One of our readers, “Zeus”, has written an in-depth article which addresses many of the questions raised by Prometheus, and it’s well worth a read.
You may or may not agree with all of the interpretations and explanations given, but they are sure to get your brain working!
If you have your own thoughts on the questions below, and would like to contribute, please click here to find out how.
IT SHOULD GO WITHOUT SAYING THAT THERE ARE LOTS OF SPOILERS HERE, BUT WE’RE SAYING IT ANYWAY – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
And now, it’s over to Zeus…
“You don’t argue with Ridley Scott about the movie he wants to make. If you have unanswered questions some people are going to be creatively intrigued by it and others will be pissed off by it and that galvanised him – as there’s nothing he loves more than to piss people off. In the right way of course.” Damon Lindelof
“The green crystal. What was it? How does it factor in with all of this?”
Who knows? A possibility is that the green stone is a device that exerts some control over the black ooze perhaps activating it, or keeping it dormant. Remember it was David at the controls of the door, perhaps the fact that he wasn’t an engineer registered in the green goop and thus it triggered the green stone. Think about fingerprint security. Wait for the sequel.
“Is the goo inside the engineers bowl the same as the goo in the urns? Is it a different concoction?”
The bowl’s lid has an etching of a ‘tree’ symbolizing the tree of life, perhaps this is enough to signify a juxtaposition with the goo in the urns, maybe some concoctions are for general creation others for the creation of a xenomorph.
“If humans are genetically identical to the Engineers with a 100% match, then wouldn’t the rest of the earth’s fauna be genetically identical as well?”
Nowhere in the movie does it say that the engineers are genetically ‘identical’ or a 100% match; they are a match in so far that they have almost as many DNA base pairs and are carbon based bipeds with a virtually identical carbon decay cycle. The match percentage is not shown and it is not 100%. And even if they were, This assumption would be true if the Gods didn’t specifically favour man only; by only giving him ‘gifts’ at some stage where they gave him upgrades (i.e. gave him fire) both intellectually and genetically. As it turns out there is a simple explanation for it – Spaihts explains in the commentary that in his script it began with the introduction of the ship we see at the beginning of the film and engineers talking to one another and we have the sacrificial engineer who drinks the liquid and promptly disintegrates with cells blowing out through the wind over the surrounding valley whilst his other cells drop in the water.
Soon the mutated cells in the water reach an early ape like tribe of humans and they begin to mutate. Lindelof decided not to show this to keep it a little more ambiguous and up to the viewer to work out. So, according to Spaihts the engineers didn’t create all life on earth but by happenstance were responsible for the evolution of early primates. The engineers could have been looking for a parasitical life form to weaponize and stumbled upon it, every urn in fact could be test results from different planets, just because they’re called engineers doesn’t necessarily mean they engineered everything.
Ignoring Spaihts, it’s just part of Shaw’s thesis remember? Otherwise, in essence, the beginning of the film just vies with archetypal creation myths, and thus we can also make the assumption that the rest of the worlds fauna wouldn’t be genetically identical to the Gods due to populations changing into new species all at the same time. Often times, a small group breaks away from a population and begins to evolve independently of the source group. The source group does not need to go extinct, and is generally unaffected by the development of the smaller group.
This is called “Allopatric Speciation,” and it is just one of many ways that new species can evolve. If the origins of life were due to a directed panspermia operation like we see in the film or abiogenesis, evolution and natural selection would still function. The only reason the human species are genetically identical with the Gods (other than being highly symbolic in philosophical and theological contexts) is precisely because man was given upgrades just as perhaps the engineers were given upgrades both genetic and intellectual, i.e., they received ‘fire’ from the Gods. It’s fairly well known to the people of Greek mythology that the Olympians were extremely jealous when it came to mortals claiming to be their equals or betters.
“Why does David say when asked how long by Vickers – 2 years, 4 months, 18 days, 36 hours, 15 minutes instead of 2 years, 4 months, 19 days, 12 hours?”
Both Spaihts and Lindelof have confirmed that ’36 hours, 15 min’ wasn’t scripted and thus couldn’t confirm anything in regard to why he says this specifically. What is strange is that almost nobody thought about elapsed time after 18 days right up to the conversation. Whether it was just Fassbender improvising or something Ridley thought up deliberately is irrelevant when you consider elapsed time so while strange it isn’t necessarily an error in any case even if it’s edited out in a future cut to spare confusion. When we first see David we see a montage of him looking at Shaw’s dreams, doing some activities ranging from walking around dribbling a basketball, to shooting hoops on a bike, to doing some linguistic training, to watching Lawrence of Arabia, to combing his newly dyed blond hair…i.e. the montage it self suggests quite a bit of time lapses before we see him talk with Vickers.
The 36 hours, 15 minutes could just simply be seen as the elapsed amount of time starting after 18 days right up to the conversation in hours and minutes. Ergo, 36 hours 15 minutes is just the last item in David’s account of time elapsed after 18 days right up to his exchange with Vickers counted in hours and minutes. This makes sense coming from an android. The presumed ad lib makes it more interesting because if it really was just an ad lib and no one noticed it doesn’t necessarily make it an error if you take into account elapsed time that goes over 24 hours right up to the conversation. An elapsed remainder of 36 hours, 15 minutes is more suiting coming from an intelligent toaster oven.
Short answer – 36 hours 15 minutes is just the last item in David’s account of time elapsed after 18 days right up to his exchange with Vickers counted in hours and minutes; the total time elapsed spanning the montage of David’s routines and activities right up to his conversation with Vickers.
