So the other night Prometheus was on TV. I watched it on opening weekend way back in 2012 before I started Going Spare (unfortunately, that works on way too many levels), so I never thought to do an 8 Things About Prometheus. Though it would have been incredibly easy. But watching it on TV, I realised just how spectacularly the film failed at its original aim. For those of you who remember, Prometheus, the prequel to Alien, was billed as going to finally explain the mystery Space Jockey and why he had a ship filled with xenomorph eggs. The finished product, however, went nowhere near answering this question in the slightest. Instead, it threw up more questions than it did answers. This is possibly because somewhere along the lines someone (the studio) decided that they actually wanted to milk more than one film out of explaining the Space Jockey-cum-Engineer question. Or, it was simply the Damon Lindelof effect.
Nevertheless, it gave me an idea for a post on how Prometheus should have been done in order to satisfy its original premise. Warning: there are spoilers, this post assumes you have already watched the film.
What went wrong?
Let’s start out with how the finished film makes absolutely no sense when held up to any kind of scrutiny. The major problem is just how convoluted the situation has to be in order to be an explanation for how the iconic Xenomorph race came to be. The plot begins to unravel with what is a very visually impressive room:
Sidenote: the proportions of the head and the urns are dramatically different to what you see in the film. Just noticed that. Now, according to the film each of those jars contains vials of black goo which mutates whatever comes into physical contact with it. Ingestion may be a necessity – but that only makes things worse in a moment. The worms become murderous snakes, the Scotsman becomes a White Walker, and the discount Tom Harding does an impression of the real Tom Harding on drugs. Important here is how the goo DOES NOT produce xenomorphs. Before he gets fried krispy-style, discount Harding bangs, and impregnates Shaw. The fetus grows rapidly and in one of the best/disturbing scenes of the film she has to have a Cesarian to get it removed. This produces what looks like a proto-Facehugger. Somehow, this then goes from being the size of a rugby ball to big enough to smother a nine-foot tall blue dude. Then out of the Engineer’s chest bursts this:
At this point the film ends. Note, we are not yet up to xenomorphs, even the Wiki points this out. In fact this scene is utterly redundant when you consider that all the survivors (one human, one droid head) have now left the planet, leaving the Deacon (so called for its lovely dome) stranded and without foodstuff. Really, we should be putting it on the endangered species list and setting up a wildlife preserve. So to recap, in order to get on the path to xenomorph creation: 1. someone must get infected; 2. before completely turning they must impregnate someone; 3. this fetus must survive; 4. it must be allowed to grow and facehug something else. 5. it produces a proto-xenomorph. We have not yet actually reached a xenomorph yet, stages 6+ have yet to be elucidated.
The pivotal change
The problem the film creates for itself is actually contained in this mural found along with the giant head: That image actually already establishes the existence of the xenomorphs. Which means the events that bring about the strange Deacon are entirely incidental. But rather than pretending otherwise, own it. Begin Prometheus with xenomorphs already existent. The major change involved here is the Giant Head room itself. Rather than the group discovering the decapitated Engineer (this makes no sense by the by), they find an Engineer in one of the corridors, still 2,000 years dead, with a proper facehugger over his pale mug and a gaping hole in his chest. This sets up why there are no Engineers left on the planet – they all got killed by a xenomorph. This also allows the Scotsman to freak out so that a number of later events remain unchanged. Later on it should then become clear to the audience that the only reason earth wasn’t crop-dusted in black goo was because a xenomorph killed the engineers before they could do it (the irony of that is going to get even better below). So how did the Engineer get facehugged? Although the Head Chamber is visually impressive, it reveals very little as to its function in the film. Presumably most of this function is contained in the murals that disintegrate after the door opens, because who doesn’t put up health and safety notices in the form of murals? Instead of a chamber filled with jars you change the room to feature three distinct sections: On the left you have cages or meat hooks from which are hung (now fossilised) facehuggers; In the centre you still have the giant head; And, on the right you have tables with the vials of black goo in various stages of being packed into the jars.
How does this change the movie?
