynthesis. The quantity of carbon-14 in a plant roughly matches the levels of this isotope in the atmosphere. When the plant is eaten by other organisms, the carbon-14 is passed on and starts to decay at a fixed exponential rate. By knowing the rate of decay, and comparing the remaining carbon-14 in a organic sample to that expected from the atmosphere, scientists can estimate the age of the organic remains. If you don’t know the atmospheric levels of carbon-14 on the alien’s planet, then you can’t carbon date him. Heck, you don’t even know if they have plants on his world, or at this point in the movie if he even contains any carbon.

Creation Science and “DNA match”

Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) takes the decapitated alien’s head to Prometheus medical bay to run tests. She removes the alien’s helmet and reveals it as being from the same humanoid species that we saw seeding life on earth in the past. She then for some unknown reason makes the head explode and takes a DNA sample.

The computer tells Elizabeth that there is a ‘DNA match’ between the aliens and humans. It should be mentioned at this point that both archaeologists, Elizabeth and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) call the aliens “engineers”, as they believe that they engineered mankind. I know ‘DNA match’ is open to interpretation, but I think it’s obvious that the movie is now saying that these engineers created man in their image. And how does this movie try and explain away every piece of evidence for evolution?

Elizabeth Shaw: We call them engineers.
Fifield: Engineers? You mind telling us what they engineered?
Elizabeth Shaw: They engineered us.
Fifield: Bullshit.
Millburn: OK so do you have anything to back that up? I mean look, how do you discount three centuries of Darwinism? How do you know?
Elizabeth Shaw: I don’t but it’s what I choose to believe.
.

And that’s the last we hear about it. I find it hard to believe that on a ship full of scientists, medics and robots, no one had any follow-up questions or could see any problems with their theory. I am also curious to know exactly what is meant by “three centuries of Darwinism”. To my knowledge there is no such thing as Darwinism, just as there is no such thing as Einsteinism, Newtonism, Watson and Crick-ism, etc.

In closing, watching this movie was a waste of time and £10. The lack of cohesive storyline, combined with the lazy writing and a sprinkling of bacon bits of bad science on top, makes this almost unwatchable.

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About Myles Power (562 Articles)
My name is Myles Power, and I run the educational YouTube channel, powerm1985. I spend what little free time I have sharing my love of SCIENCE! through home experiments, visiting sites of scientific interest, and angrily ranting at pseudoscience proponents. I am also one of the founding members of the podcast 'The League of Nerds' - which I co-host with James from 'The History of Infection'.

7 Comments on Bad Science in Prometheus

  1. The DNA similarity is perfectly explainable, though not with anything that directly appears in the film. At some point in the past, an alien civilization encounters the earth and picks up a few human. As raised and educated by the aliens, they become a civilization in their own right. Eventually they encounter the earth, and we get the various paintings and signs seen in the cave pictures. Voila, no conflict.

    LIke I said, it isn’t in the film – but there’s a shitload that isn’t in the film which we accept perfectly well.

    On the other hand, carbon dating is pretty bogus as presented. The poisoning is explained well in the original script, but clearly got dropped in rewrite – but that’s not boad science, it’s bad writing.

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  2. I thought the movie was awesome. For the wanna be real scientist replying, shut the hell up. Go back home to your grandma’s basement where you live in your underwear eating jello with peanut butter and still a virgin.

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  3. Angry at Lindelof // January 31, 2015 at 8:42 am // Reply

    Anyone else find it implausible that Shaw managed to run all over Hell’s half acre mere hours after having an alien octopus removed from her abdomen by a robotic refrigerator/coffin thingy that wasn’t even set to operate on a woman?

    Also, Damon Lindelof should be kicked in the stomach until he shits himself.

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  5. 2015 here and I feel very sorry not just for this article, but for everyone believing on it and for the existence of such behaviors from the audience.