“Why did Milburn attempt to grab the hammerpede?”
Milburn had a lot of cocksure faith in his space suit as confirmed by Spaihts in the commentary who says it is bullet proof. According to Weyland Industries the armour on the suit is made out of cadmium, this is why Milburn reassures Fifield “It’s alright!” Consider snake handlers on earth like Jeff Corwin who don’t even wear even the most rudimentary form of protection when handling snakes they know full well are capable of killing them. The hammerpede had no visible mandibles or incisors and in deleted scenes showing Milburn finding one of the worms and playing with it and finding shed skin makes it clear that he made the connection so he wasn’t going to be afraid of a mere space worm since worms aren’t predators and it certainly did not appear dangerous enough to penetrate his suit. Hubris and Milburn’s excitement at the opportunity at procuring an extraterrestrial specimen beyond mere bacteria was his down fall.
This scene is also symbolic of Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra a text that underlies a lot of the films rich thematic, to quote – “All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than ape.”
Worms aren’t predators no matter the size. Worms can’t penetrate bullet proof, cadmium plated space suits. He couldn’t have known about its facehugger-esque capabilities. Audience only knows better.
“Why did David spike Holloway’s drink? Why didn’t he do it under controlled lab conditions with a sample of human tissue? Why risk infecting himself and the entire ship?”
In the film we see David having a secret conversation with someone who is later to be revealed as Peter Weyland, David is given orders to try harder in the objective of helping Weyland find an answer to becoming young again or immortal and uses Holloway as a guinea pig to see what the black substance was capable of. Weyland must have ordered David to do this to a crew member specifically since Weyland’s life was on the brink of death and it would thus take too long to prep an experiment under controlled conditions. Plus it would look awfully suspicious, not to mention if David summoned Holloway or anyone else to his lab to get a sample of any kind.
David is also a butler on the ship so he has to remain serving the other crew members. To wait out the storm he performs his experiment but the life form that has been detected by one of the probes is the prize hence why he insists later to investigate the ‘glitchy’ probe. David chose Holloway simply because he deducted that he was the most antagonistic toward him thus mimicking human behaviour. David also asked Holloway just before he did it what he was willing to do to find the truth and Holloway replies “anything and everything”. This, in David’s empathy lacking android mind, is him giving him permission to do it. It was simply Weyland’s orders and Weyland’s orders supersede all else because David is a robot; this enables him to be programmed to carry out objectives that might be considered unethical and reckless.
Damon Lindelof has also explained in the commentary that in the original script David looks at the substance at a microscopic level and sees double helices so he would have made a pretty good deduction as to what it would do to his synthetic self and to Holloway, thus David could have very well deduced that poisoning Holloway would corrupt his seed and at some point he would impregnate Shaw. Despite his deductions, possibly putting the entire ship’s crew at risk is of no concern to David given his disdain for humanity and Weyland would be safely contained in stasis. It is quite similar to Ash’s behaviour in Alien when he breaks quarantine procedure and brings the facehugger on board; all that mattered to Ash was his objective. All that matters to David is Weyland and his objective.
“Why was the awakened Engineer so pissed? Didn’t his species purposely leave invitations so they could be found?”
Shaw and Holloway simply interpreted them as invitations when there was absolutely no evidence to support it. Vickers was convinced they were just cave scribbles. There you have two different takes already. Ergo, it is an assumption that the engineers were guiding anybody to LV-223. When Holloway explains the star map, it has 6 stars and they extrapolated (presumably taking into regard orbital drifting) from known star systems and found a match and started making educated guesses as to which one would be the ‘home world’. They simply honed in on the star that was mostly identical to our own and found it had planets with moons, one of which had an oxygen and nitrogen atmosphere virtually identical to earth’s.
Let’s back up. They took a guess on which star out of 6. What’s interesting is that these same 6 stars exist in reality and most of them are approximately 34 to 36 light years away with more than half being quite similar to our sun and one in particular only being 19 light years away. If that particular star happened to be the correct one then they overshot it and landed on another, 1 out of 6 possible locations. Thus we can’t assume they landed in the right place. I would have guessed Gliese 581d myself! Remember one of the other stars in that very same map has an inhospitable rock going around it, with a certain derelict ship, beaming out an acoustic message that will one day be intercepted by the Nostromo. The star on the bottom right of the map is Zeta 2 Reticuli and LV-426 is a moon orbiting one of that star’s planets. Remember Prometheus takes place on LV-223. If most of these stars are 8 light years from each other then there could very well be other outposts or even civilizations on planets or moons in each of the close by systems.
Their agenda rested solely on a thesis that David doubted, “Granting your thesis is correct…” It was essentially a hunch but Weyland was superstitious enough to follow at all costs, for one last chance of immortality. For my money they were warnings that got lost in translation over centuries ever since man abandoned the true Gods – the Engineers or even the Engineers Gods alike. And going by the Greek mythology that underlies all of it (remember, the title), what makes you think that the awakened Engineer was of the group that left signs back on earth? Given his different, more biomechanoid physiology contrasted with the merely masculine engineer at the beginning it could have very well been a different faction who were responsible for it. On the one hand you have the vengeful Olympians of the man hating Zeus and those who took pity on us and gave us fire – the rebels under Prometheus.
