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**8,500+ hits (as of Apr ’14) from around the world to this post, which was written when it first opened in theaters. Please do answer poll. Thanks**
The writer William Gibson recently tweeted (@GreatDismal) that he’s also noticed strong and divided opinions about Director Ridley Scott’s new science fiction spectacular, Prometheus, in theaters now.
Gibson tweeted on June 14th: “Split on Prometheus (which I haven’t seen) is vast and deep, with smart friends on both sides. In that situation, there’s often something going on with the dichotomy.”
Similar critique surrounded Scott’s Alien three dozen years ago and Bladerunner received the same treatment when it came out in 1982; the producers felt disrespected. On the DVD of the Director’s cut, with commentary, one of them snarls that Gandhi won the award for Best Costume Design over Bladerunner that year.
What if Ridley Scott’s worst crime is he’s a visionary unable to express ideally within the constraints of Hollywood’s demands and thus left us with a mess to interpret? Over the years in sci-fi we’ve considered far less quality product with far more attention.
Here’s excerpts of interviews with screenwriter Damon Lindelof and some actors from the film (not Ridley Scott, who is pretty closed-mouthed), that reveal a lot of this movie was edited out for the time constraints of Hollywood’s ‘Summer Blockbuster Marketing Mentality’.
This certainly has contributed to the confusion. Lindelof goes so far as to say that in Hollywood they just don’t want a movie to last more than two hours. The run-time is 2:03.
Frustrated fans have a right to be upset if this is true. A story takes time to tell. Marketers and groovy executives must be kept out of the calculation when it comes to run-time.
We’ll see if future extended versions and Director’s cuts of Prometheus flesh out the film. I propose we have to work harder to imagine the story wholly, but that it’s worth it.
To describe the story in Prometheus, Alien and Aliens taken together, I’ll use both my own writing and plot synopses written by others. [Prometheus from IMDB by WellardRockard; Alien by Colin Tinto].
Please respond to this poll of your thoughts on the film:
The “Other” Comments
Nine poll respondents used “other” to comment:
“both awesome and full of shortcomings,”
“Intense, positive for sure, but lacks full disclosure. Leave em wanting more?!”
“amazing brilliant movie.”
“Expecting more than a thinly disguised Alien remake.”
“Lot of plot holes and overall inconsistencies”
“Great. and visual!”
“I fell Asleep Watching it “
Ridley Scott is an avant-garde of the first two decades of multi-episode, scalar, sci-fi sagas.
I say Ridley Scott is avant-garde in the context of a continuum of sci-fi film-making that begins with Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and then, only after nearly a decade of Planet of the Apes (1968) sequels, moves on to Lucas’ Star Wars and Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), before Alien (1979) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and finally Bladerunner, The Thing and E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). Spielberg’s hand was what made the genre more popular until Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) and Aliens (1986) come along and blow it up.
In Alien, his breakout, Ridley Scott established a unique and very specific blueprint: a slow build with the first half of the film to establish grand settings and an ensemble of characters within an immense context and then a hell ride for the second half of the film to its fantastic, terrorizing conclusion.
Perhaps Scott’s failing, if it can be called that, is avant-garde-ism coupled with a density of information that startles and cows some contemporary viewers, preventing appreciation of the work the first time through.
A second major problem seems to be an issue of control over editing. Screenwriter Damon Lindelof was meant to bring human dimension to Scott’s immense vision, but it sounds like much of the tempo and dialogue required to do this ended up on the cutting room floor.
It requires imagination to appreciate imagining of this scale and one has to have two things to enjoy the movie: a willingness to wholly go on the ride, and active interpretation of subtle motivations described in a limited fashion by the cut.
I’m definitely eager for the Director’s Cut, which I hope will be a vastly improved film.
(editorial note: the death of Ridley Scott’s brother, Tony, within weeks of the release of Prometheus, must have interrupted any post-release work)
The Grand Plot Begins on Earth Before the Dawn of Man
Human life on Earth began millennia ago because a being – perhaps twice human-size, capable of interstellar travel and to whom we refer hereafter as an Engineer – drank something toxic and died while visiting Earth, collapsing into a waterfall.
I gather this from the title sequence of Prometheus. This Engineer’s DNA co-mingled with the primordial soup to jump start evolution and ultimately to create us: smaller, weaker, less advanced versions of the Engineers. It is unclear whether this is a purposeful act, but the pain the Engineer endures in disintegrating implies not.
An oblong shape is seen above him in the sky – a ship? It appears to be getting smaller, leaving? I wondered whether he was being left here to commit suicide?
2089 A.D., Humans Discover the Engineers
A series of ancient cave paintings are found all over Earth, each depicting one of these oversized human figures (the Engineers) pointing upward to a constellation pattern. In the year 2089, archaeologist couple Elizabeth Shaw and her boyfriend Charlie Holloway discover this star map among ruins and archaeological sites of several otherwise unconnected ancient cultures.
Shaw and Holloway divine a location in space to associate with the star pattern. The two interpret this as an invitation from humanity’s forerunners – an interpretation which may or may not be one of many misreadings in the grand narrative.
Throughout his career, Ridley Scott has succeeded in imbuing contemporary human hubris onto our future behavior, making viewers unsure whether the actions and opinions of any of his characters, save Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in the Alien films, are sound.
The events of the film Prometheus take place between 2089 and 2094. Shaw and Holloway are hired to lead an expedition to the theorized location depicted in the cave drawings,a moon that orbits the immense ringed-planet LV-223. They achieve interstellar travel via cryogenic suspension with the crew of the ship USS Prometheus.
2093, the Prometheus plot
Peter Weyland, the elderly founder and CEO of the Weyland Corporation, funds the creation of the scientific deep space research vessel USS Prometheus to follow the cave painting maps to a distant moon orbiting the planet LV-223, many light years from Earth.
