Engineers on Earth: I explain Prometheus

Like I said last week, I saw Prometheus and did not like it.

I still don’t, but I have an explanation for what’s going on in the film.

First point: Holloway, Shaw and Weyland are all less than rational persons, eager to leap-frog from firm facts into the gaseous gulf of what they want to believe. Ancient aliens? Surely our creators. Ancient aliens? Surely eternal life. (The other crew is likewise, but less so: Inscrutable scary jars? Surely bioweapons!)

People like this don’t excel in making the correct deductions, and so the wild, blind, biased guesses accepted by the Prometheus crew shouldn’t be taken for gospel. So let us not talk about bioweapon facilities or Earth-killing intentions just yet.

Also, people like this don’t stumble on genuine ancient aliens unless there’s someone more rational to guide them. But more on David, later.

Second point: The Engineer aliens had the same DNA as humans. (They were albino giants, too; but maybe that’s nurture, not nature?)

What this means is that the aliens dead 2000 years ago and the Prometheus-era humans are (in evolutionary terms) very close relations. They’re not separated by millions of years; six million years created the difference between chimpanzees and humans, and I’m willing to say savannah chest-scratching and interstellar Giger-antics exert a wee bit different evolutionary pressures on species. So the last common ancestor of Us and Them is relatively recent; tens of thousands of years? Hundreds of thousands? No more than that.

(Well, the Engineers could have guided their own evolution. But humans were either drifting free, or then only occasionally nudged by visiting albino giants. A biologist could probably say how funny the thought of nudging humans into the same mould as albino space men is — I don’t have the expertise. “No! Bad cave man! You not pass genes to next generation! Cave man with milk tolerance gene go copulate, again!”)

Three: By the previous point, the first scene of the movie — barren planet, dissolving Engineer — was not the beginning of life on Earth; or the beginning of human life on Earth. For the former, the DNA match between humans and Engineers is silly — “Let us wait 3.5 billion years and then make creatures in our unchanging phenotype!” — and for the latter, well, DNA bits floating in a river do not make a human being.

Four: Darwinian evolution and the well-documented and sensible descent of humans from apes remains in play until the movie says something cogent against it; “I believe in Dänikenian Creationism” is an argument for Shaw’s thickness, and for nothing else.

Five: So we have two species with the same DNA (to an approximation; and technically, that’s “one species”), and we know where one of them came from. We know humans are the descendants of non-modern monkeys (apes? proto-orang-outans?), made by nature on the planet Earth. If we see a group of albino space men with identical DNA, we are justified in calling them albino space humans; and supposing that they left scribbles in stones a few tens of thousands or thousands years ago does not mean that at that time they visited us — but that at that time they separated themselves from us.

The Engineers are humans like us; they developed a civilization capable of spaceflight and left this sordid planet (leaving it stripped bare of resources we never knew?), and they left a few signposts behind them.

Six: Except that the signposts point at a planet/moon which (at the moment) is not habitable for humans. (Wait, did the end Engineer have its helmet on when it loped to the luxury pod? Doesn’t matter really — the Engineers look like people who don’t let their genotype be the boss of them.) Also, the planet/moon had — I suppose the Prometheus checked — no cities, roads or other signs of organized life, except the few black goo installations. (Which were topped by skulls, which at least in human history means either “STAY THE FUCK OUT” or “WE’S THE NAZI SS!!”, which means pretty much the same thing.)

So why did the Engineers, as they left, leave behind a signpost pointing at a place where they themselves weren’t? (A few tens of thousands of years couldn’t have erased all signs of them — and, as dim as my view of the Prometheus crew is, I refuse to believe they didn’t surface-scanner the whole planet/moon before settling on the place of the skulls.)

Remember that the Engineers were/are humans: one supposes they are aware of how fractious humans can be. Thus, they left behind an arrow pointing not at a New Earth, but at a Goal — “Once the non-albinos show up here, we know they’ve become interesting!”

Except.