There is a nuclear waste analogy here also. Just as Janek suspects that the LV-223 facility is just a weapon facility built away from the engineer’s home, I believe this is a clue but also somewhat a red herring. An analogy can be made with nuclear waste repositories built deep underground on earth. The cave paintings weren’t invitations; they were warnings. To quote a disturbing documentary called Into Eternity which no doubt would have influenced Ridley and Lindelof – “Every day, the world over, large amounts of high-level radioactive waste created by nuclear power plants is placed in interim storage, which is vulnerable to natural disasters, man-made disasters, and societal changes. In Finland, the world’s first permanent repository is being hewn out of solid rock – a huge system of underground tunnels – that must last the entire period the waste remains hazardous: 100,000 years.
Once the repository waste has been deposited and is full, the facility is to be sealed off and never opened again. Or so we hope, but can we ensure that? And how is it possible to warn our descendants of the deadly waste we left behind? How do we prevent them from thinking they have found the pyramids of our time, mystical burial grounds, hidden treasures? Which languages and signs will they understand? And if they understand, will they respect our instructions?”
“Why do the engineers wear those elephantine masks on their ships if the air in the ship was breathable? Why if they have no difficulty breathing the air on the planet and in the temple where there was breathable air?”
Well, the temple contains hazardous materials; Scientists working with dangerous biological substances wear hazmat suits when dealing with chemicals in perfectly ventilated labs. Why do jet pilots wear oxygen masks? It’s not clear whether LV-223 is the same planet shown at the beginning, Ridley has said that it could be any planet. Even if it was it would have been perfectly breathable hundreds perhaps thousands of years ago but since then the atmosphere gained more carbon monoxide.
And before it’s pointed out that the last engineer who went after Shaw didn’t have his mask on, since the evac pod was close to the downed juggernaut the engineer could have simply held his breath because, well, he is so anatomically impressive, who knows how long he can hold his breath, maybe he could breathe for a little longer than a human would have. He obviously made it. Free diver Tom Siestas can hold his breath for 9 minutes and 58 seconds.
“Why does Vickers say “a half billion miles away from any man” when they are at least over a trillion miles away?”
This was a deliberate line penned by Lindelof and it shouldn’t need explaining. Shaw and Janek weren’t having a scientific conversation. The half a billion miles line was just a figure of speech made during small talk, she wasn’t speaking literally; she’s using figurative language, the proverbial one thousand miles from nowhere. Besides she’s a suit not an astrophysicist, she wouldn’t know how far they were exactly neither if asked nor would she care.
“Why didn’t Shaw tell anyone about the trilobite? And why didn’t those two crew members that she knocked out never mention that she had an alien baby in her belly? Or never mention the fact that Shaw knocked them out?”
She came not to trust the company after David tried to persuade her to go to cryo and was subsequently drugged. Besides Shaw had just gone through a highly traumatic ordeal first with her lover dying then a horrific caesarean cutting out an alien species, you can’t expect that she would just start talking especially when she was now suspicious of everyone and thus she had no one to turn to. All they knew was that she had an ‘abnormal foetus’ inside her not a squid. David didn’t know exactly what it was all he knew was that it was an abnormal foetus.
Once Weyland was out of cryo all other priorities apart from the primary objective were now secondary and since time was of the essence Weyland would not have given a rats about some abnormal foetus over meeting his Creator and a chance for immortality. Maybe they did mention being knocked out. And? The male crew member later had a shotgun with him so there was no way in hell Shaw would be a further threat hence why the male crew member later strikes Shaw specifically in the stomach later when Weyland tells him to shut her up.
” use carbon dating to date the Jockey? That wouldn’t work since you can’t assume the carbon/oxygen ratio would be the same on LV-223 because every planet has different atmospheres and carbon/oxygen ratios.”
So many of the major nitpickers are guilty of begging the question with many elements of the plot; often ignoring all of the most reasonable explanations making the perceived error into the only one. They make the claim that LV-223′s carbon to oxygen ratio is not at the very least close to earths and has remained constant enough for more than 2,000 years without evidence other than the claim itself nor did they even consider the possibility that the engineers could have originated from LV-223 or even Earth, nor do they consider that they just happen to be convergent bipedal beings who evolved on a planet for all practical purposes virtually identical to earth since formation and thus just happen to have virtually identical carbon decay cycles and thus require atmospheres identical to earth’s as evident by the atmosphere in the temple. Thus the decay rates of the engineers for all intents and purposes of the story are virtually identical to humans.
This is science fiction. Science fiction universes often extrapolate very loosely from the real cosmos and given the artistic liberties taken in the film the alien universe has its own internal logic and exists unto itself. If convergent bipedal alien species exist with identical carbon decay rates in the alien universe then they exist in the alien universe. This is a fictional universe remember?
The only real difference with the atmosphere on LV-223 is the high percentage of carbon monoxide which would have been brought about by volcanic activity at some point in its history. For all practical purposes the planet is ‘just like home’. Another element that was overlooked is the fact that the dead Jockey was found in a temple that generated its own atmosphere that is for all practical purposes identical to earth’s, so who’s to say the carbon/oxygen ratio wouldn’t be identical to earth’s inside the temple? And making the assumption that their carbon cycle would be identical to humans is precisely the point since this could very well be due to convergent coincidence and if this scenario exists in a fictional plot then it exists in a fictional plot. End of story.
