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Prometheus: To Create, You Must Destroy…
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Adam Frazier   |  @   |  
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Prometheus Ampule Room

DISCLAIMER: This feature contains specific plot details and spoilers regarding Sir Ridley Scott‘s latest film, Prometheus. By now you’ve no doubt dedicated hours to scouring the darkest corners of the internet in hopes of finding answers and explanations to the film’s numerous questions and mysteries.

This feature isn’t an attempt to assuage geeks and enthusiasts who demand answers from their speculative science-fiction, but it will discuss the ending of the film so reader beware. But first, let’s start with tonight’s viewing: Ishirô Honda’s 1962 film, King Kong Vs. Godzilla, starring Tadao Takashima, Kenji Sahara and Yû Fujiki.

Mr. Tako (Ichirô Arishima), the chairman of a pharmaceutical company, learns the bizarre tomato-sized berries that grow on Farou Island are a miracle cure. The natives of the island worship a god called King Kong, a colossal ape whose size can be attributed to the berries.

Tako leads a scientific expedition to the island to retrieve the berries and capture the monster. Meanwhile, a crew of American pilots discover Godzilla has escaped from the glacier that sealed his fate back in 1955. From there, King Kong escapes his captors and goes toe-to-toe with Japan’s King of the Monsters in an epic battle royale that manages to throw a giant octopus creature in for good measure.

King Kong Vs Godzilla

I bet you’re waiting for me to make some ludicrous comparative thesis involving King Kong Vs. Godzilla and Prometheus, aren’t you? I’m sure I could write 500 words on the various parallels between Pacific pharmaceuticals and Weyland Industries. I could go on at length about the similar agendas of Mr. Tako and Peter Weyland as they launch scientific expeditions to visit the Gods in search of a miraculous cure-all – or how the black primordial ooze exhibits mutative properties like the Farou Island berries. The point is, you could make up a thousand different scenarios to fill in the blanks of Prometheus.

I was all set to write a 3,000-word feature about Prometheus that would defend the work of Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof, and Ridley Scott and elaborate on the film’s numerous unexplained mysteries and unanswered questions, but then I realized something – I shouldn’t have to defend this film. I believe it speaks for itself.

If you’ve read my Prometheus review, then you know I absolutely loved the film – even if it’s flawed by its own ambiguity. Personally, I would rather watch an ambitious film that asks questions than a by-the-numbers, mindless movie that stimulates its audience with explosions instead of ideas.

I’ve seen Prometheus three times so far and it continues to get better with each viewing. If you haven’t seen it in IMAX 3D you absolutely must – it is a stunning cinematic experience that completely legitimizes 3D as an artistic tool.

It’s one of those films that *needs* to be seen at least two times before it can be discussed in depth with any real authority. I don’t want to get caught up in the whole “If you didn’t like it it’s because you’re dumb and didn’t get it” argument but, after multiple viewings I find very few inconsistencies or plot holes and very little evidence of “lazy writing.”

There have been tons of theories and scenarios posted on message boards and other entertainment websites that any respectful lurker worth their weight in passive aggressive forum posts has already read – so I won’t bore you with some elaborate attempt at Prometheus fan-fiction to explain the film’s plot.

I do, however, want to point out some ideas I’ve formulated and speculate about what could happen in a potential sequel, which should be titled Paradise – but more on that later.

First, let’s start with a wonderful interview my buddy Sean O’Connell did for Movies.com – a fantastic discussion with Sir Ridley Scott that has been cited as source for most of the theories out there.

Prometheus Ridley Scott with Noomi Rapace

In the interview, Scott confirms quite a few interesting things. Firstly, the Engineers (Space Jockeys) are not the gods. They’re dark angels – hostile, aggressive outcasts. Secondly, a key influence in the formation of the story was John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Milton’s Paradise Lost is considered one of the greatest literary works in the English language. First published in 1667, the epic poem tells the Biblical story of the Fall of Man: the temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan. It has been described as an attempt to justify the ways of God to men.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story and don’t have time to pick up the CliffsNotes from Barnes & Noble, the story goes like this: the Archangel Lucifer (Satan) refuses to play second-fiddle to the Son of God, so he leads an army of angels in a violent rebellion against the Almighty. “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven,” as the saying goes.

