Episode 12: Prometheus

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In This Episode:

Chris and Allen muse the big questions raised by Ridley Scott’s  Prometheus (2012). A (sort of) prequel to his own 1979 classic, Alien. We get tied in knots over unscientific scientists, sexist med-pods, similarities to Alien Versus Predator (and Alien) and insane life cycles of ill conceived alien beings. All the while we just wanted answers. What are the Xenomorphs and where did they come from? Fuck the Space Jockey! The mystery was the thing that made him memorable.

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The Movie:

Prometheus, from ancient Greek myths, was a Titan and the creator of mankind and its greatest benefactor. Famed for stealing the power of flame from Mount Olympus and giving it to humans. It was his intention to even things between mortals and their gods. He was ultimately punished for this act by Zeus, who had already waged war on Cronus and the other Titans. Huge mythic battles, representing the struggles between generations.

In Prometheus, the movie, the discovery of several ancient artifacts, from unconnected Earth cultures, appear to combine and create a star map. A specially selected team, put together by Wayland Industries, sets out for deep space looking for answers about the origin of our species and, hopefully, to stare at the face of God, or gods. Led to the planet LV223 they discover an unusual space goo and the remains of an ancient alien being, we come to know as an Engineer. This race of extraterrestrial Übermensch are the creators of life on our planet. However this mission has awakened the Engineer who has was apparently en route to Earth to destroy our race. Or something. You know, the story gets a bit wonky and it’s not really clear what is actually happening. But don’t worry this is all deep stuff.

A movie that is only meant to share DNA with the larger Alien universe, ultimately, plays out like a weak rerun of Ridley Scott’s original entry in the franchise. A small team make a dramatic discovery, of alien life, on a distant planet that threatens the mission and, potentially, Earth. Swap planet for South Pole and it’s also the plot for Alien Versus Predator.

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This messy, bloated and pretentious (but artfully shot) film was a smash hit, taking over $400 million at the box office, and is critically well regarded, 72% on Rotten Tomatoes 7/10 on IMDB. Initial plans to make two sequels that would lead towards linking with Alien have changed. There will now be only one movie and the ‘shared DNA’ will be increased, with all pretense now being dropped. The sequel is titled Alien: Covenant instead of Prometheus 2 making its connection to the Alien cinematic universe much more explicit.

It’s What I Choose To Believe:

In Science Fiction it’s the latter word that is the operative. Silly can be fun for sure, laser guns are an impossibility (catapults would be a more useful weapon in the vacuum of space) but everyone loves a blaster, even though the science doesn’t hold up. However when your movie has positioned itself as a grand idea you at least have to be as smart as the concept. This production didn’t have a scientific advisor which is clear. Instead, it seems, they only had a well thumbed copy of Eric Von Däniken’s pseudoscience bestseller Chariot’s of the Gods?

A geologist that’s “only in it for the money”. A biologist who’s first reaction, when seeing an unknown alien, cobra-like, creature is to blithely reach out and touch it. A whole team who just take their helmets off on a hostile unknown planet. A scientist that chooses to abandon all critical and logical thinking and evidence in favour of what she wants to believe is true! This team of scientists have zero scientific method, and deserve all the deep space pain visited upon them.

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Even the starmap pieced together to guide them on their mission has issues. Each artifact, whether stone carving or cave painting, comes from a distinctly different ancient culture throughout history. These include the Ancient Egyptians (3150 BCE – 629 CE), the Mayans (2000 BCE – 900 CE), the peoples of the Cambodian Koh Ker site (928 CE to 944 CE), the first settlers on Hawaii (approx 300 CE) to the Aztec civilization which spanned from Montezuma I, rising to power in 1440, through into 16th century and the arrival of the Spanish. So a discovery linking these people would, indeed, be remarkable. This timeline spans thousands of years but ignores huge cultures that rose in that time, most notably the Chinese and Romans, which were obviously seen as too advanced to have met aliens and, you know, plot. What appears to have happened is someone has just taken empires that sounded ancient and mysterious. Placing these ‘star markers’ in ye olden days without much thought for historical context. The ancients were not all backwards simpletons. This is incredibly dismissive. As you can see, some of these empires were around until quite recently and aren’t all so ‘ancient’. To illustrate this point the city of Oxford, England, has had a university on site since 1096. So Oxford University is older than the Aztecs.

So when did the Engineers visit Earth and seed our oceans with life? Have they visited several times? If so then why was there such a gap between visits? And why is the Engineer, discovered on LV223, in the middle of a mission to destroy humanity? It could just be sloppy thinking, poor writing or a little white privilege. Ancient people = dumb because they are ethnic and from olden times!

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Ridley Scott made Prometheus with the intention of giving us answers. The film only served to raise more questions. No-one cared about Engineers/Space Jockey’s we just wanted to know more about the Alien. So when one does appear in the final reel, it feels a little bit tacked on. We haven’t earned this reveal. The makers just got to the finale and produced what we were all waiting for. An alien, that kinda sort of looks like the Alien, but doesn’t follow the established life cycle we are familiar with from the other movies.

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Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, Alien screenwriters, conceived the Chestburster, in part inspired by the extreme pain O’Bannon experienced while suffering from Chron’s disease. It was important that the creature would be invasively inserted into a human, by means of oral rape. As this would “push all our buttons” and be truly terrifying. The stages were laid out clearly in Alien from egg to Facehugger to Chestburster, that would then grow into Xenomorph. In Prometheus there are a few more bonkers stages.

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From black goo to Alien via zombies and squid baby.

Also if the DNA of the Engineer is, as the movie states, a 100% match (which is impossible) then the Engineer is human. We are Engineers. Then as a species we are our own creators. And we end up creating Aliens while trying to stop ourselves destroying us! ARGH! This is such convoluted claptrap! Just leave it alone Ridley. You’ve done enough damage. I’m not sure it can be fixed.

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All clips in the episode are used under Fair Use for the purposes of criticism and are not intended to diminish the original works or limit the ability of the copyright owners to market or sell their product.

How did we do? Did we miss something, get something wrong or is there a franchise you’d like us to cover? Let us know. Comment below or email diminishingpod@gmail.com

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