    The movie was just bad because it was poorly directed in a lot of sessions. Bad screenplay and incoherences made me wonder if this mess from Scott was even making use of a storyboard. But I think that immersion and feeling isn’t a word often used by some special types of nerds I see.

    I’m shocked to see that someone is actually bothering to find ”issues” regarding the scientific facts on the movie, you gotta be a hardcore nerd from an actual another world to really get bored at that. Please don’t get me wrong but this is absolutely ridiculous. Imagination and creativity can bender time and space at will. If you don’t think that, on my opinion, you’re lacking a soul just as David is. When I’m writing sci-fi horror I really like to get acquainted with all the scientific facts involved on it first. But to be absurdly accurate with then just to please robots on the internet, that’s another realm to go into. Again don’t get me wrong, I’m totally nerd too. But I would never waste my time by scrapping every piece of ”bad science” in there in the smallest details possible just to prove how fantastic my intelligence is. I’m no longer a teenager to wage a war just to boost my power fantasy or whatever.

    If a goddamn ship is traveling faster than the light, who the hell can even care about it on a goddamn movie? But such a type you guys are, would you sleep easier at night if Scott puts an wormhole in some 4 seconds of CGI? Would that shut you guys up? Cry me a river, it is fiction so look at fiction without reality around you. I’m not talking about incoherences that would kill your immersion, if you guys even know what that is by the way you guys thinks. I’m talking about excessive BS that doesn’t makes a movie bad or good.

    So if a bad movie has an perfect science, tailored made for your brain to accept, would it be a good movie?

    The movie was just bad because he lacks an profound amount of coherence, discontinuity errors are everywhere and the dialog is often pretty badly done. Goddammit humans doesn’t even talk like that. Frame by frame, Scott and his staff is trying to push you to be in awe instead of actually delivering it to you. Frame by frame he is making use of your guesses just to guess the answer of previous frames and by using it too much, he did irreparable harms to his movie. Harm that will not heal, it doesn’t matter how good.

    The last time I saw such incoherent movie was with Fantastic Four, second version.

    You guys want bad science? How about bad professionalism? So keep it up if you have any sort of imagination in your soul. You’re going down a hole on another planet, what is the first thing you do if you find yourself on an alien environment? You take your helmet off because you can breath down there. That doesn’t look very professional. Then later on, half of the crew is already dead and then the would-be- Ripley says ”No! Don’t take your helmet off we don’t know what happened…” So you say ”Oh… they weren’t debriefed on the real situation”.

    That’s it, the movie overstays the audience welcome on the assumption’s halls.

    And I was thinking ”my goodness they’re dumb.” And YOU where thinking ”My Newtoness, how the gravity of this dangerous planet isn’t making any notably difference on anything around them and on themselves? Damn the DNA could have been so badly done on a CGI?”

    Then, both american stereotypes of nerd and drunk disappears out of thin air. Then you’re assuming they got lost, and yes by the captain words you can see they were lost. Without any sign of context, logicality or coherence so you could connect the obvious. Then they die the with typical horror movie death.

    The nerd guy is another dumb amongst other dumbed people, and he is gently talking with an alien something like he’s some kind of pet. While the captain is banging Vickers (wat???) Yep, why the captain would remain vigilant after detecting danger in there? It’s just better if he could bang an robot-like girl all the night. Then when everyone wakes up from their fuck-fest, both sterotypes are dead.

    The last survivor of Nostromo was an unique character in an unique story. Scotts failure seems to be orbiting the fact that he was trying to get away from his classic by fooling you that he could do any better than an younger himself. So what was ”bad science” on Aliens, the lack of explanation in-movie on what is generating artificial gravity on the ship? This is ridiculous.

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  6. lol

    I forgot to add this. When David got Janek infected I literally gave up. Why would Weyland waste his on crew with this basic evil clichê from an horror movie? Bad science that is, how the neurons of such director can do such mess in such short time? Gotta be the warp drive effect. ;-]

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