Other details missed by most of the nitpickers in the film include the oxygen in the atmosphere on LV-223 outside the temple which is virtually identical to earth’s at 21% (Earth’s is 20.9), it has 71% nitrogen (earth’s is 78) trace amounts of argon (earth has 0.93%) but a high concentration of carbon monoxide 3% (where earth’s is 0.1%). CO2 and other elements are not noted but since everything else is mostly identical the CO2 say would be close to earth’s which is 0.03, so the point is that we can just as easily assume that the temple’s processed atmosphere has the right ratio via filter or by other technological means such as electrolysis. The largest source of carbon-14 on earth is in the upper atmosphere where nitrogen interacts with neutrons from cosmic rays, with about 38,000 Ci of carbon-14 being produced by this process each year. We can assume a virtually fixed rate for the temple with Carbon-14 occurring in the ratio of 6 picocuries (pCi) of carbon-14 per gram of total carbon. Ignoring all that, who’s to say the engineers are not indigenous to earth? Perhaps earth was paradise? You see just by simply shuffling your assumptions and applying logic however stretched (this is science fiction) makes things clearer.
If the engineers are in fact indigenous to earth then the dating would work fine. If they just happen to be virtually identical convergent bipeds that evolved on a virtually identical planet with virtually identical decay rates no matter how miraculous then the dating would work fine. Those are the first two possibilities that weren’t considered before the nitpickers decided to shed light on the alleged error. And to repeat, it is highly likely that the engineers are indigenous to earth. To say they aren’t a priori is begging the question. Think about myth for a moment. Whether the engineers are just virtually identical bipeds that evolved on a virtually identical planet or the engineers are indigenous to earth then for all practical purposes the decay of isotopes inside the temple’s atmosphere would be more or less constant with that of organisms on earths. The air is even cleaner. It is still highly likely that the engineers originated from earth and are merely super men thus their bodies would have the same carbon cycle.
Besides, for all intents and purposes of the story, given that they have identical virtually genetics presumably in the order of the same amount of base pairs which for the human genome is 3 billion and 46 chromosomes then we can naturally assume they share virtually the same ratio of carbon 14 to carbon 12 with all living organisms on earth which is approximately 1 : 1.35×10-12 and the level of Carbon-14 present would be virtually the same as the human body at a level of about 0.1 microcurie (or 100,000 pCi) in adults. Shaw’s instrument dated a dead human for all it could determine; hence why acting under the assumption of earth’s decay rates given the generated atmosphere is exactly the point, at that time they assumed they were indigenous but took a shot at dating it due to the instrument readouts of an earthly atmosphere and made the correlation.
With a constant rate of cosmic rays smashing into carbon 12 atoms via the temples processor creating carbon 14 isotopes the ratio we can assume for all practical purposes would be identical to that of earths. Why not? That is the hypothetical proposed here. The engineers are masters of geoengineering, terraforming and paraterraforming. Also, Shaw says, “2,000 years, give or take.” Thus it was an approximated estimate not an exact quantity and always with carbon dating you deal with a margin of error, hence the ‘give or take’. Since the engineers are mostly identical to humans and evolved on a planet mostly identical to Earth if not Earth itself this is why the instrument gives an approximate read out. Furthermore since the earthly atmosphere is isolated from the environment outside the conditions in the temple’s atmosphere would remain relatively unchanged and constant thus no environmental factors outside of the temple would perturb the decay rates.
The engineers originating from earth vies with myth and the nietzschean concept of the overman. Indeed, they could have been just like us in appearance at one point, and since Nietzsche has been referenced in the marketing it makes it even more likely. “What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end.” Remember Shaw only assumes they come from elsewhere, their paradise, but even if they didn’t originate from our earth they certainly evolved on a planet virtually identical to earth and thus the decay rate for intents and purposes of the story is virtually identical to humans. Science-fiction often serves to propose general hypotheses and Prometheus is no different. Besides all else, who’s to say they didn’t recalibrate their instruments to suit the atmosphere of LV-223 itself not knowing the temple’s generated earthly atmosphere? They knew where they were going thus it is not unreasonable to assume that weyland’s astronomers garnered all the information they could via probes, etc. But all this exposition would have slowed down the pacing.
In fact, the study of climate on alien worlds has already been underway; astrophysicists can approximate carbon to oxygen ratios for exoplanets and can infer the properties of an exoplanetary atmosphere and the formation history. http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/feature/the-study-of-climate-on-alien-worlds But even then you could only determine the age of indigenous species, the engineers are not indigenous to LV-223. But alas, the point is that they are genetically roughly identical to humans insofar that they have 46 chromosomes and 3 billion base pairs (hence why Shaw’s instrument reads a 100% match when scanning their DNA so the criteria would have to have been the number of chromosomes and base pairs to get that percentage since Shaw is a Christian and would want to know if we were made in their image genetically speaking at the most rudimentary level) so the point is that it is very likely they are in fact indigenous to earth or a planet virtually identical to earth in its carbon and oxygen ratio thus their carbon cycles would either be identical or very close, give or take.
Assuming if they came from a planet for all practical purposes virtually identical to earth, is there reason to think that from a star system thousands of light-years away, they would be similar in appearance and carbon based just like Homo sapiens? Some scientists, such as Cambridge University paleontologist Simon Conway Morris, think it’s possible. After all, there’s a phenomenon in nature known as convergent evolution, which is the tendency of evolutionary processes to find similar solutions to any given environmental challenge.
