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Decoding 'Prometheus' & What We Might See Should We Ever Get A 'Prometheus 2'

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by The Playlist Staff
June 12, 2012 1:00 PM
32 Comments
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Frustrated? Angry? Bored? Hungry? Ready to move on? Yes, the online conversation surrounding Ridley Scott's ambitious, belated return to the science-fiction genre in "Prometheus" is nearly exhausted. Depending on who you are, you've either experienced enough for a lifetime (online writers and editors surely have), but if you're the audience who may have just recently caught the film, your thirst for more discussion around the film might not have been sated quite yet. While currently operating with a positive 74% Rotten Tomatoes score (though MetaCritic is lower with a 61 score and if you look at the way RT grades "positive" reviews... well... let's just say there's a problem there), in many corners of the blogosphere, and certainly ours, Scott's "Prometheus" is viewed as a divisive piece of work that's occasionally thrilling, but frequently opaque and narratively murky to the point of infuriation (check out our recent inaugural podcast on the film or our "Good, The Bad & Ugly" feature on the same topic).

And interestingly enough it's hard to get any kind of true consensus: the geek cognoscenti are torn within their own community, as is the film critic intelligentsia. Everyone agrees the film tries for depth and summons weighty themes, but whether it has smarts to go along with them is certainly still up for debate. Anyway, that discussion's been had ad infinitum, so what happens next? Spoilers ahead so please disperse if you haven't seen the film yet.

As anyone who's watched it is acutely aware, "Prometheus" ends on a cliffhanger note and purposefully sets up a sequel. So if and when we see a "Prometheus" sequel, what could it entail? Well in reading about the film, we've come across what you could call plausible clues and come up with some of our own potential posits. But first, some ground rules: while its narrative is murky, and motivations veer all over the map, let's try and establish some basic facts from the plot of "Prometheus."

What Happens In Prometheus
"Prometheus" begins with a mysterious prologue with a hooded Engineer figure. What's actually going on in the scene is certainly up for more debate than any moment in the film, but we chose to see it as a sacrifice that begins life on earth. One could argue it's a trigger for abiogenesis -- the spark that forces biological life to arise from inorganic matter through natural processes. In other words, the Engineer's sacrifice into black goo is the catalyst for the primordial soup which life on Earth likely arose from.  And the alien ship seen far off in the distance, tellingly much different from the alien ship we see in the film's conclusion? Presumably it's the creators of the Engineers. Whether that's incorrect or not is almost immaterial to this piece, but it's probably good to get that out of the way.

What is not so ambiguious is the rest of "Prometheus" (and some of this is subjective, but much of it is spelled out in "Prometheus" albiet in murky, clipped sentences). It's (mostly) clear that the Engineers were creating bio-weapons to destroy earth, and it's clear from both the events in "Alien" and the ghost-like recorded holographic data on the LV223 moon where "Prometheus" takes place that these bio-weapons (aliens of some sort) turned on them (or were accidentally activated early)  and horrifically killing the entire lot of them (or most of them anyhow). The crew of the Prometheus do after all come across a brutal, crime-scene-like mountain of Engineer bodies trying to reach a ship, but unable to enter closed doors (with one left decapitated by said colossal doors), seemingly with evidence that something has erupted from cavities in the chest. Hmm...

Part of the Engineers' plan was to destroy their creation with these bio-"weapons of mass destruction" as Idris Elba's Captain Janek character hypothesizes. The film's sub-protagonist (because Michael Fassbender's David android character is probably the more real protagonist of the film) Elizabeth Shaw (played by Noomi Rapace) certainly agrees with Janek, which is why at the end of the film, she takes David and plots a course to find out where the Engineers came from and why they decided to rescind their decision to create planet earth. And so the themes of "Prometheus" are doubly told; both humans and engineers are punished for playing with technology that only should be owned by "the gods" -- humans are punished for seeking immortality (the true nature of the mission as revealed by Guy Pearce's dying Peter Weyland character and part of the reason David infects Logan Marshall-Green's character with the alien goop DNA -- to experiment with this "technology" and see what will happen exactly) and Engineers are mortally penalized for attempting to destroy the very civilization they created.