Except that while the execution at that end was good, the scheme on Earth sucked. The pointing arrow itself wasn’t all that good. Six big splotches of paint, correlating to an almost invisible cluster of stars? That’s not only a terribly imprecise hint; that’s something likely to match (within the limits imposed by the sizes of the star-blotches) more than one sextuplet of stars. And given all the crazy shit ancient societies have left behind (that is, crazy to our eyes), how could the Engineers even be sure the arrow would be interpreted correctly? Suppose a Weyland hared off into the Southern Cross, because there too there was a somewhat similar star formation — remember, the Engineers were surely limited by the existing planets available to them, unless you want to give them the power to move stars etc., which they very much failed to exhibit.

And given how unkind time is to cave paintings and ancient monuments, how could the Engineers even be sure all the arrows weren’t erased before anyone had the eyes to see where they pointed? Earthquakes, lava, Conquistadores, art critics — if deciphering the clues takes a worldwide civilization (“Hey! This pattern reoccurs!”) and the sufficient leisure and technology to spread archaeological tidbits (“Here — these pics are from the Yucatan!”), and the technology to build advanced telescopes and run comparisons (“Zounds! This tiny star cluster matches!”), the Engineers had to know there would be centuries, probably millennia, before anyone could make heads or tails of the arrow they left behind.

Finally, the arrow? Cave paintings, carvings, the like: on the level of artistic execution, nothing Earth-humans couldn’t have done on their own. No incorruptible steel pillars, no laser-cut passages into mountains (who’s this Däniken guy?); just technologically very primitive human art, unlikely to excite anyone’s attention. Unlikely to become an enduring mystery.

That’s not a good message.

So, finally, Seven: The ancient arrows pointing at the moon of black goo were not meant to be found, deciphered, and acted upon, because the Engineers weren’t counting on shoddy methods like that.

They just waited until the time was right (interplanetary spaceflight!), and then nudged their patsies Holloway and Shaw into motion, and towards their third tool, the rich, dying and desperate-for-eternal-life Weyland. Weyland jumped at the bait, launched the ship, and the movie got started.

As for who the wait-ers were in the “they just waited” above, well, a technologically superior group of people with 100% human DNA surely wouldn’t find it difficult to hide among normal humans. That is, until those humans began rocketing technologically upward, towards levels where concealment would be no longer possible…

Have I yet noted the Engineers manning the base (Oh, if we had seen a few women I would have been happier) died two thousand years ago? The boring mystical foofaraw interpretations advanced by Scott, Lindelof et al would have you believe this is about Jesus, because obviously nothing else interesting could have been happening at the time except an obscure Jewish preacher obviously destined for fame on his own merits: but something else was happening. The Greek civilization with its geometry, proto-steam engines and Antikythera toys. The aqueduct-building Romans, the gunpowder-inventing Chinese, all manner of rapidly advancing technological civilizations. The Engineers couldn’t foresee the speed bumps ahead; they probably thought humans would be in a position to discover the Engineers among them in a few centuries.

They freaked out.

They panicked.

They were just human, so don’t blame them.

At that time — two thousand years ago — all the Engineers at the mysteriously small skull-base died. Because they were humans, I’m disposed to think other Engineer-humans killed them.

Killed them, because (as I choose to see it) there are two ways the Engineers could have chosen to act towards their not bright younger cousins, us. Either “Keep the buggers ignorant”, or “Welcome them into an intergalactic brotherhood of joy and happiness”.

Because I am a pessimist, I choose to believe the latter group was in possession of the skullbase of welcomes, and was killed inside it. They were probably sitting on a goldmine of very useful, very advanced and (in the hands of morons) very, very, very lethal articles of biological nature. (Imagine a cave man playing with a pistol. Or a car. Or a bottle of toilet cleaner. The cave man will get burned.)

So: humans are in the grips of cultural evolution, and the days of the Engineers among them seem numbered. There is panic, and the contact-happy ones are voted down with extreme prejudice. The keep-as-pets faction wins, waits, calms down, gets more sure that maybe, after all, they can keep up the masquerade. Maybe there’s no reason to panic after all. But that pesky skullbase on that distant moon still exists. Something needs to be done about that.

Thus the Engineers engineer the “discovery” of Holloway and Shaw (they know where the pointing-arrows are, so they are well equipped to help — though probably they’ve, in their panic, destroyed the really impressive hints two thousand years ago…), and lead these two to the feet of the eager Weyland; thus, the Prometheus expedition begins.