Though in reality not all scientists ascribe to the odds of a bipedal alien developing convergently, Richard Dawkins is a little more open to the possibility, “I would agree with him (Skeptic Michael Shermer) in betting against aliens being bipedal primates and I think the point is worth making, but I think he greatly overestimates the odds against. Simon Conway Morris, whose authority is not to be dismissed, thinks it positively likely that aliens would be, in effect, bipedal primates.” It’s worth taking a look at the aptly titled book Promethean Fire: Reflections on the Origin of Mind by Charles J. Lumsden and Edward O. Wilson, based on the paleontologist Dale Russell’s evolutionary projection of how a bipedal dinosaur might have evolved into something like us had the dinosaurs not gone extinct. But could there really be exoplanets virtually identical to earth in mostly every way right from formation? Given the vastness of space and goldilocks zones, the potential numbers of Class M planets is staggering.
Just look at the Gleise 581 system and exoplanet 581g, the system has 2 habitable out of 5-6 planets vs 2 habitables out of 8. And on average they are incredibly Earth like, according to the Earth Similarity Index (0.92 0.72)/2 = 0.82 vs (1 0.66)/2 = 0.83. G581g – that is scarily Earth-like. Look at our atmosphere alone. Billions of years of waste products from bacteria to produce just this level of O2 (and CO2) balance. It’s pretty ‘artificial’ (not in the sense that someone put it there, but in the original sense: i.e. ‘manufactured’ – by bacteria in this case). Just a few percent more CO2 or a smidgeon less O2 (or more) and we’re in deep trouble without a suit. Not to mention all the other gases that would snuff us that must NOT be present.
Add to that ALL the other factors have to be just right (radiation, atmospheric pressure, gravity, presence of water, favourable temperatures, no mega storms, etc). If you add it all up then even with the huge number of planets probably present in the universe you quickly enter the “not bloody likely” region. But it is not impossible and fiction is allowed to take artistic licence here. So if the engineers aren’t indigenous to earth but are indigenous to a virtually identical planet that has had a virtually identical carbon/oxygen ratio that has remained relatively constant for thousands of years and thus have virtually the same carbon cycles then for the sake of science fiction story telling this scenario exists in the plot as a hypothetical, a big what if, which is precisely the point.
But keeping in the tradition of Occam’s razor the most logical interpretation here is that the engineers in fact originated on earth as a distinct species of human (‘Remarkably human’ – David) and whoever their creators (and essentially man’s creators) were or are, we shall wait for the sequel to get the answer to that. This point reminds me of what Shaw says to Holloway – “And who created them?” Much of the film doesn’t make sense only if you want it to depending on how you base your assumptions and how much you grant the hypothetical’s the benefit of the doubt.
Keep in mind that it is the mythological and philosophical context we should be discerning mostly in the film and not scientific accuracy. To quote Ridley, “It’s a movie, not a science class”. Understood on the mythic level indeed makes more sense, the film is titled Prometheus after all and not a documentary titled ‘On the viability of convergent extraterrestrials and directed panspermia.’
“How would the flame throwers work with so much carbon monoxide in the air?”
Fire needs at least 16 % oxygen in order to combust; LV-223 has 21% which is virtually identical to Earth’s. And carbon dioxide would only put it out; LV-223 has a high concentration of carbon monoxide which is flammable. The flame throwers would work easy.
“What does the Engineer say to David?”
According to Dr.Anil Biltoo, who worked as the linguist consultant for Prometheus and who also played the linguist teacher for David in the film; David says to the Engineer – “This man is here because he does not want to die. He believes you can give him more life.”
“What happened exactly at the LV-223 temple? What were the engineers running from? And why did some of the dead engineers have holes?”
We don’t know exactly what happened though there are clues. Shaw believes there was an outbreak, perhaps some of the goo got loose and someone got infected and went berserk just like Fifield. As for the holes in some of the dead jockeys, there could have very well been a xeno outbreak and the xeno hitched a ride on someone else’s ship. Maybe they exploded from the inside due to infection, or the last remaining engineer killed them in a bid to survive, who knows, Ridley and Damon sure as hell know but we’ll have to wait and find out for sure in the sequel.
“Why was the medpod calibrated for men only?”
The medpod was for Peter Weyland; already on the brink of death he is kept in stasis for preservation until the objective of meeting the Gods in a bid for immortality is reached, so he is putting himself at much risk and thus has medical equipment at the ready.
Vickers was a late addition to the journey; if you can recall, Weyland was surprised to see her on board the ship. Though he does not have much time on the clock, he knew all along that he would be going on the journey, and the ship was appointed accordingly, ergo, the lifeboat luxury suite was not Vickers’ accommodation, it was Weyland’s
How could Shaw run around after having a caesarean?
She was taking a hell of a lot of meds post-operation, since it’s the future who knows of the medical breakthroughs and since this is science fiction, again, artistic licence can be taken. Ignoring the Nietzschean resonance, the precision of future tech, the adrenalin she pumps into herself and the pills, there have been far more astonishing feats of human endurance in real life. To quote this article – “Private Luke Cole, 22, carried on fighting after half his thigh bone was blown away. When another bullet ripped open his stomach, he simply tucked his shirt in tighter to hold everything in” – and carried on keeping the enemy at bay until back-up arrived.” ‘Nuff said really.
“How exactly does the hybridism occur when the bacterial goo comes into dermal contact with other organisms? And how did the trilobite get so huge?”
Well, given that it is science fiction we don’t need a dissertation as to really how this happens. They’re aliens that operate in ways that defy logic and reason and thus trying to apply logic to these creatures is not only missing the point but ignores the impetus of fiction that engages us in ways where we can use a little imagination beyond the confines of what is possible or probable. Just like how the Trilobite develops so rapidly, the modus operandi here is just surrealism, which is precisely the point. Most rich science fiction feels so rich for the things we don’t know, for what seems impossible and the monster feels more threatening when it’s unknown. But bacteria do modify their own genes.
