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Since so many of you are wrong about the importance of Ridley Scott's Prometheus and just how crucial Damon Lindelf's bombastic (not reckless) new style of world building and storytelling is, I've decided to reprint the musings of David J. Williams, author of "The Mirrored Heavens," "The Burning Sky" and "The Machinery of LightOne" in rebuttal.

What I think this article makes clear is that making inferences about a story based on what you presume are facts shared by characters who know as little about what they are seeing as you is problematic. Are the cave paintings invitations? Who knows? Certainly not Shaw. Do The Engineers even still exist as a species? Who knows? Was the creation of life on earth part of a plan, or was it a transgression against an even higher power than the engineers? We simply don't know. Not really knowing and not being sure about what you do think you know is exiting. It's challenging and spurs conversation and we need more of it in mainstream cinema.


Enjoy!


"They became farmers in the seeds of stars; they sowed, and sometimes they reaped. And sometimes, dispassionately, they had to weed." -- Arthur C. Clarke, 2001


To hear some talk about Prometheus you would think that Ridley Scott went senile and proceeded to inflict on us a movie about as comprehensible as a Dada painting viewed on LSD.

I beg to differ.

Prometheus is a monumental tour de force that harkens back to the sweeping sci-fi of the 1970s, an epic that confronts Gauguin's Big Questions more squarely than anything in recent memory. Scott and writers Spaihts/Lindelof have created an elaborate gameboard, and then devised a narrative that shows us only a small portion of it. This is a movie that rewards repeat viewings. Scott could have just given us a giant bug-hunt, but that's already been done. Or he could delivered a another version of Mission to Mars in which we meet our benign makers and learn how they created us amidst the sound of much uplifting music and joyous epiphanies.

But instead he gave us something far darker. Somewhere in heaven, something went badly wrong. And our creators decided to destroy their own creation.

Why?



It's the biggest question of the movie, and it's never directly answered. But unmistakable hints are there. Many of them can be found in the figure of the android David. Neither a "bad" Ash nor a "good" Bishop, David is something much more complex, a synthetic who knows far more than what he gives voice to, and whose calm face belies everything going on behind it. (It's too bad that science-fiction actors don't receive Oscars for their work, because Fassbender certainly deserves one.)

Arguably, David never disobeys a human command - he obligingly acts as Vickers' butler, and certainly follows Weyland's orders to the letter, even to the point of dosing Holloway, though he seems to at least want Holloway's implicit permission to do so. "What would you do to learn what you came here for?", he asks, to which Holloway says "Anything and everything." (Note to self: never say that to a robot.) So David spikes his drink with the mysterious black goo, which clearly operates as some kind of DNA accelerant. Did Holloway's relentless baiting of David make that task more pleasurable? We can only presume so, just as we can presume that the actual result is a big surprise to everyone involved.

But this conversation is also the point where David restates the film's fundamental question: "Why did you create me?" Only this time humans are the ones being asked, rather than the ones asking. One possible answer suggested by Holloway's failure to take the question seriously: because we could. Another: to serve us. Either rejoinder goes a long way toward suggesting why the Engineers decided to pull the plug on us: either because they could/they changed their minds — a brutal take on divine whimsy — or because they decided humanity wouldn't align with whatever agenda they had in mind. We can't say for sure.

Though we sure can speculate. For all the criticism that the movie is too opaque, it's almost clumsily in-your-face with David's musing about how every child's ultimate aspiration is to kill his/her parents. And, we might add, every parent's secret fear is that their child will grow to destroy them. (Note that this conversation occurs only after Vickers has threatened to cut out his core, which might have triggered a slipping of David's leash a la Hal in 2001's reaction to Bowman and Poole plotting to lobomotize him — more on this below. )



Alongside this we have Vicker's subsequent speech to her father: "A king has his reign. He dies. It's the natural order of things." Certainly this backs up the above. But it teases at something more. Are the Engineers themselves even functional as a race anymore? Did their supremacy end amidst internecine quarrels? Perhaps it was only after a War in Heaven that a wayward faction of Engineers embarked on the project of destroying their own creation. Was the creation itself the transgression? Or was it all was just business as usual, until an accident destroyed the installation at LV-223?