As some character hypothesis in the film, LV223 is not the planet where the Engineers come from, rather an operational testing ground for these weapons of mass destruction, which makes sense, given that Elizabeth Shaw compels David to fly them to Engineer's origin planet. Ok, so onto what we might see in "Prometheus 2," now that we've hopefully established the events of the first film.

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32 Comments

  • Stacey | July 4, 2012 10:43 AMReply

    Interesting write up. I also wondered about the Jesus connection - with the Engineers planning to attack earth 2000 years in the past, plus the significance of the entire movie taking place over Christmas. The other thing I thought sort of tied in with the theme - the mural in the room with the giant head statue. It clearly shows a figure which looks like a traditional xenomorph (which incidentally I found very interesting because the xenomorph that appeared in the movie came about in such a round about way - David infects scientist guy with black goo, he inmpregnates Shaw, she gives birth to an octopus/face hugger, which infects Engineer who subsequently has a xenomorph erupt out of him - very weird life cycle, and so random it seems highly suspicious that a xenomorph would feature on a mural in the Engineers own ship). But back to my point - the xenomorph in the mural is in a very weird pose - not one we are used to seeing it in. To me, it looked like it was splayed out on a cross - a position it would be in if it was being crucified. Similar to the common image of Jesus on the cross which is present in churches around the world. I found that very interesting.

  • Peter C | July 3, 2012 1:44 PMReply

    This is an amazing film. People need to be open-minded about exploring space and answer. Not like other Reality TVs or comedies, this film sets out to provide talking points so that people start to think and to question our universe and origin.

    Throughout, the identity of Yutani remains undisclosed. Why are they keeping Yutani secret? Is there a bigger plot revolving around Yutani?

    I just saw a viral footage about Yutani in youtube yesterday. It looked sinister.

  • Tess | June 21, 2012 10:47 PMReply

    I don't necessarily think the Engineer in the beginning was sacrificing to create Earth, but another Earth-like planet. What if the infection came from the planet - an unexpected presence of a worm-like life form or mold that infected the Engineers before they were going to 'colonize' different worlds? The head got decapitated and the mold on that head came in contact with the transformative solution - When David originally holds it, it is sparkling and seemingly much different from the black goo-like stuff that infects members of the crew.... Perhaps the ship was the original engineers on their way to create worlds... And, if Prometheus went thru a time warp, they arrived on an earlier time and basically destroyed Earth's evolution by destroying the Engineer... Why was he so hostile? And why were the engineers all men? Perhaps he did not get that the beings were humans... since he was on the way to create them and he couldn't have imagined them... could be the reason for his hostility... BUT, what did David actually translate? Was it the old man's wish or the Doctor's? The hostility began after receiving that message... It is a huge assumption that the Engineers purpose was the destroy Earth with their cargo. Their cargo could have gotten infected by the Engineer's head moldy goo... And, the Engineer sleeping in another port of the ship was unaware of this infection???? The Aliens were a byproduct of that infection... Perhaps totally unintentional....???? And, when David had the scientist drink the goo... perhaps it was the infected goo and that negative transformation was not the intention.. perhaps it was a positive transfiguration like that in the Bible of Christ....

  • Scott | June 15, 2012 2:58 PMReply

    What i want to know - How fast does that (alien bomber) ship travel ? Did she bring enough space pretzels ? How is she going to make it ? Did she bring food with her ? Will David 8 tell her that he is the one that killed her boyfriend & impreganted her with the squidy ? Will she kill David 8 ?

  • Lucia Tarallo | June 14, 2012 6:26 PMReply

    Do not agree with the critique...to me, it was obvious that the Engineers turned on their "children," because there was a possibility that those self-same children would one day turn ob "them!!!"

