I wrote a post Explaining Prometheus – What’s This Movie About? here.
Here, I attempt to answer common questions I’ve personally had or heard others asked about Prometheus below:
Why do many of the characters act so odd and foolish?
One of the most common (and legitimate) criticisms of Prometheus is the confusion over the bizarre choices many of the characters make in the film. The first time I watched the film, I couldn’t get over how foolish some of the characters seemed to be. These were scientists after all so why did they make decisions that went against any concept of science I am familiar with? First of all, upon subsequent viewings, the character issues were not as bad as I initially thought. Yes, there are some strange choices made in the writing but if you pay careful attention, in many cases, there is enough explanation in the script to justify the way the characters act.
There may have been an attempt on the part of the writers to try and show the full range of possible human emotions. They did a lot of this with David and several of the other characters take us through most of the conceivable emotions. So some character actions may be a bit forced to make that happen.
In the case of characters who were terrified, it could be explained that people generally do foolish things when confronted with issues they can’t comprehend.
Unfortunately, in the end, it is hard to defend some of the character choices as they appear to be there to service the overall plot of the story only.
Why does the script have Vickers escape from the ship only to die seconds later?
In following the theme, there is an inevitability of fate throughout the entire mission and so her demise seemed like a foregone conclusion but more likely, the writer’s wanted to illustrate the peril of being crushed so that seconds later, when Shaw is also crushed, we think she died as well before we have a few seconds of silence and hear her suit’s internal voice tell her that her oxygen supply is low.
Why does Millburn try to pet the Hammerpede when only hours before he was terrified of being there?
There may be some religious symbolism in the snake-like creature being interacted with by Millburn that would remind us of the serpent in the Garden of Eden that tempted Adam and Eve. In addition, it appears that Millburn had a very low self image (wore his hoody up as a social defense mechanism) and may have been trying to show off for Fifeld to gain his friendship (which he had attempted to do beforehand). There is always the theory that because Millburn was a biologist, he also may have assumed that all creatures were “good” in their natural state and felt he could back up or get away if there was perceived danger.
Why cast Guy Pearce to play an old man when an older actor would have been more believable?
Supposedly there were some scenes shot of the younger Weyland that would have required Guy to look his current age but were later cut from the film. Also, he was in some of the viral videos promoting the film as his younger self. Finally, it is believed that future sequels will involve Weyland’s younger self as flashbacks.
Why did Weyland wait to reveal himself to the crew?
Weyland doesn’t reveal himself to any of the crew (except David who already knows he is there and is communicating with him and Vickers who knew before the mission started that he was aboard) until almost the end of the film. In fact, Weyland even presents the mission to the crew as a hologram instead of waking up from his stasis chamber to interact with the crew directly. It is explained in the film by Weyland that he has only days or even hours left to live. So he is kept in stasis until the last possible moment when he is to go meet the Engineer. This gives him the best chance to prolong his last hours.
In addition, Weyland’s purpose (unlike the rest of the crew who are there for scientific research) is more nefarious and would probably not be something the crew would be supportive of.
Finally, the writer’s most likely had him withhold his presence in order to provide the “reveal” in the third act.
How can Shaw run and jump after having just had a painful Caesarean?
While not likely given our current technology, it is possible that in the future, medicine has come to a level for pain can be greatly reduced. We see Shaw administer a does of pain medication before the surgery, another during the surgery, and a final after the surgery. In addition, she takes several pills a while later and appears to have rested in the period between her collapse in front of Weyland and her conversation with Janek. Also, this is Hollywood science fiction so we can expect to suspend some level of disbelief for entertainment value.
What is the green slime David finds on the Engineer control panel when they first enter the Engineer’s ship?
Similar to the slime that gets on the hand of the air lock door operator in ALIENS, this is residue from a Xenomorph. He finds the slime on the controls, closes the door anyway and is killed by a Xenomorph which then kills the pilot of the ship and they crash before they can pick up Ripley/Hicks/Newt. In the case of Prometheus, the slime is there to give the audience clues as to what actually killed all of the Engineers that they find stacked up. It is most likely a Xenomorph attack.
Why did the holographic projections of the Engineers start randomly playing back?