The ship’s crew travels in stasis at light speed while the android David stays awake, pilots the craft, studies ancient languages in order to translate for possible interactions with humanity’s makers, and monitors the passengers in cryo-sleep on their voyage, going so far as to read their dreams.
Note: One flaw is that if LV-223 is, as stated, many light years away and the Prometheus arrives in just over two years, the craft must have traveled faster than the speed of light to cross the distance in space between Earth and LV-223. This remains unexplained and mere cryo-stasis is not sufficient to explain it. It can only be a maximum of two light years away. (wormholes?)
The android David, the scientist Shaw and the CEO Weyland are direct parallels as characters to the androids Ash and Bishop; to Ripley; and to the Company in the Alien films. These tropes are significant on multiple levels because Scott makes use of the image we have of these characters. He constructs them to be knocked about so we can see a range of human experience – and in so doing, he acknowledges, subtly, sci-fi blockbusters of the past.
In David, one senses not only Ash and Bishop, but also the cold, insouciant, horrifying spirit of HAL from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey; in Shaw, the naive wonderment of Jodie Foster’s Ellie Arroway in Contact meets Ripley’s stubborn righteousness; and in Weyland, we’ve the aging hubris of Jurassic Park‘s Jon Hammond, played so deliciously by Richard Attenborough, and the billionaire boys’ club attitude, ever-forward pushing like Contact‘s S.R. Hadden, as played by Jon Hurt. There’s a movie sci-fi continuum.
Here, Weyland is portrayed by Guy Pierce as a cold, calculating, demanding CEO, the inventor (of David) and aging corporate raider obsessed with extending his own life above all other concerns.
In Prometheus, there’s continuity of feeling with Alien and Aliens, and nuanced shades of many science fiction films and characters of the recent past, but there remains a doomed feeling throughout that much of our human spirit is weak and flawed. Maybe that’s why people don’t like it.
The principle criticism I hear from fans so far, who like the work in general, is that the characters are not developed. Very few of the characters are given much depth, and it’s painfully obvious that the “Hollywood Summer Blockbuster” cut is brutal. One has to imagine a lot, and much if it isn’t good. That’s not easy and folks don’t like doing it.
That said, the relationship between Shaw and Holloway is the most explored. It’s revealed that she has faith in Christ and that he is an atheist. In making their discovery Holloway chides Shaw about her faith. She claims to be unfazed, a believer. This is what Weyland saw in her.
Holloway, her atheist colleague and lover is, for his part, unbothered, he loves her and would do anything to pursue her interests. Holloway’s faithless willingness to do anything leads to his doom.
In 2093, the ship arrives in the orbit around LV-223. This is not the same planet first seen in Alien (1979) and in Aliens (1986) as confirmed by Ridley Scott in an interview on Friday June 1st on BBC radio 5 live.
Alien is set on LV-426, or Acheron, while Prometheus is set on a moon of LV-223.
After being awakened from hibernation, the crew are informed of their mission to find the ancient aliens, the “Engineers”. They also view a holographic message from Weyland himself, which tells them that he, Weyland, has since died, but that he has funded the mission under the direction of the scientists.
The Weyland hologram introduces Shaw and Holloway to the others, and the two explain what they have discovered and their intention to respond to what they perceive of as an invitation from humanity’s creators.
The other scientists are agog at the scale of the mission and the geologist Fifield and biologist Milburn express real skepticism. Mission director Meredith Vickers orders all present to avoid any direct contact if the Engineers or any other aliens are found.
The Prometheus lands near an alien structure and a team including Shaw, Holloway, and David explores it, while Vickers and Captain Janek remain aboard the ship and monitor their progress.
Flying drone scanners are employed to zoom through the immense curved structure beaming red, analytical light across the interior surface and allowing 3d mapping to be simulated as a visual model back on Prometheus and the data to be shared among the scientists simultaneously – rad.
The explorers find breathable air within the alien structure, discover hundreds of vase-like artifacts and a monolithic statue of a humanoid head. Other bodies are later found, and the Engineers are presumed to be extinct.
Using his polyglothic array of ancient languages, David sorts out how to use the controls for projectors within the structure and makes visible 3-Dimensional video replays of the final moments of the Engineers.
The replays show the oversized human beings, the Engineers, running through the structure, and yield valuable archaeological perspective of the events that led to the death of one of them, who tripped and was decapitated by a fast closing doorway. When David rapidly interprets the commands etched in a wall beside where this occurred, and opens the door, they find the actual large humanoid head of the Engineer behind it.
A rapidly approaching storm forces the crew to return to the Prometheus. Shaw insists they take the Engineer’s head back to the ship with them and they barely make it back alive. A biologist and geologist, Milburn and Fifield are stranded in the structure after becoming lost trying to find the way out.
David, the android, meanwhile, returns to Prometheus with one of the vases, while back in the structure, apparently induced by the presence of the away team, dozens of the remaining vases begin leaking black, gooey liquid. Small worm-like creatures are seen writhing in the goo – there’s life here. Upon entry the vases were dry and clean. Something about the entry of these people here has begun what is occurring with the vases, which the scientists told David to avoid.
David secretly bringing the vase back is the first of three covert acts that make us question his motivations.
In the ship, Shaw and medic Ford analyze the Engineer’s head, bringing it to life with electrostatic shock. They find some kind of disease, illness or growth on the surface of the head, which comes to life and endures a lifelike pain and exacerbation of the skin growth, eventually rupturing, causing the head to explode. “Mortal, after all,” remarks the android David.
Taking a sample of the tissue, Shaw discovers that the DNA of the Engineer is identical to that of the human race, confirming our relationship to these predecessors.
Note: this DNA match makes no sense whatsoever – if it is an exact match then, they would be, essentially us, and since they are in fact different from us in size, it seems likely there would be some difference in genetic structure.
Meanwhile, revealing an unnamed covert purpose, David investigates the vase he has secretly brought aboard and discovers a vial containing a black liquid.