  • CJ | June 14, 2012 11:45 AMReply

    The reason they turn might be more inline with theology. Maybe Jesus was the son of a Engineer and his murder on the cross was what made them angry and look to wipe us all out in a cruel and unusual way as penance.

  • Jonathan | June 13, 2012 8:06 PMReply

    this has been bothering me for a while, and im not sure if its been covered in this already. But why would the engineers paint a starmap with all of these earth civilizations of their bio-tech test planet? Please if anyone can help me understand that, its been annoying me ever since i saw the movie

  • joe | June 15, 2012 2:27 PM

    what i always assumed was the case was that this was the engineer's symbol of divinity. their "origin" explained to their prehistoric human subjects; a sign that said that they will always be watching and that they are very powerful and unreachable. it could also be very purposeful on their part: we will give you this map and if you ever find a way to reach us we will know that your time has come.

  • Piotr | June 12, 2012 6:44 PMReply

    To call it "frequently opaque and narratively murky to the point of infuriation" is giving the film praise it doesn't deserve. There is no narrative. Period. I heard Linelof say in some interview that he likes to think of his stories as being dense, "like the New York Times crossword," and that they need to be figured out to be enjoyed. Okay, sure, but you have to learn to paint a duck before you can be a Cubist. Lindelof has yet to prove that he can tell a straightforward story. Until he drops a satisfying 3-act popcorn flick, I don't believe his B.S. This is a guy masturbating himself. He is not a talented storyteller. There is no tension, no momentum, no character development (no character, for that matter), no set-up, no payoff... He's just not very good at what he does. Look at the ending as an example of Lindelof's fundamental failures as a storyteller: It's fine if your character wants to ride off into the sunset for further adventures, but you have to wrap up THIS STORY first. COMPLETE OUR JOURNEY. We are nowhere closer to a conclusion at the end of the movie than we are at the beginning. That's a problem, no?

  • Omar | June 15, 2012 3:09 AM

    to clarify: I agree with Piotr. Sorry, just realized that might be a bit confusing. Had she decided to fly the ship to destroy (via ooze) the original planet and its civilization of Engineers as an act of revenge, that would have adhered to the theme of patricide as well as given the doctor a nice full character arc. But instead, she was pretty unaffected. One can crossword all they want but a bit of emotion would be nice.

  • Omar | June 15, 2012 3:02 AM

    I completely agree.

  • Fred | June 14, 2012 4:51 PM

    No.

  • Anita Bonghit | June 12, 2012 6:31 PMReply

    Good movie, nice to see that people are thinking about it and the engineers do leave you plenty to think about, namely why did they decide to be jerks after all that time spent encouraging life on earth???
    Simple answer suits me. They are cultists that worship the xenomorph. They need living beings, human or other animals, to breed their gods. That is the only reason I can see for the engineer at the beginning of the movie to sacrifice himself, or herself (Right???) with the yummy black goo. With the total belief that the world on which they died would be repopulated with all kinds of life generated from their sacrifice. Let a couple of thousand years go by to breed up the population and then come on back and drop of the good stuff. Some sort of bio-weapon that is at once nonspecific and also extremely well adapted to generating and completing the life cycle of the xenomorphs. All of the creatures that encountered the black goo were radically changed but were on the road to being face huggers or ova-positors. If a population of 6-10 billion people were infected en mass the engineers would have fulfilled their utopia of an entire world overrun with xenomorphs. Unfortunately for them they were infected by the same stuff they meant to infect us with.