The arrogant, charismatic Lucifer and his followers are defeated and banished to Hell for their treachery, where he plots revenge against God. He devises a plan in which he will poison Earth and corrupt God’s new and most favored creation, Mankind.

In Prometheus, Captain Janek (Idris Elba) theorizes that LV-223 is an outpost, a military installation where the Engineers store their biological weapons of mass destruction. Each base houses a warship carrying a payload of biological ammunition. Is it a coincidence the ampules resemble artillery shells? Instead of gunpowder, the canisters are filled with a perversion of the life-giving black fluid – enough to poison an entire planet.

The Engineers on LV-223 are dark angels – rebellious, warmongering outcasts. 2,000 years ago they set course for Earth to destroy mankind, but there was an outbreak and they were wiped out by their own nightmarish creations.

Allusions to Paradise Lost are made throughout the film, even H.R. Giger‘s xenomorphic murals are reminiscent of the engravings and illustrations that were included in the ten-book collection of Milton’s epic poem. Check out the similarities between a scene from the film’s prologue and The Creation of Man, an engraving from the 1688 edition by John Baptist Medina:

Prometheus Paradise Lost Comparison

Honestly, that’s good enough for me. I relish the opportunity to be thoroughly challenged by a film, because it just doesn’t happen much these days. As great as The Avengers was, there wasn’t much to talk about after the credits rolled – other than saying “THAT WAS AWESOME!” There wasn’t a lot to digest or analyze, outside of what costumed superhero might show up in the inevitable sequels and spin-offs. Prometheus represented a film more akin to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, The Fountain, and The Tree of Life to me – ambitious, thought-provoking films that are notorious for polarizing audiences.

Side Note: King Kong Vs. Godzilla is pretty fantastic. King Kong is currently being hoisted over an island like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float – the balloons were just cut and now Kong and Godzilla are suplexing and body-slamming each other all over the joint.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the Blu-Ray release, which will reportedly include an extended cut with 20 extra minutes of footage. In classic Ridley Scott fashion – this guy hasn’t released a finished film in theaters since Thelma & Louise – most of his films have benefited from a director’s cut (Blade Runner, Legend, Kingdom of Heaven), so perhaps this new cut of Prometheus will spoon-feed those demanding answers and explanations.

Looking beyond the Blu-Ray release, I can’t wait for the sequel. In his interview with Movies.com, Scott pointed out that one working title for Prometheus was Paradise, which I think is a completely fitting name for the next chapter.

Prometheus

At the end of the film, Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and David (Michael Fassbender) commandeer another Juggernaut (the Space Jockey’s so-called derelict ship). David suggests “Finding a path to Earth should be relatively straightforward,” but this is not Shaw’s intention. “I don’t want to go back to where we came from. I want to go where they came from.”

Shaw and David leave LV-223 in pursuit of Paradise – the homeworld of the gods. As dark angels, the aggressive Engineers are an obstacle in Shaw’s journey. They are meant to test her faith – her conviction in seeking out the truth.

When a hologram of Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) introduces David to the Prometheus crew he says of the android, “He is not human. He will never grow old. He will never die, and yet he is unable to appreciate these remarkable gifts for that would require the one thing that David will never have – a soul.”

Well that says it all right there, doesn’t it? When the final Engineer is awakened from stasis by David and Weyland, he isn’t inherently hostile. He only reacts to what Weyland commands David to ask him – which we can assume is a demand for more life.

The Space Jockey thoughtfully looks upon David and touches his hair, and it’s at this moment he realizes he is not looking at one of his own creations – this is a blasphemy. As if the human race wasn’t bad enough 2,000 years ago – now they’re technologically advanced enough to become gods in their own right, creating artificial beings in their likeness. It doesn’t help that Weyland’s a total dick. He is ungrateful and demands more life – perhaps even immortality. The Space Jockey is disgusted and in turn rips off the android’s head and beats the profanatory old man to death with it.

Side Note: I just finished King Kong Vs. Godzilla. I’m following it up with Ishirô Honda’s 1968 film, Destroy All Monsters. I just watched Rodan pluck a dolphin out of the ocean and devour it whole…

Ridley Scott has stated that he never intended to meet the gods in the first chapter. He wanted these characters to come into contact with god-like creatures responsible for seeding planets with DNA, but ultimately these Engineers must have their own creator. The question is, do the Engineers know who created them? Are they on a similar journey to meet their makers?