David removes a drop of the black, organic goo within and puts it on his finger. There’s a beautiful ECU of David’s finger – instead of prints he has the Weyland logo subtly carved into his fingertip.
Earlier in the film, during stasis, we see David standing over the cryochambers and realize that he is able to see into the dreams of the sleeping passengers. Now, we see him again standing over a passenger. It is unclear who is within the chamber, but someone on the mission has not yet been awakened. David is communicating with the person in stasis.
Vickers confronts David about this, asking, “What did he say?” To which David initially responds “He” wouldn’t want David to tell her, but pressed by Vickers physically, responds the message from “him” was “Try harder.”
While it’s unclear to whom they’re referring, the fact that it’s Weyland, Vickers employer, who created David, is inescapable. Vickers intimacy implies a deeper connection between her and to whomever David is communicating.
David’s android reasoning is revealed further by this conversation; caught by his Master’s need for secrecy, he cannot lie to Vickers and yet cannot tell her the whole truth. This is the first of David’s conundra that result in unusual behavior.
Two Possible Directives Explaining David’s Behavior
Weyland is directing David to act from within the cryochamber via both some kind of direct communication and David’s ability to read the dreams of the sleeping passengers.
There are two basic directives:
1. to find a living Engineer; take Weyland to the Engineer, and convey Weyland’s wishes for immortality.
2. David is also being told to explore the organic goo and the parasitic creatures found aboard the Engineer’s ship – for the purposes of Weyland’s corporate goals.
These two directives are being interpreted by a first-generation, one-of-a-kind synthetic human, who:
a. is instructed by its maker to both function covertly and serve the mission of the Prometheus.
b. is a prototype and predecessor by 29 years of the android Ash, who was also programmed to act covertly in Alien aboard the Nostromo (which the Company calls a malfunction), and by 81 years of the softer, safer version of synthetic person, Bishop in Aliens.
c. has spent two years interpreting the dreams and thoughts of Weyland, Shaw and the entire crew bound to meet their maker, all while studying human culture and ancient human culture.
Long before the Prometheus arrives at LV-223, questions of identity abound for David.
Upon opening the vase and taking a drop of the liquid for his own analysis, David realizes that to follow through on the second directive he must infect a passenger.
David’s scene with Holloway in the billiard room is an excellent example of an android reasoning out how to proceed with the problem of his orders being covert. He asks Holloway a series of leading questions meant to bring Holloway to implicit approval of David’s plan to infect him.
The dialogue ends with David saying,”Then it’s time for a drink” – only then does David infect Holloway by briefly tapping the tiny black drop of the gooey substance on his finger into a glass of champagne he has poured.
Android reasoning – David gets Holloway’s tacit approval for experimenting upon him. It is subtle but clearly by design and only after a series of statements and questions that David allows himself to deposit the drop in Holloway’s glass.
Holloway downs it,”Here’s mud in yer eye, pal.” It’s such a Deckard line – most of my friends think it cheesy, I love it.
David predates Ash by 29 years and Bishop by 81 years. He is also a unique, a one-off – the first, a prototype. There is little compassion in him, little emotion. His quirk of having a fascination for one single human movie – Lawrence of Arabia – is hyper-constructed and yet gives him so little sweetness. The android is calculating and emotionless in 2093.
Shaw and the infected Holloway have sex. It is revealed that Shaw is sterile. Holloway follows her blindly and experiments wildly alongside. He loves Shaw and takes her as she is, a believer, a Christian, unable to bear children. He truly loves her and would be led by her to the end of the universe, to this Godforsaken place.
Holloway later looks in a mirror and sees his eyes are changing – mud in his eye – first evidence that he has been poisoned with the black goo by David. He still does not know how he came to be infected.
Meanwhile, trapped back inside the structure by the storm, Fifield and Milburn meet and are attacked by snake-like creatures which invade their suits, their skin and their minds. The slithery tentacle-like snakes have a bulbous head of folded skin that unfolds to reveal a triangular head with gaping mouth and teeth.
Note: just as in Alien, the first appearance of the ‘monster’ isn’t until one hour and one minute into the film. Scott’s blueprint is intact.
The snakes penetrate first the suit and then the skin of Milburn, who is killed, and perhaps made a host for an embryo – the snake goes into his mouth. A corrosive fluid (yellow acid blood) from one of the creatures melts Fifield’s helmet, exposing him to the dark liquid leaking from the vases. The “acid for blood” immediately recalls to mind the facehugger in Alien.
The crew returns to the Engineer’s structure after the storm passes to find Milburn’s corpse and no sign of Fifield.
David, meanwhile, separates from the others and discovers an immense cargo hold filled with the goo-filled vases. Though he is connected digitally to the Prometheus and specifically to Vickers, David intentionally severs this connection, revealing for the second time a covert intent.
In another room David discovers a living Engineer in stasis and video replays that allow him to see a holographic star map of the universe. The map highlights Earth.
Then David discovers the bridge of what is obviously a spacecraft. We’ve seen this huge, C-shaped ship with a giant chair in it already. It’s the one occupied by the skeletal remains of an oversized humanoid pilot with its rib cage pushed out in Alien and Aliens.
David learns how to operate the craft from the videos of the extinct Engineers, and how to liberate the living Engineer from cryostasis. He does all of this alone, cut off from the Prometheus, adding to the aforementioned covert mystique.
This is a trillion-dollar, private, corporate expedition and there are unseen hands at play – the undead Peter Weyland is acting through the robot David. We come to realize that Weyland is in cryogenic stasis and that David has been communicating with him throughout. The agent behind David’s covert activity becomes more clear.
David can thus be seen as part of a progression in robot design over 81 years – from David to Ash in 29 years of development and from Ash to Bishop in 57 more years. But he is also the first, a unique, like HAL. Weyland’s crowning achievement in synthetic people, like HAL, is subject to philosophizing, wonderment, and devious, purposeful action in the pursuit of its directives.
