Salvaging Prometheus

So Ridley Scott's Prometheus was pretty bad. The whole movie hinged on the so-called "scientist" characters behaving in unprofessional and antisocial ways. This is compounded by scientific and logical flaws presented in the film itself and revealed in interviews that show that the film-makers (Scott and the screenwriters) are laughably ignorant of science and professional behavior. Can the mess be salvaged? Here's how I reconcile it.

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

First off, discard the notion that the Engineers are billions of years old and responsible for life on Earth. No starfaring civilization will last that long. Fortunately, the only hints that this is the case are the rather abstract title montage, the statements of a demonstrably duplicitous android, claims by the characters themselves who are established as being poor scientists, and interviews with the filmmakers (see above).

Secondly, knowing that the android David has a hidden agenda, discard any of his scientific observations; he can't be trusted. Anything he says to the "scientists" is for their benefit.

Thirdly, discard anything the scientists say. Assume the film isn't a poor portrayal of scientists, but instead a portrayal of poor scientists. Why so poor? Because they were hired by a rich old man who the film also demonstrates is out of his gourd. Putting a scientific team together that has never met isn't only a dramatic choice by the film-makers to build conflict, it's something only a fool would do. And Prometheus introduces us to that fool.

Finally, latch on to the statements and behavior of the non-scientist characters. Weyland is nuts, and willing to believe anything and throw outrageous amounts of money at it. Anything he is responsible for is therefore suspect. Vickers has mentally checked out of the situation because she thinks everyone else is crazy. And she's right, with one exception. Janek, the captain of the Prometheus. He not only seduces Vickers and ultimately sacrifices himself to save Earth (making him the hero of the story), but with the limited data available comes up with a plausible theory to explain the Engineers and the pyramid. This theory is presented in such a way that I think it was added after test screenings, to try and eliminate some of the WTF of the movie. But, as he's the only character with redeeming qualities, let's roll with it.

The theory - that the planet is a bio-weapons manufacturing facility - fits in nicely with one of the leading fan theories behind the origin of the titular xenomorphs from the Alien series.

That fan theory goes that what we would now call the Engineer's spaceship that was discovered on LV-426 by Dallas, Kane and Lambert was transporting the xenomorph eggs as a form of bio-weapon, but the "space jockey" pilot was infected. Knowing he was doomed he broadcast a warning, which was later detected by the Nostromo's computer. There are numerous variations on the theory due to ambiguity in the film itself; it's unclear if the "egg chamber" is intended to be part of the ship or below it - if the latter, then the alien that hatched from the "space jockey" somehow laid the eggs, possibly using the ship's crew. (This was before James Cameron introduced the queen concept in Aliens.) But let's stick with the fan theory as stated, which apparently Scott has now embraced.

So, what is the actual story of Prometheus?


Circa 40kya, an extra-terrestrial species we'll call the Engineers had a star-faring civilization. Some of them were engaged in bio-weapons research on a moon that humans would later identify as LV-223.

At least one of their starships visited Earth, and found an intelligent species (homo sapiens) that was capable of communication, oral history, and visual recordings. These "ancient aliens" they gave various groups of humans the star map to LV-223, hoping that eventually humans would develop starflight and come for a visit. Many motivations are possible; a benevolent one would be "come and visit!". A self-serving one would be "visit our fabulous space mall!". Another, hinted at in the film, is "come be test subjects in our bio-weapons facility!". The true reason is unknown. The location of Earth is recorded in the Engineer's computers.

Possibly around this time, one of the Engineers has a bit of an accident on some planet with a bio- or nano-tech device, which disintegrates him. Oops. The connection between this event and the rest of the story is unclear.

The bio-weapons research on LV-223 involves a wide variety of form factors, from "black slime" (borrowed from The X-Files...) to snakey things to squidy things with lots of teeth. They appear to be incredibly adaptable, have complex life cycles, and reproduce within a variety of target species.

Heavily implied is that, around this time, an Engineer ship from this facility transporting one of the many bio-weapon variants crashes on a planetoid that humans will later identify as LV-426 (or Acheron), after the pilot is infected and killed.

At some later point, an accident occurs in one of the bio-weapons facility on LV-223. Panic grips the Engineers, and nearly all present are killed. At least one survives in stasis.

For unknown reasons, over the next 40,000 years the Engineer civilization ceases to operate in space near Earth and leaves no easily discovered artifacts.

Circa 2089, humans discover the star map and visit LV-223. They enter the facility and run afoul of the bioweapons, due to their own poor decision-making, incompetence, and malicious actions of a self-serving artificial life form. The Engineer in stasis is revived and, for unknown reasons, wants to travel to the humans' home planet. The humans, calculating that this is a tremendous risk, sacrifice their own ship to disable the Engineer's ship. The Engineer and all but one human are killed. The artificial life form is damaged but remains functional.


I don't think this diverges much from either the intent of the film-makers or anyone else's interpretation except where Engineers are given a role in the evolution of life on Earth. Knowing that the characters in the film making such a claim are poor scientists at best, and believed only by a desperate (but rich) fool makes it easier to discount, despite the claims of the film-makers.