Can Prometheus Build On Mystery Without Killing It?

I’m off to see this years Big Sci-Fi Film, Prometheus, tonight. Naturally, I want to write about what I make of it, but I also want to write about my pre-conceptions and expectations before I go in, so you, gentle reader, know what sort of lens I was viewing the film though (aside from those of my 3D glasses).

I’m not sure I can think of a movie that’s been in as unique a situation as Prometheus. It marks the return to science fiction of acclaimed director Ridley Scott, whose last foray was, if memory serves, Blade Runner. It also sees him return to the fictional universe that put him on the map: that of the movie, Alien.

While the word “prequel’ hasn’t actually been used in Prometheus’ marketing, many pundits agree that this film is set before the events of Alien in that world’s chronology.

In trailers thus far, we’ve seen an alien vessel nigh-identical to the derelict spacecraft from that film. We’ve heard a TED talk from ten years in the future, where Guy Pearce portrays Sir Peter Weyland, a man who sees humanity as new gods and has a vision for changing the world.

And we’ve watched promotional material for the eighth version of David, a robot all but indistinguishable from humanity save for his white blood (as was the circulatory fluid of the androids Ash and Bishop) and rather detached personality, built by Weyland Industries, presumably one half of what becomes the Weyland-Yutani Corporation in James Cameron’s sequel, Aliens.

The only thing missing, it would seem, is the eponymous hostile organism itself.

Yet Ridley has been at pains to explain that his film isn’t a true prequel; instead, it borrows from the DNA of Alien.

What does that mean? Surely, it’d be more savvy to actually market this film as part of the Alien storyline and draw the longtime fans back in to see where it all began? Show us just where the mysterious Space Jockey, pilot of the crashed vessel whose hold was filled with those horrid eggs? Return a species made increasingly silly by Alien: Resurrection and the Alien Vs. Predator films to its former, terrifying glory?

Well, there’s what the smart money would say. And then, there’s a man who’s made his money on using the realms of science fiction to tell stories that actually make us think.

That’s what I’m looking forward to when I see Prometheus tonight. I’m expecting this movie to play on science fiction fans’ sense of the familiar in order to show us something perhaps uncomfortable about ourselves, make our expectations serve its story.

The dessicated corpse from Alien, known colloquially as the Space Jockey. Image from

Do those expectations exist? I think so. Having frequented SF boards and forums for a while, I’ve notice that whenever the Aliens come up, discussion of the mystery of the Space Jockey is rarely far behind. What is this dead being? What did it want? Are the Aliens creations of its people? Why was it carrying their eggs in its hold? Were they intended as weapons?

Yet I’ve found that revealing the supposed truths behind a mystery cheapen them somehow. I remember reading the sequel novels to Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the great black Monoliths that uplifted the apes that were Humanity’s ancestors and took astronaut David Bowman beyond the borders of the known became von Neumann machines, then servers for artificial intelligences. The entity that was once Bowman went from a Star Child to a downloaded construct who helped hack the Monoliths with a virus. And something, some sense of wonder, of mystery, of the vast cosmos’ great ineffableness was lost along the way.

While I think that Prometheus will shine new light on the Space Jockey and its relationship with humanity, I don’t think that we detail-obsessed SF fans are going to get what we think we want.

And after getting our fingers burned by the comic-book match-up of Alien Vs. Predator and the disappointing prequels to the Star Wars Trilogy, I think that’s a good thing.

What do I hope to get out of Prometheus?

Well, entertainment (in that peculiar definition of suspense and horror as entertainment), of course.

But I’m hoping to see a writer, author and performers create memorable characters whose natures are tested in interesting ways. I’m hoping to get more of that Ridley Scott speculation and visual poetry that he did so well in Alien and Blade Runner.

I’m hoping to come out of that cinema… well, maybe a little different than I was when I came in.

Certainly with more to chew on, think about, discuss than the popcorn fare I’ve been getting out of mainstream science fiction lately (which maybe only says I need to be catching up on films like Sunshine instead of the Transformers movies).

Here’s hoping…

What do you hope to get out of Prometheus?

For my thoughts on the film after watching, click here!

Featured image sourced from