I Would Have Kept My F*cking Space Helmet On: Pondering Prometheus' Many Questions

Love it or hate it, Sir Ridley Scott’s prequel to Alien knows how to start a conversation. Here are the answers to some of your burning questions about Prometheus.

It’s been about a week since the wide release of Sir Ridley Scott’s sci-fi thriller Prometheus--and the general consensus among audiences seems to be divisive confusion mixed with respect for the film’s stunning visuals.

Of course the movie is peppered with idiotic moments from characters that’ll leave you wishing for the angel of common sense to deliver swift justice: Why remove your helmet on an alien planet? Why try to pet a hissing alien snake? Why did they get lost in a circular cave with mountains of communication and surveillance equipment?

Those questions and many, many more are asked in this video from Red Letter Media that sums up some audience members’ failure to see the big Prometheus picture.

And answers are out there--on a comprehensive Reddit post (based on this blog post). Here, some excerpts and elaborations--insert obligatory spoiler alert here.

What was going on in the opening scene?

Prometheus starts out with gorgeous sweeping shots of what can be assumed is Earth (Scott doesn’t really admit it’s Earth, saying in an interview with that it "could be a planet anywhere.") An Engineer, aka those wicked buff pale aliens, stands atop a waterfall, drinks black goo (more on this later), becomes violently ill, and eventually tumbles into the water disintegrating right down to his DNA, mixing with everything around it. This sacrificial act is how life on planets began, hence our matching DNA.

What was up with the black goo?

And here’s where things get a little sticky, pun intended. The black goo, as seen at the beginning of the movie, appears to be an inherent mix of good and evil: Yes, the Engineer who drank the stuff died a rather graphic death, but it was necessary to bring about life and future civilization. However, throughout the rest of the movie, the black goo acts more like a biological weapon of sickening destruction, transforming Holloway into what looked like the Engineer during his final moments at the beginning of the movie; producing hammerpedes, those dubious grey "snakes" that take out Millburn; and morphing Fifield into a raging mutant that can only be killed by fire. So what gives? It’s been said that the black goo reacts to the nature and even temperament of whoever/whatever it comes into contact with--but given the fact that the human race did a bad, bad thing, the black goo will bring about nothing but agony and death, and not the noble-buff-pale-alien kind, either.

So how exactly did the human race royally screw itself?

Pull out your bibles, kids, and get ready for a total mind trip: Remember when the crew is down in the cave and the holographic Engineers start running toward the chamber with the gigantic head but one of them fails and gets decapitated? Shaw carbon dates the well-preserved corpse back 2,000 years--in turn, giving a roundabout date of when the human race made its unforgivable blunder that would set in motion its imminent downfall: the crucifying of an Engineer emissary sent to Earth. That’s right, people--Jesus Christ was an alien. Once again from, take it away, Scott!

[…] if you look at it as an “our children are misbehaving down there” scenario, there are moments where it looks like we’ve gone out of control, running around with armor and skirts, which of course would be the Roman Empire. And they were given a long run. A thousand years before their disintegration actually started to happen. And you can say, “Let’s send down one more of our emissaries to see if he can stop it. Guess what? They crucified him.

If you’re wondering how humans crucifying alien Jesus ties back to the Engineer massacre, it can be inferred that the gaffe of no return tainted their way of thinking, unleashing not the kind and loving black goo that creates fertile life, but the vengeful variation that wipes people out like the plague.

I get the black goo now--but why did David poison Holloway with it? And for that matter, what’s up with David in general?

David is, hands down, one of the sketchiest characters in the movie. It’s fair to say he poisoned Holloway under the command of Weyland, who more than likely needed a guinea pig to test the effects of the black goo in humans. In Weyland’s incessant quest for the fountain of youth, perhaps he thought it could be a magic elixir of sorts. But now the question becomes how did David even know about the black goo to begin with? If you recall their first expedition in the cave, David practically makes a b-line for the junk and looks completely at home punching in secret codes and unleashing all kinds of hell.

It’s clear David can not only speak the language of the Engineers, but can also man their incredibly complex aircrafts--so it’s obvious he has a solid grasp of their everything, right? There’s just no telling all what he learned during those uninterrupted years on the ship, but one could guess that, contrary to Weyland’s belief, he obtained a soul or some form of reasoning (good or bad) beyond his programming. Did he or did he not seem perturbed by Holloway’s niggling reminders that he wasn’t a "real boy"? Also, there’s that line when David says something to the effect of, "We all want our parents dead." Granted, Weyland was a megalomaniac a-hole, but still. It seems the missing puzzle to David and why he did the things he did rests with that brief conversation he had with the surviving Engineer that ended in utter mayhem. Had there been subtitles (touche, Scott) it would’ve been revealed if David followed Weyland’s orders or went rogue.

Regardless, the end of Prometheus sets things up nicely for a possible sequel--a sequel where, hopefully, more answers will be given up front.

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  • Jeff Kowal

    you know, I had a lot of little issues with the film, as most people did, but the one big misstep for me was that when the crew from alien found the wreckage, the engineer was in the pilot's seat with his chest bursted... but there was not even an attempt to address that in Prometheus. Why go to the effort of explaining the crash, but not the set up for the discovery of the engineer?

    Generally speaking, i'm willing to give Sir Scott the benefit of the doubt. It took a lot of brass to go back and revisit a bar that you set 30 some odd years ago. I can even allow him a fairly large amount of creative latitude, but that point in particular was kind of my "really?... really??"

    In general I enjoyed the film. I think folks in general have become very critical of movies, expecting them to deliver on all fronts this level of insane excellence, plus the nostaglic significance this particular film,  and they forget how to just kick back and enjoy the "sunday matinee" like we used to. I thought this was very enjoyable film. Yes some of the performances were flat, and indeed there wasn't much character development at all, yes there were holes in the plot, and yes there was that huge fumble on the 5 yard line, but as a stand alone film it was entirely entertaining, it was visually stunning (the 3d was exceptionally tasteful,) and it took me on a vacation for two hours with nostalgic overtones from my youth... what more do you need?

  • chris

    that was super annoying and irritating to me too after coming out of the cinema... why not even make a simple effort to address the space jockey's introduction in Alien and connect the two.  Then I found out through my nerdy friends that the space jockey in Alien is a different one than the one in Prometheus... they are actually different planets. so.  

    I agree on the entertaining part too... cannot deny that even with stupid plotholes and irritating characters. YES.