RBT Answers the Big Questions About Prometheus… Sorta

Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is one of the year’s most anticipated films. With the personnel involved, and the link with one of the most successful Sci-Fi franchises in cinematic history (the Alien series), excitement levels amongst fan-boys rivalled a gaggle of Twi-Hards getting a glimpse of R-Pattz’s bare behind.

Upon its release, Prometheus was alternately praised, ridiculed, or shrugged at, depending on whom you listened to. But the debate didn’t stop there, with Ridley Scott at pains to point out that Prometheus wasn’t a direct prequel to Alien, instead making oblique references to ‘shared DNA’, the ways that this film tied up with its ‘DNA twins’ has inspired much debate.

So, with Prometheus having been out for quite some time now, we here at RBT thought that we should attempt to answer some of the unanswered (and unanswerable?) questions raised by the film that RBT’s own Tom Williams described as having the best trailer he’d ever seen.

Please note that these are just our opinions on the questions the film raises, and our answers are just our best guess. If you disagree, feel free to leave a comment below. Questions and the answers themselves will be highly spoilerific, so if you haven’t seen the film what are you doing? Get yourself to a cinema, and then come back and get involved!

Engineer THIS

Q: What happened in the opening scene?

A: A pale, bodybuilder-looking chap is standing at the top of a waterfall, pretty much naked, with a spaceship hovering above. He swallows some caviar-esque substance, and then proceeds to disintegrate (it’s probably not caviar), falling downwards, into the waterfall as he does so. This is then followed by an opening credits sequence, featuring various evocative sequences that seem to show the beginning of life on Earth.

At this point in the film, we know nothing about who this guy is, and are only later provided with the tentative name of the Engineers for them. It’s reasonable to assume, given what happens later in the film, that this specific Engineer is seeding life on Earth. But why does he do it in this specific way? Does the life of an Engineer have to be sacrificed in order to start life for a whole planet?

Well, part of the answer to this may life in the film’s title.  According to Greek legend, Prometheus was a Titan (a rival race to the Gods) who, according to legend, stole fire from the Gods, and gave it to man. Since the introduction of the ability to make fire is commonly thought of as the catalyst for man’s technological advance, this is clearly a significant event in this history of the human species. For this defiance of Zeus, Prometheus was tied to a distant rock, where every day an eagle tore out and ate his liver, only for it to regrow overnight and begin the cycle again.

The original Prometheus, accept no substitutes

Is this lone Engineer the ‘Prometheus’ of the Engineer race? Was he a renegade, acting alone, defying his masters who have mastered terraforming for scientific and military purposes, by creating life for the sake of it? If so, the hovering spaceship that then flies away would more than likely have had a pilot, meaning he can’t have done this alone. Perhaps this was just the way that Earth was ‘seeded’ and it’s just a strange process? If that’s how life started, then like the act of sex itself, it’s messy, it doesn’t live up to expectations, and it is fraught with risk. Or is that just my experience?

Q: Why do the Engineers look like tall, porcelain-skinned, bodybuilders?

A: Well, they are differently, evolved, similar versions of us. As our creators, they are effectively Gods to us, in the same way that, according to Christian lore, God created us in his image.

Look at those guns!

The plot of the film seems to be strongly influenced by the ‘Ancient Astronaut Theory’ (an interesting, but bonkers theory that aliens started life, and then continually intervened throughout human history, see also the Antikythera Mechanism). In the alternative history laid out by Prometheus, the Engineers may have visited Earth after creating life on it, thus giving us a visual idea of what Gods look like.

Going by their complexion, and idealised height and physiques, the Engineers resemble the statues made by the Greeks and Romans of their Gods and mythological heroes. Perhaps this is cinematic shorthand for the audience, giving us these associations subconsciously, and thus building the mythology?

Q: Is LV-223 just a weapon storage facility? 

A: Janek (Idris Elba’s character) in his role as the straight-talking non-scientist seems to cut to the heart of the matter when he identifies [the moon] as a weapons factory.