I'm inclined to say no to that last question, because surely otherwise the installation would have been cleansed and rebuilt. Its desolation suggests that a greater cataclysm befell the Engineers at some point. But whatever their original agenda was, it was nothing if not epic. The digital orrery that David activates indicates that Earth is just one planet that the Engineers were working with. (It would have been surprising had it been anything else.) What was taking place here was nothing less than a monumental program of experiments involving DNA accelerants, making it tempting to ascribe to that black goo a primordial/mythic status. Scott has said that 1981 caveman drama Quest for Fire was a big influence for this film, and one wonders how far to take that comparison. If that black goo really is the fire a la Quest (and the Prometheus legend itself), then the Engineers never created the accelerant, but rather stumbled across it.

Or else were given it by their creators. This notion of the Engineers falling short of the status of unmoved mover - that they're not at the apex of the cosmic hierarchy-is given further weight by another tantalizing statement by Scott, namely, that he drew heavily on Sumerian myths in creating the universe of Prometheus. When we consider the extent to which those myths feature gods with divine helpers, it leaves one wondering whether the Engineers were merely the servants of something greater. After all, the Engineers seem pretty damn engineered themselves. They all look the same, and their art seems no less religious than do the cave-drawings back on Earth (a la that wall-image of the xenomorph, to say nothing of the gigantic head). We're thus led down a disquieting chain of logic: just as robots can turn the tables on humans... just as the xenomorphs turned the tables on the Engineers, and just as the Engineers feared humans would do the same — perhaps the Engineers themselves were rebelling against a greater master, left off-screen (and possibly long dead.)

Only one way to find out. The film concludes with the unlikely partnership of what's left of David and Shaw heading to the Engineers' home planet to get some answers...or does it? True, David says he can take Shaw back to the home planet - and that he will... but as I said above, this is after he might have slipped his leash (either because Vickers threatened him with destruction, or because Weyland himself is dead). At any rate - as an observant friend pointed out to me - this is the first time in the movie that David articulates an agenda of his own: "I want you to do something for me," he tells Shaw - i.e., save him from being a disembodied head staring at the ceiling for all eternity. But even if he intends to live up to his side of the bargain, he might just be playing out with Shaw the same game he played with Weyland: acquiescing to a request that he has every reason to believe will end in tears. In this movie, knowledge comes with a heavy price.

David J. Williams is the author of the Autumn Rain trilogy, and (as David Constantine) of The Pillars of Hercules.

This article was found on io9.com



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JUDGEFARGO (7 years ago) Reply

All the philosophical adjuncts and references don't excuse the bad dialgue, bad acting, bad pacing, bad narrative, incongruous behaviour etc.

I'm all for ambiguity and big questions but not conveyed via bad direction and lazy writing costing nearly $200 million.

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j.j. (7 years ago) Reply

Agent Orange - you are exhibiting all of the signs of someone in denial. Soon (within the next few weeks, I am guessing) reality will start to set in and you'll become angry. You'll become more involved in forum postings as you move into bargaining, and then you;ll be down right depressed. But eventuall you'll get to final phase - acceptance that this movie really stinks. It's no shame.

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AL (7 years ago) Reply

reminds me of all the analysis that was done when matrix reloaded hit, all the theories... We know how it turned out...

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macm (7 years ago) Reply

That article really is a giant copypasta from http://www.prometheusforum.net analysis posts of the past 3 months :P

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hvigilla (7 years ago) Reply

Smart subtext means nothing when the rest of the movie is stone stupid.

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Diggler (7 years ago) Reply

While I merit these points that have been brought up by David J. Williams. It still doesn't change the fact that the film, on a whole was dull and quite poorly executed.

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Koolz (7 years ago) Reply

I would see it twice if you haven't. I love the film but not the fact that Jesus was an engineer.
I think that the Engineer's are well stupid compared to us. But I love the story and David Stealing the fire bit.

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Koolz (7 years ago) Reply

Sorry Jesus thing was a load of BS! Thank God!