Prometheus Sacrifice Engineer Jedi Robes

I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of pre-visitation. The Ancient Astronaut has been used as a plot device in countless science-fiction stories including H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness and Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama. The concept is pretty straightforward: human beings are descendants or creations of extraterrestrials who visited Earth eons ago. Through a series of close encounters, these Creators or Engineers influenced the development of human cultures, religions, and technologies.

In the opening sequence of Prometheus, a lone, pale humanoid approaches a cliff surrounded by spectacular, undisturbed scenery. He removes his modest attire and ingests a viscous black liquid from an ampule. In the distance, a massive egg-shaped spacecraft ascends through the planet’s newly-formed atmosphere. The elixir causes a violent reaction in the humanoid as his cellular structure mutates and begins to deteriorate.

We are witnessing a sacrificial ceremony. The humanoid has been chosen to carry out an important task: seed this vacant, newborn world with life. The Engineer (or Space Jockey, if you prefer) falls into a colossal, churning waterfall and disintegrates, allowing his DNA to become the catalyst for single-cell organisms. As the old saying goes, “To create, you must destroy.”

Prometheus Engineer Sacrifice Ceremony

The first question you’re compelled to ask is, “Is this Earth?” The answer is, it could be – but isn’t necessarily. Scott is painting on a canvas the size of which is beyond comprehension. He is showing us a process – a process that is no doubt carried out on hundreds of thousands of worlds throughout the universe. These Engineers are extraterrestrial gardeners, working the land, and tossing out DNA seeds. Results may vary.

Jump to 2089. archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a star map within the pictographs and ideograms of several otherwise unconnected civilizations. They interpret the star map as evidence of mankind’s forerunners – an ancient civilization of extraterrestrials who visited Earth in its infancy.

Shaw and Holloway’s most recent discovery is a 35,000-year-old cave painting from the Isle of Sky in Scotland. The pictogram shows humans worshiping giant beings pointing to the stars. The crude constellation depicted in these ideograms is a perfect match for the Zeta Reticula system, some 39 light-years (220 trillion miles) away.

Prometheus Cave Painting

The star map leads the Prometheus to a destination so far from Earth that no primitive, ancient civilization could have identified it – proof of pre-visitation by an intelligent, highly-advanced extraterrestrial race. But why? Why were these Engineers tasked with creating life, and why 2,000 years ago were they tasked with destroying it?

[insert crazy fan theories regarding Adam and Eve, The Tree of Knowledge, and the Space Jockey as Jesus Christ]

In any case, I’m excited to see where the Hell Shaw and David go. If they are in fact headed to the homeworld of the gods – Paradise, Heaven, Dagobah, what have you – what will they find there? Will we see a War in Heaven – an interpretation of the rebellion of Lucifer and his rebellious dark angels?

Will we gain a better understanding of the primordial ooze turned biological warfare and the Xenomorph’s involvement in the Space Jockey culture? I’m crossing my fingers, but I’m also holding my breath – because when it comes to Damon Lindelof and Ridley Scott, it’s impossible to know what’s coming next – and I kind of like that.

No one goes to a museum and stands in front of a Van Gogh and demands a reason or explanation for every brushstroke. I don’t need answers to every bit of minutia in Prometheus. I’m more concerned with the fact that 90% of filmmakers aren’t even asking questions or challenging their audiences, which explains why the art of cinema has been downgraded to to a frivolous, brainless activity where people go to text and eat popcorn in the dark.

Final Note: “Almost Paradise” by Mike Reno and Ann Wilson (from the Footloose soundtrack) should have definitely played during the credits of Prometheus. I mean, is there a more fitting song? It would have been a tear-jerking memorial to the late Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) as well. I’m still crushed over her death [see what I did there?].

Well, that’s all I’ve got. What had been originally conceived as a 3,000-word analysis has become a 2,000-word hodgepodge of ideas and occasional Godzilla references.

You can expect at least one more Prometheus-related feature from me this week when I review Prometheus: The Art of the Film – a fantastic hardcover coffee table art book from Titan Books. For those seeking more answers and explanations, Mark Salisbury’s extensive making-of book will provide some serious insight into the film’s mysteries and headache-inducing concepts. Until then, thanks for reading!

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