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Big Things Have Small Beginnings: Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’ & Its ‘Alien’ Origins
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Prometheus - Alien Concept Art

Warning: This analysis of Ridley Scott’s upcoming film, Prometheus, and its shared mythology with Alien includes potential spoilers, or it could just be a Xenomorph-induced fever dream…

“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” This ancient causality dilemma has evoked questions from philosophers of how life and the universe began. Now the question is: Which came first, the Queen Alien or the egg?

In Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien, Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger’s design for the titular beast was influenced by an aesthetic he termed biomechanical, a fusion of the organic and the mechanic. From the first moment it appeared on screen, the Alien became an iconic movie monster with its elongated, cylindrical (and extremely phallic) skull.

The Alien’s mouth contained a second, inner set of pharyngeal jaws located at the tip of a long, tongue-like proboscis – a terrifying, phallic weapon that could stab and penetrate human flesh. As Ash (Ian Holm) notes in Alien, “You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? The perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.”

H.R. Giger’s 1978 painting Hieroglyphics illustrates the Alien life cycle. It starts with an organism giving birth to an egg. It should be noted that Giger’s original concept for the Xenomorph’s life cycle did not include a Queen Alien.

Prometheus - Alien Life Cycle

The egg opens and a Facehugger makes contact with a humanoid host’s mouth for the embryo implantation process, by wrapping its eight finger-legs around the victim’s head, feeding it oxygen while impregnating the host by, essentially, raping its face.

After a gestation period, the newborn creature erupts violently from the host’s chest. From there the Chestburster matures to a full-grown adult within hours, shedding its skin and replacing its cells with a type of silicon – a fusion of organic and chemical/metalloid elements.

The Xenomorph’s design and life cycle have been extensively added to and altered throughout the series. In the original film, the top of the Alien’s head was smooth and translucent, with empty, human-looking eye sockets hidden beneath the carapace. I’ll touch on this later.

In James Cameron’s 1986 sequel, Aliens, the smooth bone plate covering the organism’s head was removed, as was the human-looking skull underneath. Cameron and special effects legend Stan Winston took Giger’s puzzling, biomechanical creation and answered the question, “What’s laying all these eggs?” by introducing the Queen Alien.

Prometheus - Different Alien Heads

The species was redesigned to be eusocial like wasps or termites, with a single fertile queen breeding a caste of warriors and drones. Giger’s horrific design had been simplified to a bug – and the mystery of the Derelict Ship and the Space Jockey and the origins of the organism itself were forgotten. 

That is, until Ridley Scott’s new film, Prometheus. While the film may not be a true prequel to Alien, it will incorporate elements of the 1979 film including the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, the Space Jockey, and the Derelict Ship.

So, let’s get down to the recent full-length theatrical trailer for Prometheus and some of the connections to Alien that were exposed – and some very odd, new puzzles to figure out.

Let’s start with Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), who appears to have been impregnated by… something. Shaw is shown writhing in an automated surgical bed patented by Weyland Industries (visit the Weyland Industries Website to see more).

Prometheus - Worm Birth

Inside this chamber, a procedure similar to a Cesarean Section is performed and a worm-like organism is removed. The most unsettling aspect of this procedure is that there is an umbilical cord attaching the creature to Shaw. This isn’t a Chestburster – it’s an entirely new organism, one that could perhaps lead to the eventual creation of the Xenomorph.

After the worm is removed, Shaw is seen stumbling down the halls of the ship, covered in blood. You can clearly make out an incision along her waist where the creature was removed. Other shots in the trailer show her being pursued throughout the corridors of the vessel by this thing – whatever it may be.

I can’t pinpoint the chronological order of these events, but a similar worm-like organism can be seen slithering into a crew member’s spacesuit. How this relates to the C-Section surgery remains to be seen, but the design of this creature is reminiscent of Giger’s Alien Monster III, which shows a serpent or worm-like version of the Xenomorph:

Prometheus - Worm Serpent Creature

Alien is my all-time favorite film, so I’m pretty invested in Prometheus – as much as I’m looking forward to The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises, I would gladly sell any theoretical children I had into sweat shop slavery to see this film right now.