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Charles Widmore (7 years ago) Reply

"Since so many of you are wrong about the importance of Ridley Scott's Prometheus..."

That's a problematic statement because movies are like art (and I think you will agree,) what one likes another hates.

"What I think this article makes clear is that making inferences about a story based on what you presume are facts shared by characters who know as little about what they are seeing as you is problematic."

There was no presumption. It was a cliche ridden, poorly written, badly acted film (but I will give props to Fassbender.)

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Charles Widmore (7 years ago) Reply

To clarify, the look of the film and the story can be viewed as art, and are subject to individual tastes. However, the mechanics of the film, the writing, editing and acting, seem so obviously bad to me (and others.)

But let's return to the story. I refer you to a quote from Roger Ebert's review of the original Alien:

"...with its tough-talking crew members and their mercenary motives, the story would have found a home in John W. Campbell's Astounding Science Fiction during its nuts-and-bolts period in the 1940s. Campbell loved stories in which engineers and scientists, not space jockeys and ray-gun blasters, dealt with outer space in logical ways.”

Scott followed in his own footsteps with engineers and scientists leading the way, but he left out the logic. The picture you have accompanying this article for instance. What the hell was an axe doing in an airlock? Or how did a geologist who had mapped the tunnels get lost on the way back to the ship, and how did he not hear all of the other radio transmissions? Why would a scientist who sees something crawling out of his eye leave the ship with the others and not mention it? And what about the decapitated David? When Ash had his head knocked off they had to connect him to a power source to get him speaking again. How was David's head still fully functional?

To paraphrase Shaw, I chose to dislike Prometheus.

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David Banner (7 years ago) Reply

Hmm....

I'm just not sure that all the explaining or strong theories helps the fact that the majority of it's audience did not like all the questions Prometheus left them. Is this good filmmaking, letting the audience leave with more questions than answers?

Well, if you have a friend who loves Donnie Darko(not the best example, but an example nonethe less), ask him/her to explain the God part of it.

They might go "huh?". And once you have explained it to them, you'll see this strange look on their face, like "how the hell....what...??".

I think this is what Prometheus is-or tries to be. A movie where the answers show themselves later, after some thought.

Prometheus might really shine, with a companion sequel. But if a sequel was never planned, or will not be made unless Prometheus is successful, well, then that sucks even more than a movie we did not all quite understand on first view.

Prometheus is doing quite well at the boxoffice, so here's hoping.

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JUDGEFARGO (7 years ago) Reply

It's not the questions or the notion of questioning that is a proberm with Prometheus. It's how badly handled conveying those question was. They weren't DRAMATISED, the questions were just mentioned. Just because an idea or though is declared doesn't men it has been served dramatically or even cinematically. SHOW DON'T TELL.

These are not stupid people making these films -though I've always questioned Scott's handling of script and narrative- yet they make the most basic mistakes. Did know one at any stage go to Scott and say 'this is terrible, change it'? It's what exec-producers are paid to do.

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PGK (7 years ago) Reply

Occam's razor tells me that Prometheus is as smart I think it is, which is about as smart as Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (ie. not very).

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Guido_Jenkins (7 years ago) Reply

holy shit!!!! doesnt ANYBODY go the movies for simple entertainment anymore???? what is with all the pretentious BULLSHIT in these comments??? sounds like the vast majority of you need to stop taking yourselves so seriously and have a bit of fun for a change....I am a fan of the original Alien and saw it when first released...I have ever since wanted to see some expansion on the "Space Jockey" ....I agree the movie answers few questions and instead asks more..so what??? its a movie...I found it a great way to spend the morning at the matinee...but thats JMHO...

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Charles Widmore (7 years ago) Reply

Simple entertainment? The Resident Evil franchise. But Prometheus reached out for more, and fell on its facehugger.

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j.j. (7 years ago) Reply

Guido - it's hard to be entertained when one is constantly pulled out of the movie by bad plot and acting. That being said, I am glad you enjoyed it.

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Atlantean (7 years ago) Reply

The thing is much simpler.
Ridley: I need money to produce a movie about the origins of manking.
Producers: We'll give you the money if you do an Alien prequel.