Well, the important aspect for the audience is that it implies that Engineers create the black goo by extracting it from the facehuggers. In this set up the giant head is actually the machine which does this. For those familiar with the Alien series, the xenomorphs shape and characteristics depend to a large extent on the host from which they burst. In order to gestate inside the host they have to mutate the host’s cells, thereby taking on some of their characteristics. The Engineers – true to their name – are basically weaponising this characteristic to cause aggressive mutations in the target populace. While the more common theory is that the xenomorphs are the bio-engineered weapons that the Engineers are developing, the logic of this isn’t particularly brilliant. If you seed an enemy planet with xenomorphs all you’re doing is replacing one enemy with another. This is fine in a salted-earth strategy – provided the xenomorphs don’t get off world – but if you want something from that planet then you’re going to have issues. Having the populace mutate and attack itself – basically destroying itself in its own civil war – while not perfect itself, certainly leaves less of a threat behind. Particularly, if you assume the mutants won’t have the same social structure as the hive minded xenomorphs.
What else needs changing?
Beyond this, very little of the film actually needs changing. In the scene itself all that is required is that David the Android accidentally/deliberately break a few of the vials and steal one for later. This introduces the black goo necessary to mutate the worms and the Scotsman, and gives him some to infect discount Harding with. The Engineer head may pose an issue, but all the scientists find out from it is that the DNA is the same as in humans (I’ll come back to that below). They don’t need the preserved head to establish that. In fact you could replace the head with a preserved (but dead) facehugger to give a few more hints to the audience that the Engineers were extracting something from them. Two scenes that would need changing follow on from the Cesarian. First, you have to change the Trilobite (the not-facehugger). But this can create an even more disturbing scene. Why not have a baby that comes out like those snakes?
Kind of like a reverse hybrid xenomorph from Alien: Resurrection. Instead of a bit of human in the alien, have a bit of alien in the human. It would make the scene play even harder off the fact that Shaw can’t have kids. Especially if she’s then supposed to fumigate the thing – and hesitates. This, of course, would change the closing scene where the Engineer chases down Shaw to the escape shuttle. There are two ways of doing this. First, you have the Engineer and the Pathogen Baby – now grown to adolescence – fight. This allows Shaw time to escape. Second, you don’t have Charlize Theron die in the most stupid way (hurray, another bonus for my version) and allow her to reach the shuttle too. This would then involve a fight between a (weakened) Engineer against Shaw and Theron which would see the latter die/sacrifice herself. In either scenario the shuttle is trashed, forcing Shaw to take an Engineer ship. Other than this, not a lot needs altering. You can still keep the “Engineers were going to wipe out Earth” plot. As a bonus to the studio this allows room for a sequel while still hitting the intended aim of giving an explanation for the origins the Space Jockey in a way that ties to the xenomorphs.
What doesn’t get fixed?
There is, however, one snag… The very opening scene. If you include my corrections, as it stands the opening scene implies that human life started as a result of an Engineer ingesting black goo – which came from a xenomorph. But considering what the black goo does in the film anyway, it is very surprising that we actually share the exact same DNA with the Engineers. Now, the mindfuck that humanity descend from xenomorphs may be an awesome twist in itself. Indeed, if there is to be no sequel – which considering the film did so badly anyway, there won’t be – this stands as a reasonable explanation of why the Engineers wanted us dead. If you were to establish this in the film this would be done in the dissection scene. In fact, learning that our DNA is 50/50 Engineer/facehugger may gave discount Harding a better reason for being bummed out.
Only, this starts to reach into the realms of convolution which we are trying to undo with the internet wizardry of a blog post that only a few friends (and some very, very bored people) are going to read. So let’s make things simpler instead. Just cut the scene altogether, don’t even go with the alternate opening which features more than one Engineer on earth (because this apparently is supposed to make more sense). Instead, go back to calling them “Space Jockeys” and change the dialogue elements so rather than this being about the origins of human life, make the film about proving we are not alone in the Galaxy.
Doing this also makes sense of one of the gaping questions of the film: what evidence dos Shaw actually have to suggest that we were created by the Engineers before she left earth? Apparently, her evidence is so compelling that the head of Wayland Enterprises funds the whole trip in a last bid to save his own life. At least if you go with the “search for sentient life” plot you can explain his motivation as hoping to find a sufficiently advanced race capable of extending his life. But as it stands, up until they land on the Death Planet, all Shaw had to go on was a bunch of cave paintings: However, all this establishes is that we were visited by a bunch of aliens who were dickish enough to point us in the direction of a military research facility filled with weapons of mass destruction. Err… actually, I don’t think I can fix that…