Holloway’s infection rapidly ravages his body, and he is rushed back to the ship. Shaw doesn’t understand why he is sick and no one else is. As he visibly deteriorates, Vickers, holding a flamethrower and standing at the ramp to the Prometheus refuses to let Holloway aboard. Holloway is in immense pain and finally he steps forward demanding she kill him. Vickers immolates him at his request.
Shaw is shattered, and stunned because she does not know how her lover was exposed singularly. She doesn’t know David gave him the black goo in his champagne. She doesn’t understand what is happening. Her naivety takes its major slam in the face. This, of course, is very reminiscent of Ripley’s experience in the Alien films and it’s horrifying and emotional.
To make matters much worse, a medical scan reveals that Shaw, despite being sterile, is in an advanced state of pregnancy impregnated with an alien creature that in 10 hours has grown to the size of a basketball and is still growing, all as a result of having sex with Holloway who has been poisoned by David with the black goo. David – removed, eerie, in the revelatory moment says, “Well, Doctor Shaw, it’s hardly a traditional fetus,” then – HAL-like, Ash-like – attempts to subdue her.
One feels obvious parallels here: Weyland has instructed David to return Shaw to Earth in stasis as a container for the creature which he considers a biological weapon. It’s exactly what the Company, Ash and Burke hope to do with Ripley and the crew of the Nostromo and Ripley and Newt, in 30 and again 87 years in the future from these events.
But Shaw, like Ripley, escapes and uses an automated surgery pod to cut a cephalopod-like creature from her abdomen. It’s a female parallel to crewman Kane’s stomach-rip in Alien in some weird way.
The scene is epic: The robotic, automated surgery chamber, a gurney in a tube, uses spray-on anaesthetic, robotic hands and metal clamps to fold back Elizabeth’s belly skin. A small robotic crane enters her exposed gut and brings out the placenta-covered, squid-like creature which then emerges, alive, spraying pre-birth from within its amniotic sac all over her. The machine closes Shaw with a staple gun, while the tentacled squid-thing flops angrily above her, held tenuously by the robotic crane arm.
Note: The idea that a machine capable of conducting such COMPLEX, delicate operations on human beings would somehow not be designed for males and females is ridiculous.
Shaw escapes crawling out from under it and, stumbling around like a little girl who has had everything horrible revealed to her, discovers Peter Weyland alive, sitting calmly on a bed, being waited upon by his doting robot.
Shaw realizes Weyland has been alive the whole time in stasis aboard the ship. She finds him and the cold, bemused David – who considers her resilient for surviving the implantation of an alien within her – preparing to meet the Engineer.
David is an excellent predecessor to the androids Ash and Bishop of Alien and Aliens, colder, more calculated, less concerned about human beings than either. He dotes on his creator, who made him singularly and treats him like a son.
Weyland and David explain to Shaw that Weyland intends to ask the Engineer to help him avoid his impending death. The subtle devotion that David has for Weyland, the blind following, reveals much about his actions in the film thus far.
Outside the Prometheus, a mutated Fifield attacks the hangar bay and kills several crew members before being killed himself. Janek sees what is happening and theorizes that this moon is actually a facility where the Engineers designed weapons. He proposes it was a military base until they lost control of their biological weapon: the vases and the black fluid they contain.
Vickers attempts to stop Weyland from going through with his plan. She tells him he will be killed. Weyland is stoic even as, in departing, Vickers calls him father and the connections are all made clear. Weyland’s invented a son in David and abandoned his connection to his daughter. Vickers grew up hating the old man – something David takes to be normal in all humanity – “Doesn’t everybody hate their parents?” he asks Shaw.
Weyland, David, Shaw and Ford return to the structure to awaken the Engineer David discovered in cryogenic stasis. It becomes clear that the Engineer is occupying a space ship (the same design as the crashed alien space ship seen on LV-426 in Alien and Aliens). It’s a spaceship with a cargo hold filled with toxic chemical and biological weapons that can destroy whole worlds with parasitic aliens.
David shows Weyland, Shaw and Ford the bridge and cryo-chambers of the Engineer. He then wakes the Engineer from cryogenic sleep. This is the moment Weyland and Shaw have been waiting for: to meet our maker. But now, after all that has happened, each has very different requests.
The immense Engineer slowly comes to its wits from hypersleep and attempts to understand the small human beings before it. Shaw, realizing Janek is right, screams in English “Ask him what’s in his Cargo Hold?” Why is he taking it to Earth?” and then at the Engineer: “Why do you want to kill us? What have we done?”
Before the Engineer can respond, the selfish and decrepit Weyland has Shaw silenced to put forth his android, his son – the perfect specimen of human likeness, capable of speaking in multiple languages, indeed having translated those of the Engineer to learn the controls of the craft and its devices – to explain his purpose.
The Engineer responds by decapitating David and killing Weyland and Ford. Shaw escapes the alien ship as it is activated for launch by the Engineer. Weyland dies, pathetic, broken. Vickers, observing from aboard the Prometheus, and hearing the flatline confirming the death of her father Weyland, orders Janek to return to Earth.
The still-active David lies disembodied on the floor of the Engineer’s craft, but maintains contact with Shaw and now begins to tell what he knows. The craft begins to initiate take-off and Shaw is hurled from within the ship and crawls and runs across crevasses created by the launching of the immense craft.
It’s a scene that mimics the headless Ash being brought back to tell the crew of the Nostromo what is actually happening to them in Alien. David’s severed body and still-conversant head are similar to the final state of the android Bishop of Aliens as well, who ends divided yet able to cling to the floor of the Sulaco and grab Newt to save her from being thrown out the airlock. It’s as if the fate of all Scott’s androids is a milky decapitation.