They gain new abilities by swiping genes from other bacteria they encounter. Say if humans had that ability, brushing up next to a leopard would result in growing leopard spots, etc. The process is called horizontal gene transfer and it is essentially what we see with the hammerpedes, presumably Holloway’s sperm and Fifield’s mutation, albeit we see this in a highly surreal science fiction context. The hammerpedes are mutant hybrids based in part on the facehugger phenotype, whereas Fifield was slowly mutating into a human/xenomorph hybrid.
Why did Janek and the other pilot’s kamikaze the juggernaut?
Really? Consider if you were on an unarmed submarine and you discovered another submarine that had highly dangerous weapons and was headed to your home world, what would you do? What would you do if any distress signal sent to your government would take too long and all would be too late by the time the message reaches your home world? Even if a message was sent in time what would they make of it? “An alien is coming to kill you”, yeah right…What would you do if you only had two years worth of life support and it would take two and a half years before a rescue? Would you die a coward or stick by your captain and save the world? This shouldn’t have to be explained.
“Why do Shaw and Vickers run straight and not sideways left or right when the Juggernaut is rolling behind them?”
This is a scene where many people were blatantly paying no attention. When you watch the scene carefully, the ship which is massive is rolling at a very strange angle, rather than stand there risking being pummelled by debris exploding all around them to calculate where it would roll they run for their lives; flight or fight. At one point when the ship slightly shifts trajectory Shaw and Vickers turn their heads back to see where it is rolling and make a turn left but there is simply too much debris exploding all around them and are forced in a single direction, ergo, running sideways left or right would have been thwarted by debris. That scene is also titled ‘Debris’ on the soundtrack, go figure.
“Why do the crew take off their helmets in the temple? Wouldn’t they risk inhaling microbes?”
The spectagraphs or ‘pups’ scanned the atmosphere in the temple and confirmed there was no biological threat in the air. Ford reports that the air is ‘cleaner than earths’. The scene is crucial in revealing the terraforming capabilities of the engineers and also as a hint at the high possibility that they are indigenous to earth or otherwise a planet for all practical purposes identical to earth if they are not indigenous to LV-223, where we can deduce the atmosphere turned toxic due to volcanic activity. According to weyland industries, the spectagraphs have polymer film bio-sensors that are used to detect airborne toxins and life forms down to 500 nanometers and the readouts reported zilch. Keep in mind that the likelihood of a human being or an animal falling ill to an alien virus are effectively nil because viruses are host specific.
This doesn’t mean that microbes couldn’t harm pathogenically due to contamination of food, spores using you as a host or ingestion of toxic chemicals. But alas, the pups scanned and the air was clean but it didn’t stop Fifield and Milburn from being distressed when they saw the dead body of the decapitated Jockey or Shaw from being paranoid after Holloway’s death when Weyland went to meet his maker. We had three characters to sympathise with despite the reassurance of the technology! The scene also signifies human’s cocksure faith in technology. On both counts David reassures that the air is fine. The pups scanned; there was no risk. David reassured. End of story.
“What will happen with that Deacon creature at the end? Is it a xenomorph? And why was the trilobite a little further away from the engineer when we see Deacon chestburst?”
Perhaps the Deacon and LV-223 is the key to how Weyland-Yutani will find out about the xenomorph in the first place. It’s highly likely a reconnaissance mission will be deployed to ascertain the fate of Weyland and his trillion-dollar expedition and this will be in the sequel, so, we should expect a return to LV-223 in the sequel. The Deacon appears to be related to the xenomorph and of the same DNA but you can see its phenotype is very different, perhaps this is a result of Shaw’s sterility? Maybe if she had fertile ova it would have turned out differently?
Maybe the goo it originated from was the test results of an earlier, less developed species. And the trilobite is essentially a giant facehugger; it would have provided the Engineer oxygen while inserting the embryo then remove itself and die just like Kane’s facehugger in Alien.
“How did Fifield and Milburn get lost? And why after being startled by the dead jockeys were they later enamoured by them? It doesn’t make sense.”
The most significant factor was the fact that they were without their helmets which they left nearer to the entrance; the crew can only communicate back to the ship via their helmets so Fifield and Milburn could not request directions from Janek who had access to the map. Spaihts has also confirmed in the commentary that a deleted scene showed Fifield and Milburn arguing directions and they are doing this precisely because they don’t have their helmets to communicate to Janek. They were not so much ‘scared’ by the dead body as they were not pathologists and since they leave their helmets on later it’s obvious it was mostly distressabout the air in the temple despite the instruments indicating it was clean, once they were with their helmets they felt safe and with Janek guiding them and looking out for them, it actually explains why they left their helmets on later. They are really not keen with the idea of meeting their maker and just want to receive their pay check and go home.
There are two factors that can predict whether or not a person will have increased curious feelings towards something despite fear. The two appraisals include the perceived amount of novelty-complexity and coping potential present within the stimulus relative to the subject. The novelty-complexity appraisal is analogous to the uncertainty or obscurity involved, and the coping potential includes the person’s ability to comprehend the new event. When these two appraisals are combined and positively valenced, the emotion of interest ensues, hitherto curiosity. Focusing on the second of the two, coping potential is where the balancing of fear anxiety and curious anxiety come into play. Obviously if a person is unable to foresee themselves being able to cope with a certain situation, then they will not reach the action potential of curiosity and overcome the aversion of the stimulus. The action potential was spiked particularly in Fifield who remarked that the pile of dead Jockies looked like a holocaust painting where with Milburn the holes in the Jockies spiked his curiosity. Fifield and Milburn were exhibiting natural behaviour consistent with most neurotypical humans, duh.