Over the past several months, I’ve went back into the vaults and researched Alien extensively, revisiting all the making-of documentaries, the novelizations, old issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland, and Starlog – anything that detailed the production of Ridley Scott’s film. I’ve poured over Giger’s Necronomicon and his unused concept art for Dune in hopes of uncovering information about unused concepts and ideas that could show up in Prometheus.

Side Note: I would highly recommend David McIntree’s Beautiful Monsters: The Unofficial and Unauthorized Guide to the Alien and Predator Movies, as well as Alien Vault: The Definitive Story of the Making of the Film by Ian Nathan, which does a great job of condensing all the various making-of materials into one easy-to-read text.

Prometheus - The Egg Silo

So, back to Giger’s artwork. Originally there was an idea for an Egg Silo, a pyramid or temple that the Nostromo crew members would enter and investigate, but this idea was subsequently replaced with the egg chambers being inside the Derelict.

In the theatrical trailer, it appears the crew of Prometheus enters a similar structure, where they discover a giant humanoid head and hundreds of ampules – small, sealed containers that preserve some form of life.

According to the trailer, a star map is discovered within the hieroglyphs and cave paintings of every culture and civilization. A scientific expedition is launched to follow the map’s coordinates and, ultimately, discover the origins of mankind.

Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” It’s safe to assume that, in this weird temple, the crew of Prometheus have discovered the visage of their God in the form of a gigantic humanoid head, surrounded by urns.

Prometheus - The Ampule Room

Speaking of urns, check this out – from an early draft of Dan O’Bannon‘s script for Alien:

INTERIOR – TOMB – LATE AFTERNOON

Face bare, Broussard approaches the center of the room, which is dominated by a large, broad pedestal. On the pedestal are ROWS OF LEATHERY URNS OR JARS, EXACTLY LIKE THE ONE BROUSSARD STUMBLED ACROSS IN THE ALIEN SHIP — EXCEPT THESE ARE ALL SEALED.

It’s a reasonable hypothesis that (either accidentally or purposefully) a member of the crew tampers with one of the ampules or urns, coming into contact with a new life form. Let’s talk about the Greek legend of Prometheus for a second. He was a champion of mankind who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals. This was mankind’s first taste of technology.

Zeus punished Prometheus for his crime by tying him to a rock while a great eagle ate his liver, only to have it grow back and be eaten again the next day.

Yeah, that’s pretty intense. I have a feeling the crew members of Prometheus will come face-to-face with their Gods, an extraterrestrial race of engineers who seeded our planet eons ago. They will tamper with their technology and “steal fire” – unlocking the secrets of life, and will be punished… in the form of the Xenomorph.

Ultimately, I believe Prometheus will be a return to Giger’s aesthetic. In subsequent films in the Alien franchise, these ideas were abandoned – but now with Ridley Scott at the helm once more, the organism’s true biomechanical origins will be explored.

The Derelict Ship is a prime example of Giger’s fusion of the organic and the mechanical. The asymmetrical, horseshoe-shaped vessel has vaginal passageways and phallic horns – an overall design that feels less practical from a engineering standpoint and more biological in nature.

With its curved, rigid passages and tubed tunnels with bone-like outcroppings, the Derelict feels alive. When you consider that the interior of the craft resembles an Alien hive, you begin to understand that the owners of this ship, the Engineers or Space Jockeys as we know them, designed the ship and thus must have created the Alien itself. The Xenomorph must be an extension of the same biomechanical technology used to create such a vessel.

By the time the crew of the Nostromo discovers the Derelict in Alien, this living spacecraft has become a fossil. Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) notes that the skeleton of a mysterious organism (the Space Jockey), has been fused to its chair.