David reveals to Shaw that the Engineer is starting up the ship and is intending to release the vases of black goo on Earth. She hears David and tries to warn Vickers and Janek that the ship is headed to Earth with the intention of killing off humanity.
Vickers, aboard the Prometheus, orders Janek to return to Earth, but this is the Captain’s shining moment. Janek, in a brief exchange with Shaw, assesses the threat to humanity if they allow the Engineer’s ship to leave. He defies Vickers and tells her to abandon ship if she doesn’t want to die. While Vickers flees in an escape pod, Janek and his crew, straight-forward, no-nonsense and generally non-involved in the mission throughout, save humanity by crashing the Prometheus into the Engineer’s ship as it attempts to take off.
The disabled ship of the Engineer crashes onto the planet, falling onto Vickers, crushing her. The ship continues to tumble and nearly crushes Shaw, but she escapes.
Shaw goes to the escape pod to get oxygen and retrieve supplies and finds her alien offspring has grown to gigantic size. The Engineer survives the crash, enters the escape pod and attacks Shaw, who releases the tentacled creature. It subdues the Engineer by thrusting a tentacle down its throat. When the Engineer falls with the immense tentacled creature atop him, the creature looks very much like the “facehuggers” in the Alien films.
David, still functioning and decapitated, lying on the floor of the bridge of the downed spacecraft, communicates with Elizabeth Shaw who lies, crying on the moon’s rocky desolate surface. David says he would like her help, that if she can collect him and carry him, he could help here to leave this place because there are other crafts like this one on the moon.
Shaw recovers David’s remains from the alien ship, and asks if he can operate the craft. He responds that he can fly them back to Earth.
Shaw asks if he can fly them to the place of origin of the Engineers and he says that he can. Together they activate another Engineer ship. Shaw and the remains of android David then take off to travel to the Engineers’ homeworld in an attempt to understand why they created humanity and why they attempted to destroy it.
In the final shot, back in the Prometheus escape pod, the immense tentacled facehugger has died (just like the facehuggers do after implanting the embryos in Alien) and the Engineer’s body begins to convulse. From within his chest emerges an alien (very similar but not the same as seen in later movies) The creature bursts out of the dying Engineer’s chest and we see the mouth within a mouth and familiar head structure and body shape of the “chestburster” xenomorphs in Alien.
2122, the Alien plot – 29 Years After Events of Prometheus
The events of Alien (1979) take place June 3rd to 6th in the year 2122 A.D.
USCSS Nostromo encounters what is assumed to be a distress signal emanating from the planetoid designated LV-426, in the Zeta-2-Reticuli system. Captain Dallas, Executive Officer Kane, and Navigator Lambert investigate a derelict spacecraft that contains the fossilised remains of an unknown alien species, and thousands of Xenomorph eggs. One of the xenomorph spore (‘facehugger’) attaches itself to Kane’s face and plants an embryo in his throat, which then hatches, killing the host. The hatchling (‘chestburster’) grows to over 7 feet tall and kills Dallas and Engineer’s Mate Brett.
Warrant Officer Ripley discovers that Weyland-Yutani want the Alien specimen and the crew of the Nostromo are expendable. It is revealed Science Officer Ash is in fact a Hyperdyne Systems 120-A/2 android, who has been protecting the Alien.
Chief Engineer Parker renders Ash inoperative when Ash attacks Ripley. Parker and Lambert are killed by the Alien whilst evacuating the Nostromo. Ripley rigs the ship to self-destruct and escapes on the shuttlecraft Narcissus with the ship’s cat Mr Jones. The Alien also escapes on the shuttle, but Ripley manages to blow it out of the airlock, effectively killing it.
Plot Summary of Alien (1979)
(scenes in red are only in the Special Edition)
Nostromo, a commercial towing-vehicle en route to Earth towing several million tons of mineral ore, carries a crew of seven: Captain Dallas, Executive Officer Kane, Warrant Officer Ripley, Navigator Lambert, Science Officer Ash, Chief Engineer Parker, and Engineering Technician Brett. When the story opens, the Nostromo is heading back to Earth.
A computer the crew calls “Mother” monitors the ship’s operations. Mother intercepts a strange signal from a nearby planetoid and wakens the crew. The crew believe at first that they’ve arrived at Earth, however, they quickly determine that they’re charged with investigating the strange signal, which is assumed to an SOS. Before they prepare the “tug” craft to land on the planet, crew members Brett and Parker argue that they’re not a rescue team and that they should be compensated for the extra work. Ash tells them that there is a portion of their working contract that states the crew must investigate any occurrences such as this one.
The tug portion of the Nostromo lands on the planet (with the ore and mining facilities left in orbit); the landing is rough, causing repairable damage that will take some time to fix. Dallas, Kane and Lambert leave the ship to investigate the signal, walking through the planetoid’s inhabitable atmosphere. They soon discover a derelict spacecraft of unknown origin, losing contact with the Nostromo upon entering the massive ship. Inside they find the remains of an enormous alien creature in the pilot chair, now fossilized. There is a hole in its ribcage, indicating that something burst out from inside its chest. Meanwhile, Ripley’s analysis of the unidentified transmission reveals that it is not an SOS, but a warning. Ripley wants to go after the search party but Ash talks her out of it.
Kane descends into a chamber beneath the pilot’s chair, discovering thousands of leathery objects that resemble large eggs. He also discovers a strange mist covering the eggs that reacts when broken. Moving in to investigate further, Kane illuminates one of the eggs from behind with a flashlight & discovers movement inside; a strange, spider-like organism is the resident. The egg opens, and as Kane moves into for a better look, the strange life form inside leaps out, dissolves the visor of Kane’s spacesuit, and attaches itself to his face.
Dallas and Lambert carry the unconscious Kane back to the Nostromo. Ripley, who is the commanding officer in the absence of Dallas and Kane, refuses to let them back on board, citing quarantine protocol. However, Ash disregards Ripley’s decision and lets them in.