    There was a very clear image of the xenomorph on the wall of the crypt they visit in Prometheus which leads me to believe they knew the end result of the weapons they were manufacturing. All that pale skin and hooded cloaks also supports my theory of cultists. Finally I go back to the words of Ash the synthetic humanoid from the movie Alien "You still don't understand what you're dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility." "I admire its purity. A survivor... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality."
    And my favorite... "I can't lie to you about your chances, but... you have my sympathies"

  • Ska-triumph | June 23, 2012 12:14 PM

    Getting to this late but I had to quickly comment how great this hypothesis is. Twisted but great. So the Xenomorphs could be the Engineer's gods… That would connect that major set piece room and tie to the body sacrifices bookmarking the film. So the supposed PARADISE sequel could be a world of Xenomorphs being worshipped by Engineers… or something like that. Whoa. Shame the actual PROMETHEUS script abandons good, basic storytelling to imply that idea also.

  • weslag | June 12, 2012 5:51 PMReply

    It could be they were scared of Jesus, that he had abilities they did not. Like walking on water, turning water to wine, and healing people. They were worried that humans would surpass them, but then we killed Jesus after the engineers had already died from their own bioweapon. The sleeping engineer might not have known what year it was or what had happened on earth since then.

    Or they could have just been scared that we were advancing in technology too fast. Pyramids, aquaducts, roads, and other technology created too fast for their taste.

  • Shawn | June 12, 2012 5:30 PMReply

    I agree - who cares. I don't agree that the debate is over. THEY BLEW IT. I feel bad being so harsh until I remember Ridley got like 14 million dollars to do this hunk of crud. You know why he can't criticize ALIEN VS PREDATOR... because it was actually better or at least in the same league as this. Just another crappy Alien movie that has put another stake in this franchise. Good work... you killed your baby.

  • Jane | June 12, 2012 4:33 PMReply

    I don't care what they do with the plot or themes of the sequel. Chances are Scott & co will screw it up anyway. But I'm totally down with more headless David 8. That was comedy gold.

  • Zinjo | June 12, 2012 3:54 PMReply

    If Prometheus 2 is anything like the hamfisted story of the first one, I'll gladly pass in favor of Chris Nolan's next film, whatever that turns out to be...

  • Adamada | June 12, 2012 3:49 PMReply

    I know, I know, the film left many questions unanswered and even raised more questions. But I still loved it. Why? Because of just that! I love sci-fi that gets you thinking and flicks the imagination switch into full mode. People seem to forget that in 1968 there was particular sci-fi film that just boggled the minds of everybody that breathed and left a zillion unanswered questions. Well, that film has gone down as one of the most groundbreaking and influential films of all time despite it being poorly recieved on it's initial release. Of course I'm talking about Stan-the-Man's 2001: A Space Odyssey. And let's not forget Scott's own Bladerunner that certainly caused some heads to be scratched. Sci-fi is suppose to be mysterious and imaginative. If you walked out of the theater trying to put together your own interpretation of the film, then Ridley Scott, your mission is complete. Bravo!

  • Huffy | June 13, 2012 1:40 AM

    I agree with the sentiment but not the actual comparison. 2001 is far more bold, philosophically, directorally and narrativly, than Prometheus. The negative reaction stemmed more from its boldness (and coldness) than any narrative flaws, while the criticism aimed at Scott's film is mainly due to the script's shortcomings. I did enjoy Prometheus more than most, mainly because I love the ideas behind it, but I wish that the writers had either said "fuck it" and abandoned the conventional narrative or actually took the time to write a decent script without gaping holes and lacking characters. It's frusturating because while I liked it it should have been so much more.

  • James | June 12, 2012 3:35 PMReply

    My first thought was also that the Engineers were angry at us for WORSHIPING Jesus, but apparently Ridley Scott has given an interview saying it's very different thing. They were angry with us of KILLING him, because... he was one of them:

    Movies.com: We had heard it was scripted that the Engineers were targeting our planet for destruction because we had crucified one of their representatives, and that Jesus Christ might have been an alien. Was that ever considered?

    Ridley Scott: We definitely did, and then we thought it was a little too on the nose. But 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.

    This article has a great write-up analyzing the film's themes:

    http://cavalorn.livejournal.com/584135.html

  • Piotr | June 13, 2012 7:05 PM

    So it's possible for the Engineers to grow beards?! Cool!