Prometheus - The Space Jockey

The Space Jockey appears to be growing out of the telescopic chair, its rib cage bent outward; evident that an Alien has erupted from the gigantic being’s body. So, what exactly happened?

One last interesting element seen in the Prometheus trailer I want to touch on involves a mural of sorts on the ceiling of either the Derelict Ship or the Ampule Room that appears to be moving:

Ridley Scott had H.R. Giger create several large murals for the film, and this is no doubt one of them. Notice the design – an obvious nod to the Xenomorph. You can clearly make out the carapace, the rib cage, the pointed hips and the extremities. Shaw shines a light on the mural which then seems to move – yet another example of Giger’s biomechanical design in action.

Prometheus - H.R. Giger Xenomorph Mural

While the latest trailer does unveil some surprising twists and turns, there are more questions raised than answers given. There’s some sort of phallic worm involved, there’s obviously an infected or mutated crew member (Holloway, played by Logan Marshall-Green), and David, an Android (or Synthetic Human, if you will) played by Michael Fassbender.

David seems to be fascinated by the life form discovered in the Ampule Room and it’s safe to say through his experiments he tampers with the gift of the Gods and may very well be fused with the Engineers’ technology. An Android fused with a biomechanical life form would be the ultimate extension of Ridley Scott’s themes after all.

Which brings me back to the original design of Giger’s Alien: the smooth and translucent carapace, with empty, human-looking eye sockets hidden beneath. The human skull always fascinated me as a child – it’s not really visible in the finished film, but it was clearly noticeable in the 18-inch Kenner Alien toy and could be seen in numerous behind-the-scenes photographs.

Could the human skull element of the Alien be a clue as to the origins of such a horrific creation? Could the first Xenomorph be the fusion of human and extraterrestrial DNA?

Prometheus - Alien Humanoid Skull

Will the Space Jockey give birth to a Queen Alien or will Prometheus break continuity and establish a new life cycle altogether? Scott’s already talking about ideas for a sequel, so perhaps there’s more to learn about the Xenomorph and its mysterious origins.

We’ll find out soon enough, as Prometheus lands in theaters on June 8th. Check out this animated gif here below, courtesy of some folks over at Prometheus-Movie.com to get a better look at the worm baby and the umbilical cord:

Prometheus - Animated Worm Birth


  • Chistopher Moonlight

    There’s a human face in the mural. Look closer at the “head.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Mcdermott/100001606639337 Michael Mcdermott

    awesome article mate ;)

  • froststep

    first off i loved this article and ook forward to seeing prometheus.
    second here are some of my own insights.To begin i know alien vs predator was fairly irrelevant to either films… however at the end of the first film. a chestburster with the predators frontal fangs, appears. this may possibly be a indication that dna fusion occurs between the two species. My first thoughts were that the worm like creature fused its dna with a biomechanical life form as seen in the chair, to create the xenomorph. however it is entirely likely that the space jockey, was originally human and fused itself with the biomechanical tech to be come this lifeform. then was impregnated by the worm like creature to create the first xenomorph,hence the distinct similarities between humans and xenomorphs (two arms,legs ears, tongue etc,).The tail could most likely be from the “worm”  for the exoskeleton. the advanced tech seems to be responsible for this.  the xenomorph  may have also retained this gene fusing property from the worm and may use it in its larval form!well thats all ive got haha

  • Cammy

    Intresting article, i like your ideas cant wait to see this film big fan of the alien trilogy(alien resurection was the bigest disapointment in my film watching life so i pretend it dosent exist) cant wait havent been this exited about a film in a long time! I like the idea that this “worm” is the alien before it has fully evolved. Very thought provoking. Wish june would hurry up! Big things have small beginnings!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XGMBSMFIUXXFNQQHCVCZXQ34KQ Beto

    Amazing article man, great ideas considering I’ve just watch the movie…

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