He points out that it’s far away from their home planet, is a hostile environment, with a climate providing its own security. The Engineers, with all their terraforming abilities, have purposefully made the facility underground, and capable of supporting life.

The metal tubes containing the mysterious black goo resemble torpedoes to the audience. Et voila! Another example of cinematic shorthand being used to create images in the minds of the audience.

Q: Q: What is the black goo and what does it do?

A: Exposure to the goo appears to affect different people in different ways. If we are to assume that the ivory-skinned, tall Engineers are super-skilled at terraforming, then we can take a guess that this goo is a similar offshoot of their terraforming tech, but has been specifically designed as a biological weapon.

Aliens made it explicit that the xenomorphs could be considered a biological weapon, with Carter Burke’s career aspirations hinging on this, and the black goo seems to be similar to a weaponised virus. Instead of wiping life out, it creates life. And a particularly hardy, acid-blooded, S&M-attired form of life it is too.

This is Where it all Leads to

In a similar parallel to our atomic weapons and other weapons of mass destruction the Engineers’ strategy would be to let the goo loose on an enemy planet, then come in and mop up the pieces with some kind of intergalactic bug spray.

Problem is, just like our very human nuclear weapons, the consequences of unleashing this weapon are perhaps too much for them to handle. This might be how we got to the discovery of the ‘Space Jockey’ of Alien fame.

Q: Why does the Engineer decapitate David, then attack the humans, and why did the Engineers decide to exterminate humanity? 

A: So, by this point, the film has made it clear that the Engineers had made the decision to destroy Earth. They clearly see us as an inferior race to them, and if the aim with creating us was to one day harness us for their use in one way or another, human nature seems too selfish for that.

Or, if human life was seeded by some renegade Engineer ‘Prometheus’, then the Engineers might have decided to abort his little insurrection.

Back off, puny human

Another part of this could be that the Engineer could have been further enraged by the INFERIOR humans attempting to communicate with him in his own language, and having created a machine so intelligent that it could work their technology, communicate with them, and look darn good in a space suit (my Fassbender man-crush showing a bit there).

In a lot of ways, David is superior to us, he’s smarter than us, can score one-handed baskets while riding a bike, and can hold what seems like the whole internet’s-worth of information in his brain-box. If we created something so superior to us that we fear it (as a lot of the fellow crew members seem to), maybe the Engineers had the same experience with us and our burgeoning scientific advances?

Q: Why do the cave paintings seem to deliberately lead to LV-223 if the Engineers didn’t want us to find them? 

A: This is one of the hardest questions that the film poses. It appears to not make sense, and it is at this point that I wish to remind you that Ridley Scott has intimated that he thinks there could be sequels to Prometheus. This could well be one of the questions answered in any potential sequel.

… I nearly got away with not answering this one, didn’t I?

Oh, OK then: If you subscribe to the ‘Renegade Engineer’ theory, then it could have been this renegade’s way of showing the way to our creators, either to make a point to them about like, LIFE, man, when we eventually find them. Or it could be that we can attempt to destroy a race that as a peace-loving beatnik, he could have grown to despise.

OR going back to the ‘Alien Intervention’ theory, maybe the Engineers deliberately created us, and visited us from time to time, appearing as gods to the primitive people of Earth, who were shown this wondrous star map, that the primitive people then replicated in their cosy little cavey homesteads.

Q: Why does the ‘baby’ that Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) carries, resemble a squid/octopus thing? 

A: This is another hard one to call. I have a crackpot theory that is probably incorrect, but is all I can come up with.

What if the black goo that infected Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) took on the form of his sperm after their intercourse? Crazy yah?

Think about it, it’s not as batshit-mental as it sounds: the original xenomorph in Alien was a petrifying combination of lizard, insect, robotic, S&M garb and psychosexual Freudian imagery with acid for blood and a penchant for attacking humans. The xenomorph is often referred to colloquially by fans of the Alien franchise as the ‘penis-monster’, because of its phallic overtones, but it also has female anatomical elements, and is just as sexually-scary to blokes, especially given the fact that the facehugger essentially ‘rapes’ its (usually male) victims.