In the infirmary Dallas and Ash attempt to remove the creature from Kane’s face, but they discover they cannot because it will tear Kane’s skin off. Kane is examined with sophisticated equipment which shows that the creature has inserted a tube into his throat and is feeding Kane oxygen despite his comatose state. Dallas makes the decision to remove the creature from Kane’s face, no matter the consequences.
When Ash tries to cut off one of its legs, a yellowish fluid pours out and begins to eat through the floor. Dallas is concerned that the acidic fluid will breach the hull, but it stops it’s corrosive effects. Dallas says the substance resembles molecular acid, and Brett comments the creature must be using it for blood. ‘Wonderful defense mechanism – you don’t dare kill it’, Parker growls. Kane is left in his coma and is tended to by Ash.
Ripley later confronts Ash about his defiance of her orders and allowing the alien organism onto their ship, which put all of their lives at risk. She distrusts him, as well as his seeming inability to give them any useful information about the creature. The damage to the tug is repaired by Brett and Parker, and the crew takes off and docks with the refinery & cargo in orbit. The Nostromo then resumes its course for Earth.
Eventually, the creature detaches from Kane’s face on its own and the crew find it dead. Kane wakes up, seemingly unharmed, and he and the crew decide to have one last meal before they re-enter hypersleep. During the meal, Kane begins to choke and convulse. While he lies on the table & the crew try to aid him, a new alien creature bursts from his chest. Parker moves in to kill it with a knife, and is stopped by Ash. The creature then scurries away, leaving the crew stunned and horrified.
After a short funeral for Kane, the crew members split up into two teams to capture the small creature. Ash rigs together a tracking device, while Brett assembles a weapon similar to a cattle prod. Picking up a signal, Parker, Brett, and Ripley think they have the creature cornered, only to discover the crew’s cat, Jones.
Realizing they might pick up the cat on the tracker again later, Parker sends Brett to catch Jones. As he searches for Jones, Brett finds a mysterious object that appears to be skin on the floor. He continues on, eventually catching up to Jones in a huge room. As he tries to coax Jones out, the cat hisses as a huge shape drops down behind the engineer. It is the alien, now fully grown and enormous, and it attacks him, dragging him, bloodied and screaming, into an air shaft. In the 2003 re-release of the film, Ripley and Parker hear him and arrive in time to catch a glimpse of the monster as Brett disappears.
The crew debate their next move. Ripley again questions Ash and his inability to give them helpful information. They all agree that the alien is using the air shafts to move around, so Dallas enters the network of air shafts with a flamethrower, intending to drive the alien into an airlock in order to blow it out into space. Using the trackers, the crew picks up the alien’s signal, but the signal vanishes, leaving Dallas unsure of the creature’s location. He finds the alien’s slime on the tunnel floor. Dallas is disoriented in the cramped space and starts to panic when the signal returns, indicating it is heading directly for him. In his attempt to escape, he runs right into the creature. The remaining crew members find only his flamethrower left behind.
Ripley queries Mother for advice on destroying the alien, but in the process discovers that “the company” (unnamed in this film, but identified in the sequels as “Weyland-Yutani”) had recognized the signal as a warning and wanted one of the alien creatures brought back for study, considering the crew expendable. This information is related in just four screen shots of text from Mother – an excellent scene.
Ash attacks Ripley after she learns of the Company’s “Special Order”, but Parker and Lambert arrive before he can kill her. Parker dislodges Ash’s head with a fire extinguisher, revealing Ash is an android. With Ash disabled, Ripley and the others reconnect his disembodied head to see if he can give them any advice on how to deal with the creature. Ash tells them they have no chance against it, as it is “the perfect organism”.
Ripley decides to follow Lambert’s earlier suggestion; set the Nostromo to self-destruct & escape in the shuttle, leaving the Alien to die on the Nostromo. As they leave the room, Parker turns the flamethrower on Ash’s corpse to ensure he will not be re-activated and come after them. While Ripley preps the shuttle for launch, Parker and Lambert go to gather coolant for the shuttle’s life-support system.
On the ship’s open intercom system, Ripley hears the cat and realizes Jones has been left behind. Alone, she goes out into the hallways of the Nostromo to find him. Expecting the alien at every turn, Ripley finally locates the cat and puts him into his traveling container. She then hears the sounds of the alien attacking Parker and Lambert in another part of the ship, and Parker shouting orders to Lambert to get out of the way. The alien corners Lambert against a wall, but Parker is unable to get a clear shot at it with the flamethrower without killing Lambert. Finally he charges at the creature, but it spins on him and kills him with its bizarre inner jaws. It then turns back to Lambert and Ripley hears the sounds of it killing her as she rushes to try and save her friends. Ripley finds the bodies of Parker & Lambert in the storage room they had been working in, and then races back towards the bridge.
In another restored scene, Ripley finds Dallas in a storage chamber. He has been cocooned by the alien in an unidentifiable substance (the creature’s secretions) and very weakly begs Ripley to kill him. Ripley also sees Brett, already dead, whom appears to be transforming into another of the species’ eggs. Ripley burns them both with the flamethrower and rushes out of the chamber.
Ripley realizes she is now alone on board the Nostromo with the alien. She activates the ship’s self-destruct and races to the shuttle with Jones’ cat carrier. As she rounds the bend to the shuttle entrance, the alien suddenly leaps up, blocking her path. Ripley drops the cat carrier and backs up, racing back to abort the self-destruct function. Arriving at the bridge, she restarts the cooling unit, but ‘Mother’ states that it is too late to stop the countdown and the Nostromo will explode in 5 minutes.