This is why Fifield mocks Shaw about meeting her maker who appeared to be dead. They were later enamoured by the dead bodies because they had their helmets back on. Upon closer inspection to things there is something rather curious about these two and the entire operation in the film as a whole. I recall when Fifield scoffed at Milburn sarcastically about being a scientist (‘Mr. Scientist’) as something particularly strange as a piece of dialogue. As things unfold it is clear that the mission was only made to appear like a science expedition, no real biologist, no real geologist. This explains Fifield’s suspicious erratic behaviour, his hesitance before entering the temple and the concerned glance both Fifield and Milburn share, why would a professional cartographer do such a thing? Well the answer is obvious, he really isn’t one!
He is presumably an amateur from some bad neck of the woods going by his tattoos and radical hair cut (not to stereotype, but he looks the way he does in this story for a reason), the same goes to Fifield who appears to be a wannabe Jeff Corwin who chanced upon a big pay day. They were following Vickers orders too and one they followed through clumsily due to well the understandable paranoia of the situation; they are not what they appear. Fifield having marijuana in his respirator certainly would have helped as well. “But why did they avoid going in the direction of the life form?” Again, given the objective once a live life form was found then that’s as far as they go, the rest is under David, and since they thought their makers were dead understandably they are freaked out.
Ford I presume is the only credible scientist but the operation in actuality is a military operation under the command of Peter Weyland and the only members of the crew who don’t know this are Shaw, Holloway, Janek, Chance and the other pilot. We can safely assume that if Weyland and David were successful in their objective that the others would not have lived to speak of it. Explains why no one cared about Shaw post abortion even though enough is implied that David knew (not to mention this piece of dialogue: “I didn’t know you had it in you. Sorry, poor choice of words.”) but since time was precious the “abnormal foetus” was a secondary priority, if a priority at all. Weyland and Vickers chose these people because they did not need the world’s best and brightest biologist or geologist; David is all that and so much more, but Weyland did in fact need the best pilots and military goons who we can confirm Vickers chose personally as she says at the briefing, they are only there to ensure David reaches his objective, this explains the mission briefing after cryo for 2 years. ‘But why wouldn’t Weyland just have a batch of real scientists anyway like Shaw and Holoway?’ The point of the plot is that Shaw’s and Holloway’s thesis is rather theologically slanted to say the least, you’d be hard pressed to find a credible scientist outside of Weyland’s inner circle to join in on a trillion dollar private mission based on ‘cave scribbles’.
And by the same token, why would Weyland draw the world’s attention by hiring the world’s best and brightest on a trillion dollar agenda driven mission whose premise lies on cave scribbles and his reckless superstition? This is a faustian tale of hubris. All he needs are pilots, military men, cover, an alibi in the form of Shaw and Holloway, and David to follow a superstitious objective of finding the Gods and immortality. Ah, sweet, sweet hubris. It explains why David is so single minded and fastidious the whole way, he only needed to inspect areas of the temple that pertain to the objective; the urn room and the sleeping chamber; he does not need to inspect anything other than that. This is what Milburn and Fifield are up to as well.
Remember what Vickers said to Shaw and Holloway “If you find these beings down there you won’t talk to them, you will do nothing but report back to me.” Fifield’s erratic behaviour throughout is easily explained by the paranoid duress of orders and keeping hum. In summary – Fifield and Milburn were only freaked out by the dead body fearing the air due to being without their helmets and initially lose their way due to being without their helmets also, more importantly they aren’t real scientists, they are under orders by Weyland and when they get their helmets back on they no longer feel panicked about the air due to the dead bodies but are freaked out about one possibly still alive. Another factor to them arguing directions would be due to Fifield’s inhaling of marijuana through his respirator which has been confirmed by Spaihts in the commentary but something that was already obviously implied – Milburn: “Is that tobacco?” Fifield looking goofy and smiling: “Yeah, sure, tobacco…(exhales)”. Remember it’s drug addled Fifield who comments in panicked haste to his surroundings “It all looks the same.” It’s funny when you consider the amount of criticism Fifield and Milburn received for being bad scientists when one might consider that that is precisely the point, they weren’t real scientists.
Implicit hints were the key here; consider when Shaw says to the marine wielding the flame thrower “This is a scientific expedition.” I mean, it’s really right in front of you flamethrowers and all! Consider Fifield’s suspicious erratic behaviour, that’s a huge clue. This was never a plot hole, a perceived plot hole perhaps but that is begging the question, Lindelof may be many things but he is not an idiot. Fifield and Milburn may have been safely sceptical at first (just like Vickers) but upon entering the temple reality sets in and thus Fifield is initially hesitant about following through with Weyland’s orders since he wasn’t expecting to find anything at all. Just because they’re claimed plot holes on some website doesn’t make them validated; that is a specious appeal to authority, they are just claims and when it comes to Prometheus they are easily rebutted.
No helmets, helmets left near the entrance; distressed about the air due to a corpse and want to get out. No two-way communication with Janek with the map to ask for directions. Take a wrong turn.
Helmets found and back on; two-way communication with Janek re-established, feeling safe and no longer distressed about the air due to the dead corpses. Fifield reacquainted with wacky-tobbacky. Distressed about a live life form detected however.