Those 2 ideas poorly mixed resulted in Prometheus.

And, after the crappy Lost finale, I'm not buying any more lazy writing and nonsensical questions.

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Miiirx (7 years ago) Reply

The first scene of prometheus felt like an enchantment, and i guess this article has some points about ones interpretation of a movie. Like the author, I really wanted to go in endless debates about the meanings of the obscures parts of the movie, I really did... but (there's the but) I just couldn't... is this the future of mankind in interspace travel? A mindless, childish trip to an unknown planet? Maybe I lost my capacity to marvel at the simple things in SF (like when you discover starwars) but maybe it's also because today's SF lost the will of making something coherent with its era (why wasnt there even a little bit of explantation on why the technology in the original alien was so poor in face of the virtual reality orgy of prometheus?). So bitch please! This movie sucked my will to interpret the hidden meanings and messages. The stupidness of the characters involved in the story made me sick, it felt like watching idiocraty in space.

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cyclops76 (7 years ago) Reply

I guess it's all about taste and perception. I LOVED Prometheus, every scene was a pleasure to watch and the acting ranged from good to amazing, Fassbender being the showstealer.

I don't care about the ships technology debacle. Maybe The Nostromo was an old piece of junk, made of recycled parts. It was meant to carry a factory, nothing fancy there. Prometheus was Wayland's dream. I don't know and I don't care. Axes in airlocks? Yes, why not? You don't think we'll need them in the future? What were people expecting to find, lightsabers?

I can't understand why some complain that the movie is derivative. If the movie was all about a creature chasing the characters through endless corridors then I'd say, you know what? You`re right. Scott went further, he asked a lot of questions and made us wander, the big payoff for me being: Yes, our creators are out there and you know what? They hate our guts. Want to learn more? Go fetch them and see if they give a damn about your questions.

As I already mentioned, loved every tiny bit of the movie, it was worth the wait.

The only thing that pisses me off are those who didn't get the movie and jump on the hate bandwagon with stupid arguments just so they can feel cool in their little minds.

Hope Ridley Scott could design humankind's future. If it ends up looking half as good as Prometheus then I'd consider myself lucky.

Cheers.

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Charles Widmore (7 years ago) Reply

"I guess it's all about taste and perception..."

I agree.

"The only thing that pisses me off are those who didn't get the movie and jump on the hate bandwagon with stupid arguments just so they can feel cool in their little minds..."

That's harsh, and in conflict with your first statement. I didn't enjoy Prometheus, but I do enjoy debating about it. At this point however, why not just agree to disagree?

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cyclops76 (7 years ago) Reply

We can agree to disagree indeed, I have no problem with that Charles. Maybe I wasn't clear, I did not mean to say that those who didn't like it where the ones hating my friend, I've found people who didn't like it and make some good points but I've also come across a lot of people that just hate the movie for the sakes of it. Anyway, taste and perception, that's all.

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Charles Widmore (7 years ago) Reply

Excellent, but I would like to hear from agentorange again to get his take on this...

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uncleB (7 years ago) Reply

Great article Agentorange. I don"t know what folks were expecting from Prometheus but i enjoyed the hell out of it and thought the script by DL and RS kicked ass. Folks are so jaded these days and I imagine most of the critics of this film werent even born when Alien was releashed and if you didnt live in that time period I dont think you can fully appreciate just how original and unsettling the 1st film was. I believe they captured that feeling in Prometheus. I cant wait for the sequel to the prequel if Madagascar doesnt fuck up its chances because of box office $$$ fucking cartoons!! Damn them!

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Charles Widmore (7 years ago) Reply

I was 19 when I saw Alien in the theater way back in 1979. It's still one of the best sci-fi movies ever made.

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Smitty of One (7 years ago) Reply

I think that the very fact that so many people continue to discuss the movie after seeing it whether good or bad is an indication of what Scott planned ahead for.

It was a good premise.

It left a lot of unanswered questions.

It had a lot of plot holes.

Acting could have been better in places.

The hype was way to much for expectations.

I loved it, but wished it could have been done better.


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