Ripley returns to the shuttle loading area, ready to make her best attempt to fight off the alien and get to the lifeboat. The alien is nowhere to be seen, so Ripley and Jones board the shuttle with 1 minute to abandon ship. Quickly running through the launch sequence, the shuttle lowers to launch position as ‘Mother’ starts counting down the last 30 seconds of the Nostromo‘s life. The shuttle’s engines ignite and the ship races away from the Nostromo, which grows smaller by the second. A series of mighty explosions follow as the Nostromo vanishes in fire, destroying the refinery and ore it had been carrying – and apparently destroying the alien.
As Ripley prepares for hypersleep, a hand reaches out to her from a wall; the alien had in fact stowed away aboard the shuttle, its external physicality making it blend in with the ship’s machinery. She retreats to a locker with a pressure suit inside, and gets an idea. Ripley dons the spacesuit & arms herself with a gun & grappling hook, then straps herself into a chair. Opening a series of air vents above the alien’s head, Ripley tests them one at a time, and then finds one that directly blasts high-pressure steam onto the alien, driving it from its hiding spot. As the monster stands to its full, menacing 2-meter height, ready to attack with its piston-like inner throat & teeth, she opens the shuttle’s airlock, blasting the creature into space with the grappling gun. The door slams shut, trapping the alien outside.
Undaunted, the alien attempts to re-enter the ship by climbing inside one of the heat thrusters. Ripley sees the opportunity and fires the engines, incinerating the alien. Before she and Jones enter hypersleep for the trip home, Ripley records a log entry stating that she’s the last survivor of the Nostromo.
2179, the Aliens plot, 57 Years Later
The events of Aliens (1986) take place 57 years after the events of Alien (1979) in the years 2179 – 2182 and again on the planet LV-426.
There was a lack of leadership at the end of the century. We were all waiting to see what would happen next.
I remember where I was the day of the announcement. I was living in Brooklyn and the Yankees were in the pennant race. I was thirty-one and trying to make it as an actor or a writer, I didn’t care which.
It was October after a full moon and the air in the city had become cool. I didn’t own a television then. Usually I got the news from looking over somebody’s shoulder on the train, but that day it was impossible not to know; so I was in a bar.
My job was in Manhattan but I had a pretty kind commute – on the 7 – each morning. In the evenings I used to drink a lot, so often I took a cab home. The announcement was made during prime time.
I had been in the west village near Chelsea, so I headed East until I’d found myself in a suitably quiet place for a drink.
There were three others in the bar on my side, all men. The bartender was about my age, too. We checked each other out when I walked in but she wasn’t interested. Let me know with a glance. She was attending to us and going back to the telephone where she was involved in a casual conversation. That’s how we heard. She told us.
She was on the phone with her roommate, I discovered later, who told her to turn on the TV. The television was off when I walked in, which is why I walked all the way down the bar and sat by it. I was putting room between me and the other patrons and the bartender on her phone call. I didn’t feel like talking to anyone, just wanted a drink or two before going home.
She walked down the length of the bar toward me, though my glass was still half-full. “Jordan’s on ESPN,” she said as she passed me with an air of excitement. She reached up and turned on the TV.
I moved over to get some perspective and ended up next to one of the other guys.
“Perfect timing,” he was saying to his friend, “It’s storybook.”
We were all looking at the television for a moment as we realized at our own pace it was a commercial. Then we turned away from the TV to notice each other. The guy to my left was a know-it-all. Cliff Claven-type. His Norm was an appropriately fat guy to his left, who was listening, bored.
“There’s not gonna be any basketball this year – the league’s locked out,” says Cliffy, “It’ll be the first strike in NBA history. And look at this – Jordan’s going to retire before it gets ugly.” He looks at the both of us, including me in their space. “Storybook, man! The guy’s all class. His entire career. C-L-A-S-S, class.”
It seemed about right. We had all been waiting for the announcement, fans and not fans. We had been well-prepared by the rumours and gossip for the last few months. The other guy, Norm, wasn’t so sure about all the “class,” but he had his “favorite Jordan moment.”
“My company’s had floor-side Knicks seats for years,” he began, “I had finished doing the numbers for the annual report a few years ago and so they let me have the tickets, as a kind of a bonus, you know.”
The ad was for Nike – a long narrative about a couple of guys buying sneakers with all these idiotic effects meant to be impressive. They were playing one-on-one at what was meant to be an inner city court, but that looked more like a Hollywood lot – an appearance by Tiger Woods – hits a three-pointer with a golf club or something – stupid.
“Jordan was off in the first half, shot maybe four-for-15 from the field … just didn’t have his rhythm,” continued Norm, “But during the warm-ups before the second half – the Bulls were down at our end so I could see him up close – he seemed so casual. He was joking around and chewing his gum. He stopped during the shoot-around to sign some kid’s little plastic basketball at courtside.”
Norm turned to face us – making a little circle. He glanced over his shoulder at the TV to make sure it was still a commercial, before continuing. “Knicks were up five at the break and the second half started with Jordan bringing the ball down.”
“Here we go,” chimed in Cliffy, “never let Jordan bring the ball down up five at the beginning of the second half,” he said, as if that made any kind of sense. The Nike ad was followed by an ad for the new BMW convertible. It was being featured in a movie. Hot Babe racing at speeds meant to appear saucy, around curves on the Pacific Coast Highway – but it was stagey and excessive – a patina of production slathered across it.
“And it wasn’t that the rest of the game was so impressive – ‘cause he went 12 for 18 in the second half and ended up with 42 points, 8 boards and four steals on the night-”
“Wooooah!” chimed in Cliffy, “See? See?”
Norm continued: “But it wasn’t that. It was that first bucket after the second half started.” Norm looked at us both significantly. “He went coast-to-coast, juked twice and burned Starks and Oakley on the way to the rack for the slam. It was like he was waiting to turn it on and once it was on there wasn’t anybody to stop it.” We were all silent for a minute wishing we had that … when ESPN came back on.
“If the Yanks lose tomorrow, Joe Torre will have a decision on his hands – El Duque or Andy Pettite – but as Andy Schapp reports, the decision may have already been made.”