  • James | June 12, 2012 6:12 PM

    Dang!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What is up here. All my replies come up attached to MY OWN post, instead of the ones I'm actually replying to. Aargh!!!!!! These replies were to posts way above mine up top...

  • James | June 12, 2012 6:12 PM

    As I pointed out in the unfortunately impenetrable paragraph-long post down below, they were mad because we KILLED Jesus, because he was an Engineer sent down to us. Ridley Scott himself has apparently made this clear in an interview, saying it was bluntly spelled out in earlier drafts of the script, but in the end made more vague.

  • James | June 12, 2012 6:10 PM

    As I pointed out in the unfortunately impenetrable paragraph-long post down below, they were mad because we KILLED Jesus, because he was an Engineer sent down to us. Ridley Scott himself has apparently made this clear in an interview, saying it was bluntly spelled out in earlier drafts of the script, but in the end made more vague.

  • James | June 12, 2012 3:35 PM

    Dang! Why is there no way to break comments into paragraphs? Sorry for the enormous paragraph there:)

  • Cody | June 12, 2012 3:28 PMReply

    As a sci-fi, horror enthusiast I really loved Prometheus. It was really an intense, fascinating and visually stunning piece, and I'm looking forward to a sequel. As a Christian myself, I certainly hope that whatever ties may be made to the birth (or death) of Christ are handled with care, if handled at all. It can't just be another story where we discover that Jesus was actually (fill in the blank) and the gospel is a myth. Not only has it become a trifle cliche, but it can also come across as a cheap attempt at sparking controversy. Whatever route the sequel takes, it needs to have a bit more intellectual integrity than that.

  • Rohan | June 12, 2012 2:31 PMReply

    Very interesting article. It is very possible that Jesus Christ was one of the engineers sent to earth to guide us towards kindness and better things, but the children, referring to humans here on earth made the biggest mistake by killing Jesus, which angered engineers and they decided to turn their back on earth. David gets his head snatched from him by the engineer after David asks the engineer to make him go crazy something like that, maybe David wanted Engineer to kill Wayland, because David cannot terminate himself.

    Prometheus on the other hand is a tease. I am looking forward to the sequel, PARADISE. Prometheus is also about discovery, I am wrote a brief article in regards to this on my blog which can be read here. (http://www.mastersofcinema.net/2012/06/point-of-view-prometheus/)

  • nik | June 12, 2012 2:08 PMReply

    brilliant article.

  • Rick | June 12, 2012 1:48 PMReply

    The BEST. The most interestingly intellectual Musings on an AMAZING film I have yet read. Thank you. It is unsettling how, let's call them "some critics" feel it necessary to hold a films feet to the fire according to internal voices rather than what was actually on the screen! Has the PERFECT FILM been made yet?? If so I missed it. Your piece is encouraging in that it cares to postulate on what's next after this incredible thought provoking and SCARY movie. I wander back to APOCALYPSE NOW. Another film I was HYPE TO SEE as I was PROMETHEUS. "some critics" ripped it a new butt hole. NOW it stands as a classic. As will PROMETHEUS.

  • Prometheus 2 | June 12, 2012 1:33 PMReply

    I personally loved 'Prometheus' & while I do wish the third act kept the ideas of the first two going, I am not one of those people who immediately views the film as a failure.

    Ridley Scott has always talked this up as being a two part film & truthfully, it sounds like Scott & Co. have an idea of where they'd like to take the story in Part 2. Hopefully we can get that film cause it sounds rather unique & even more out there than 'Prometheus' is as a summer blockbuster.

    I mean hell, if we have to get 3 Transformer sequels from Michael Bay we can at least get one more 'Prometheus' from Ridley Scott.

  • The Last Fermion | June 12, 2012 3:19 PM

    I concur Prometheus 2, Mr. Scott is ready for the sci-fi scene again. Love that there are two stories rather than one. Watched Prometheus went home and watched Alien on blu-ray. Good onion mate.

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