NOT A PLOT HOLE
“Why didn’t anyone know what happened to Fifield and Milburn when they lost contact with them? Especially Janek who had access to the map and video feed? Couldn’t he just rewind the video feed or something? We’ve had that technological privilege since man landed on the moon.”
Because their signal was coming in and out sporadically due to the storm, the video cuts out all together before they enter the temple room. Janek would have only heard screams of pain then a loss of contact. So he gets his ass down there, for all he knows Fifield may have tripped and broke his leg and since Fifield’s helmet melts all radio contact would be lost before Janek would have heard his screams. It really does help to pay attention to things.
“How come there are characters shooting at Fifield and the same characters are in the room with a recently woken up Weyland at the same time?”
We can’t be sure whether both scenes are happening simultaneously, the Fifield incident could have just happened earlier when Shaw was having her caesarean, it’s just the editing. Lots of films do this all the time where they will show scenes from different periods of time cutting across at the same time. Originally it was cut together differently where it shows Shaw meeting Weyland, then Weyland suiting up to meet his maker then they head down to the cargo hold via elevator at which point Janek discovers Fifield ripping through the crew. At this point Weyland is rushed off into the Rover as the fight ensues. As the driver is killed by a hatchet Shaw quickly climbs into the driver’s seat, Janek torches Fifield then Shaw runs him over. After they have a moment of R&R and Shaw has her talk with Janek.
“Why did the engineer go after Shaw? Why would he? Why not just take off with another ship? And how did he know she was alive and knew where she was?”
Dear, so many have brought this up and it just goes to show that it is quite demonstrable many weren’t paying enough attention. Why would he? Well he couldn’t risk leaving a pesky little human there on a planet with other ships filled with urns of the most dangerous weapon in the universe, especially one that managed to down his ship could he? She had proven to be a threat enough. He would have noticed the escape pod which was very close to the crashed Juggernaut and since the escape pod was mostly intact and had a red beacon flashing the engineer was just searching to see whether there were any survivors to be sure.
“Why did the movie cause such division? Why did even some Alien fans dislike it?”
It was inevitable a hollywood film with a deliberately ambiguous plot would split opinions, especially one that was purportedly connected to the Alien universe co-written by none other than Damon Lindelof who has a knack for open ended story telling. The hype raised expectations to unreasonable levels; the hype in fact was an entity unto itself. While many found the division quite fascinating because it was almost as if many saw two different films, some Alien fans in particular were expecting more of the same from previous films, despite statements prior to the film’s release by Ridley, Lindelof and members of the cast making it clear that the film would only be loosely tied to Alien and would not be a direct prequel.
Such statements fell on deaf ears however it seems to quote one enraged poster – “….I wanted acid, bloody scary deaths…..not some boring movie about who created us. Not to mention only a …..(spoiler)……….single XENOMORPH appeared in the entire film. I heard months & months of how this was going to be a GREAT Alien Prequel (Ridley Scott: “It’s not a prequel.” Lindelof: “Prometheus is not a prequel.” Charlize Theron: “It’s not a prequel.” Fassbender: “It’s not a prequel, there are loose threads…”) and they dangled that carrot over & over again. Quite simply…..I left the movie theater feeling let down. ”
Speaks for itself really. I recall two Alien films with just a single xenomorph as well…what did he want a rehash of Aliens, Resurrection or God forbid AVP? Geese! As you can see, many were simply misinformed with just what exactly the film was going to be. Others wanted everything that was unanswered in Alien answered and they didn’t exactly get what they wanted. Many have persistently complained about the film raising more questions than it answers when this was precisely the intent, especially with a work confirmed to be lending itself to a sequel, where others love open ended films left to interpretation and theories, to quote a fan from a forum: “I would prefer not having an “answer”.
Answering something is making it redundant. What is inside the box? (Intriguing and fascinating, so many possibilities so much to uncover, is it the present I wanted? A pet? Maybe even it’s a magic box. Oh it’s some shoes I bought you. (Answered and all that fascination is gone).
I want fascination and wonder, not to be told what it really is. Give me hints, throw me some clues and leave it wide open like a gigantic gap of infinite possibilities. But I guess some people want real stated answers. I find that boring personally.”
Others griped about the screenplay which is entering more subjective territory. Notable complaints included minimal screen time and character development of some of the cast, though others have made a point that they served their purpose of just being characters swept up in the web of the plot and that much has been cut from the film. Others made the case that we had plenty of development with Shaw; and recall there never being a flash back sequence in the other Alien movies and plenty with David by Fassbender’s standout performance and the overall performances were strong by all.
A lot of implicit depths of character can be intuited from mere suggestion and a bare minimum of dialogue. There have always been expendable characters in the Alien films particularly in Aliens, how much did we really find out about Hudson in Aliens other than his overconfidence, bitching and whining? What about some of the other marines? Spunkmyer? Alpone? The irony of course is despite their lack of screen time and characterization their performances were strong enough to be quite memorable, as with Milburn and Fifield, so some gripe where others enjoyed it for what it was.
“Will there be a sequel?”
A sequel was intended prior to the film’s release and has since been green lighted. Ridley has also stated in interviews and in the film commentary that there will be another sequel as well making for a trilogy.
“Why do the engineers want to destroy humanity?”
Why did Zeus want to destroy man? And are we sure they want to just destroy humanity?
“What books would you recommend to understand the layered subtext of the film?”
The following books are all available to order from Amazon UK and Amazon USA.
We’re sure you’ll agree there’s lots to think about there, so many thanks to Zeus for taking the time write this fantastic article!