The expedition finds scary ruins, dead bodies, and the Engineers’ toilet cleaner, which they immediately chug, and then act surprised when they turn into zombies and aliens burst out of them. Stupid humans, playing with toys without reading the safety manual first.

The expedition perishes; nobody returns; back on Earth the heirs of Weyland laugh at the old man’s fixation that got him killed. They laugh at the six-dot star pattern, and any such patterns or hints that might be discovered in the future.

Because — this is my supposition — the Engineers don’t have no interstellar empire. They went into the stars and found the stars hostile, the habitable planets too harsh or not worth the effort. They got cold feet. They made the “Goalpost Planet” in the blush of their rise into space, in their “Intergalactic brotherhood and others to follow!” phase; then they said “Fuck this!” and returned, for the most part, back to Earth, to hide among the retard cousins.

And now that that one last hint has been made to appear an utter mare’s nest, they’re safe, and mankind has lost.

Q & A

1) Hang on, I hear the reader saying, what about the remaining skull-structures? And I say, suppose there were self-destruction codes that needed to be delivered in person, but the Engineers on Earth couldn’t risk launching a spaceship for the fear of discovery. (They thought their strike two thousand years ago might have activated those self-destruction codes, but they weren’t sure.) Why, then, take the android David, and add a few lines of code… and the next ship into that system will not find any structures standing after David gets his sticky fingers on the time-delayed buttons.

2) So where did Shaw and David go to? Into a plan of expansion, or an old map of exploration, I suppose. Imagine their surprise when the planet they reach, suffering from food poisoning and a dearth of batteries, is dead and hostile to life!

3) Why was the surviving Engineer so damn angry? Well, you would be too if all your friends were killed, you escaped into cold sleep with a good whiff of toilet cleaner in your head, and when you woke up people that — to your groggy eyes — seemed identical to the killers stood next to you. (Don’t blame the guy. Two thousand years of sleep will leave anyone grumpy and not all that bright.)

4) Hang on a minute, you said the Engineers on Earth wanted to avoid discovery. How are they going to do that if humankind continues to exist and improve itself? Well, maybe they’re more confident now. Or maybe they’ve decided to go native. Doesn’t matter really; the Prometheus movie was the last chapter of a sordid tale; a chapter about David and his sticky fingers of doom, and doddering ol’ Weyland and his soon laughable obsession.

* * *

Nonsense, I admit it, but because they didn’t give me answers I made them myself. Now I’ve made my peace with this irritating movie.

8 Responses to “Engineers on Earth: I explain Prometheus”

  1. John Schmidt Says:

    I enjoyed reading your interpretation of Prometheus. I’m not comfortable with the idea that some humans developed space travel technology thousands of years ago and went to the stars. I prefer to imagine that alien beings from some distant star system came to Earth and scooped up some humans.
    http://wikifiction.blogspot.com/2012/06/promethean-rorschach-test.html

  2. Matt Moon Says:

    Your first paragraph hits the nail square on. The *only* thing that 35,000 year old cave drawings suggest is visitation. How odd, then, that the entire crew is operating under the idea that the engineers were unquestionably creators of all life. Why oh why?? It seems almost stupid not to bring this knowledge into the film and let the audience know why the crew seems to believe this.

    Unless…

    we’re going to be seeing a lot of flashbacks in the sequel, or a movie that dwells on the time *before* the Prometheus expedition takes place. Maybe, just maybe, Weyland knew something. He had information that led Holloway and Shaw and the rest to believe that they were in fact dealing with their own creators, and not just with some friendly neighbors stopping by to borrow a cup of sugar.

  3. Anne Says:

    When I first seen the Trailer last week the big Alien guy reminded me of the albino guy from the movie Powder as his skin was pure white and he was bald like the guys in thise movie the film looks okay really I’ll maybe rent it on my Sky movies on demand if I like it I’ll buy it on DVD yet I think it might be more my brothers thing he loves these Sci fi movies but those aliens had pretty hot bodies. even if they did look a bit pasty lol

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  6. ScophiScophi Says:

    Matt Moon, the reason that everyone assumed they were our creators (and rightly so) is because of (1) the first sequence in the movie showing an Engineer seeding our planet with his DNA, and (2) the actual DNA analyses that Shaw does on the head they bring back stating we are a match. I’m not sure how you dispute that.

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