So, the xenomorph reproduces by using its prey as an incubator for its eggs, and the resultant offspring takes on some of the physical characteristics of its ‘host’, as shown in Alien3 with the dog-alien. The goo’s effect on the maggot-worms in the chamber in the weapons factory further shows that the goo is what gives the Xenomorphs this ability to take on attributes of other species. So, I took the (admittedly fairly big) logical leap to assuming that this might extend to Elizabeth Shaw’s unexpected foetus.

Q: Why doesn’t Elizabeth go to Earth at the end of the film? 

A: The quest for answers has defined her life. She’s a Christian, and is shown at a dig with her father early on, clearly indicating that she has been brought up to look for answers. After the obliteration of her fiancé and the crew of this expedition, what is left for her? She might as well try and find her answers.

On a side-note, Prometheus revisits lots of the recurring motifs of the Alien series, and a female protagonist alone in a ship flying off to destinations unknown is a familiar sight from the films, especially as an ending.

Looks Like the Search for Answers Wasn’t Too Fun

Q: What happens between the end of this film, and the start of ‘Alien’?

A: Well, first off, this film is set of LV-223 and the Nostromo from Alien lands on LV-426. This means that the differing climates etc. are not a mistake by the screenwriters.

Obviously this is another issue that will most likely be addressed in any potentially sequel, but after the humans caused an almighty ruckus, and stirred up a whole lot of trouble on what looks like an Engineer weapons factory, we can guess that the Engineers must have eventually sent out a search party to investigate.

Maybe when they got there, they felt able to contain the nascent xenomorph race, but, like us in the Alien films, underestimated them, and were eventually overwhelmed en route back to their home planet. Eventually crashing and setting up the signal that was trying to warn any unfortunates who came across their spaceship-tomb to stay away.

As we all know, that warning attempt has to go down as an EPIC FAIL.

Q: What is that surveillance footage system that David seems to activate, and what does it show?

A: The Engineers’ black goo is probably a weapon, a weapon so unstable that they more than likely store it as far away from their home planet as possible.

Like any sufficiently powerful human weapon, its storage and use is not without risk, just ask the residents of Fukushima and Chernobyl (OK, they were Nuclear Power, not weapons reactors, but the point is still valid).

It’s reasonable to assume that the black goo infected an Engineer (possibly the one decapitated by the door whose head explodes), or some other life form on the planet, and then attacked them, eventually killing them.

The projection activated by David seems to be CCTV reconstruction (sort of like Crimewatch) of what befell the Engineer workers at the facility.

Q: What is David (and, by extension, Peter Wyland)’s aim?

A: In two words: eternal life. Peter Weyland, played by Guy Pearce (which seems strange considering he’s so old… I smell a sequel) is in search of eternal life. His company’s later actions seem to follow their creator’s selfish and Machiavellian motives and practices.

David is a robot, created to serve mankind and seemingly incapable of self-determination, despite his ginormous IQ. We have to assume that he is just serving Weyland, hence his duplicity, however we can’t rule out an intrinsic Superiority Complex in David, and perhaps he was sick of being ordered around and treated disrespectfully by these clearly inferior life-forms (dude can live without his head!).

Dude’s got Mad Skillz

Robots are often treated with suspicion by human beings in Science Fiction. This is despite the slow movement of technological advance making it likely that most humans would be more or less relaxed about the idea of robots. This more than likely reflects our (the audience)’s own feelings of horror and discomfort about the ‘Uncanny Valley’ that robots inhabit.

So, that’s what I think was going on in ‘Prometheus’, although I don’t have any inside track, and am mostly guessing. If you, the reader have a different view on any of these points, or even have any other questions you feel are worth answering, please use the comments box below.

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