Prometheus, Alien: Engineers, and the perils of early draft hangovers

Aww, remember this? Remember how excited you were…?

And then you saw the movie.

Some have been scathing of PROMETHEUS, but I rather enjoyed it. No, it wasn’t Alien or Aliens, but it looked jaw-droppingly stunning, and there were great performances. But something wasn’t quite right, and it was largely the screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof who came in for a kicking.

Spaihts has already spoken in some detail about what was in his original draft, and then this week it was released free-to-read online for a few days (though it now seems to have disappeared from the Prometheus website).

It’s an absolutely fascinating read, and if you’re a screenwriter I urge you to read it. i09 does a great job of highlighting the main differences, but for a writer it illustrates one of the main perils of rewrites: THE EARLY DRAFT HANGOVERS!

I mean those little moments that made perfect sense in draft 6, but now seem completely nonsensical in draft 12. And I’m not talking big things, like the alien goo and losing the xenomorphs from the story, it’s usually little things; a character’s motivation, a single line, a brief moment, the tiny hole that can sink a very big ship.

For me, the best example of this is the character of Vickers: in Spaihts’ version, her motivation is very straightforward: she’s there to ensure that Weyland gets the technology that allows the company to terraform new worlds. Simple. She’s following the company line and if it means a few people die along the way, then so be it. A good villain is the hero of their own story and that’s what we have here.

In the filmed version… oh, blimey, can anyone figure out what she wants? There’s the whole father/daughter thing, and she sleeps with Janek, and she torches Fyfield, and blah-blah-blah-blah-blah… A lot of the original motivations are there and make sense, and maybe the daughter-superbitch thing makes sense too, but then the early draft hangovers get confused with the new stuff and you end up with a bit of a mess, squashed by a spaceship that looks like a giant croissant.

One of the projects I’m working on is at draft 15 and it looks like (fingers crossed) that we’re going into pre-production. Therefore we have to deliver a script for the producer to budget, the cast to read, the production HoDs to start doing their thing. This is it – the map that will steer the ship. And we’ve spotted a couple of these moments. Not big things, but scenes that used to make perfect sense, but now seem a little… odd, out-of-whack, ‘Why is he saying that now?’ ‘Why does he give that to them here?’. We’re fixing them and the script has improved tremendously as a result, but then we perhaps have the luxury of time that Damon Lindelof didn’t have when the juggernaut of PROMETHEUS went into production.

So next time you spot a plot hole or weird line that doesn’t seem to fit, spare a thought for the poor writer, head in hands, suffering from a bad case of early draft hangover. It can happen to us all.

PS. Thanks to Kevin Lehane for the tip-off.

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