“Yanks better win the fuckin’ series,” I said. It was the first time I’d spoken to them and they noticed. I have a sort of a Mike Tyson voice problem. It’s sort of squeaky. I’m real aware of it now. I mean, at the time I hadn’t fully developed my speaking skills to use it to my advantage so there was always a minute or two when it freaked people out – a grown man. It’s really why I became a writer as opposed to going into say, radio … or television.
Cliff blew right by it. “Fuck yeah, the fucking Yanks better win the fucking series. Better win the world series, too. I mean, what the fuck? After the season they had? If they don’t win, heads will definitely roll.”
We talked about the Yanks for a minute as the time passed. I know, I know, it has to seem stupid now, but I mean, we had no idea what he was going to say. We were all just figuring he’d retire, we’d bullshit a bit and that’d be that … on to baseball. We were strangers in a shitty little bar in the East Village.
By now of course the video has been shown umpteen times. The stage set in Chicago and the introduction and all of it has been ingrained in our heads for as long as the little bitmaps will last in our memories. But let’s just review what he said, how he said it. I mean if we’re going to talk about a Legend, it’s good to be precise.
“Good evening, everyone. I’d like to make this as brief as possible, but there are many people to thank. I have played my entire career here in Chicago and I have always felt the deepest love for this city and the fans. It is without a doubt in my mind that these are the greatest fans in the world.”
He always had that sweet disarming way of saying something just a little – off – that still sounded so right and perfect coming out of his mouth. The man had skills.
“I have faced a lot of questions this past summer about my plans for the future and I have entertained all kinds of opportunities and thoughts on the matter of retirement. Frankly, I don’t want to give up basketball. I love this game.”
And that look, that smile, directly into the camera for the fans at home, for the commissioner of Basketball. It was perfect. He knew all along what he was doing. There was never a feeling of doubt that he was in control, only of wonderment that he was alive. It was like that on the court and afterward. He was a great leader.
“That is why I have to ask for your support at this critical and important time in my career. I need each and every one of my fans, everywhere in the world to know that I have enjoyed every minute of my career in the NBA. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And now I need something back from you. I need your continued support.”
It was at this point that we, I, anyway, began to wonder if he didn’t have a surprise in mind. I had thought it before of course, he was famous for them. But that night, I mean, he looked to the right and left, and then for a second it seemed like maybe he was changing his mind right there. Before letting us all in on the biggest move of his career, it still seemed like he had something else in store.
I remember the announcement and the introduction perfectly.
“I am retiring from the National Basketball Association. [smile. flash, flash, flash, flash,flash, flash]
I would like to thank everyone, but of course that’s impossible. Let me just re-iterate my thanks to the wonderful people here in Chicago and to my fans around the world.” He said things twice his entire career to emphasize his point in a different manner to get it across to as many channels of media on the spectrum as possible and was misunderstood by many as, “just being a jock,” – like Coltrane, Jordan was ahead of his time with the media.
“Again, I hope you will continue to support my efforts as I move on, away from the NBA and into public life in other ways.”
This was the stumper of course. He had every free male in the nation caught on by then that it wasn’t your average resignation. Cliff said, “What the fuck is he talking about? Not baseball again, jeez, the guy was a sub-200 hitter on a farm club for God’s Sakes.” Fickle, that Cliffy.
Then, the introduction:
“I would like to introduce now, my first partner in my new life after the NBA.”
When he walked out I swear you could have knocked me off my bar stool. I was totally confused. I had no explanation for what he was doing there. I quickly tried to add up scenarios that would bring the two of them together, but never in my wildest dreams could I have figured what would happen next.
“Ladies and Gentlemen … a boxer, a pugilist of world-reknown,” he said ‘pugilist’ carefully and playfully, like he had looked it up for the event, toyed with it for a while and then decided to keep it for the fun of it, and he gave us a smile when he continued, “the world’s greatest fighter in my book, and I challenge anyone to deny it: Ladies and Gentlemen, President Nelson Mandela of the Republic of South Africa.”
The flashbulbs made it impossible to see for a moment. Everyone was standing. Jordan must have made arrangements for the cameramen to be positioned, though, because the television audience had a clear view throughout the proceedings.
Then, he appeared. Mandela. It was such an incredible feeling to be watching it “live.” Mandela walked with such cool grace – slowly and stately past the podium to his seat beside Jordan.
Michael had effectively taken the spotlight off himself at the peak of his most significant hour. The entire experience was like watching a game. He was masterful, in control. And nobody was stopping him.
“Mr. Mandela and I would like to announce that effective immediately, I will be player-coach of the South African National Basketball team to participate in the year 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. I hereby invite my friends, colleagues and players from all over the world to tryout for the team that we will field in summer of 2000.
“I would also like to announce the creation of a new line of shoes, clothing and athletic wear designed for the new South African team by my own designers and to be manufactured by textile workers throughout Africa. All proceeds from the sales of these products – that’s 100% of the proceeds – will go, in two equal parts, first to the United Nations and second to a non-profit organization begun by President Mandela and myself toward the creation of a free, peaceful, healthy and well-developed Pan-Africa in the next millennium.”
I was numb. My ears. My ears were filled with a dull sensation that removed me from my surroundings. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t possibly sit. I stood. I hugged Cliff. I slapped Norm on the back. I pulled the bartender over the rail and kissed her full on the lips … and she hit me.
[I can’t even remember when Jordan retired now. He quit, came back, jammed again, quit, came back… managed the Wizards for a time, always plays great golf – a giant. I wrote this piece in 1998 after a conversation with a friend about why U.S. American sports stars don’t take more active political stances anymore (cf. Tommie Smith or Arthur Ashe or many others). It seems relevant today, but nostalgic, and weirdly attached to an era when television affiliates in every city in the USA was running simultaneous and continuous reruns of “Cheers!”- sometimes twice a day – rather than fill the spectrum with any diversity.]