When David entered the sequence of keys on the first control panel he found, the keys lit up and then there was a loud sound. The holograms played back based on David’s input on the control panel.
What were the Engineers running from in the holographic projections?
We never see what they were running from. One of the Engineers falls to the ground twice in trying to run away and is eventually decapitated by the pressure door. Because of the green slime David found on the control panel, we can assume they were running from one or more Xenomorphs.
Why was Vicker’s medical operating machine only programmed for a man?
The medical operation machine was not there for Vickers. It was to be used by her father, Weyland. The information that it was for a man only is meant to give the audience a hint of the later reveal that Weyland has been on the ship the entire time. It also provides suspense because in Shaw’s greatest time of need, she finds this set for a man only and must manually configure her operation to remove the fetus.
Why does Vickers say “Father” so awkwardly to Weyland?
It seems that Ridley felt it wasn’t obvious enough after seeing Vicker’s reaction at Weyland’s declaration that David was his closest thing to a son as well as the many other hints. So it was decided that it should be “more on the nose” about the parent relationship. It is one of the most cringe-inducing scenes in the film.
Why doesn’t anyone do or say anything when Shaw comes into the room with Weyland after her horrifying surgery?
Actually, this is not true. Weyland acknowledges her although he is more interested in his purpose there and to him, the crew is completely expendable. One of the other crew runs to her to help her up. David takes off his coat and wraps her in it and helps her to a chair. She then nods that she is okay. Later David remarks about the surgery. It appears the crew has much bigger things on their mind than what is happening to the distressed Shaw but she is definitely not ignored. That being said, the surgery scene is so psychologically distressing to the audience that we are practically demanding the characters to take more notice and that is why the character’s behavior seems so strange.
What happened to the two doctors in medical suits the Shaw hit over the head?
We do not see one of the doctors for the rest of the film. Judging from the size of the instrument that Shaw hit him with, he is assumed to have been knocked out and died in the crash of the Prometheus. Ford (the woman) later seems to be alright and comes with Weyland/Shaw/David to meet the Engineer. It can either be assumed that Ford and Shaw worked out the issue in the period after Shaw is taken back to her quarters (where she finds Holloway’s ring) or that there is a minor plot hole here.
Why is a flute used to operate the Engineer’s controls?
It probably seemed like a unique and interesting idea that hadn’t really been done before in a film of this type. It makes the controls more mysterious and would be something that is impossible for a Xenomorph to do (play a flute) most likely (if that was even a concern).
How can Fifeld get lost in the Engineer’s ship? He’s the one with the map right?
Fifeld is indeed the one who created the map using his “pups.” In fact, later, he uses a small device on his wrist to determine their exact location. So it is odd that he seems to get lost. But Fifeld had just had a complete “melt down” with Shaw and Holloway where he was so terrified that he left the group completely. It is a short time later when he and Millburn appear to be lost. It is possible that the ship was confusing enough that even with a map, it was hard to follow the corridors. A little while after Millburn remarks that they have “been here before,” Fifeld seems to get his barrings again and appears to easily go “east” and find the tomb without any trouble. The script is weak here. But such a short time passes between the storm coming and Fifeld getting lost that it is hard to say if it is a meaningful plot hole or a weak explanation exists.
What kind of scientist removes his helmet on a hostile world?
This is a common criticism and not without merit. It seems crazy that a scientist would even consider exposing themselves to the elements of a hostile world without a lot of testing and research first. But after watching the scene a second time, it seems clear that everyone is against the idea of taking off the helmet. Janek issues the order to keep the helmets on. Many of the scientists say the same thing. David tests the air and confirms that it is breathable and contains nothing harmful. Ford then adds that it is cleaner air than Earth. Shaw pleads with Holloway to stop. Holloway is the first to take his helmet off (Holloway’s character is always written to be impetuous and reckless). It is only after Holloway has breathed for a few minutes that Shaw next takes off her helmet (most likely to follow her boyfriend who she seems to be somewhat subservient to). Still none of the crew take off their helmets. After Shaw breaths a bit more, everyone else joins in. Seen in this light, while still a terrible idea, it is more believable in the context of the characters and their obvious lack of basic medical knowledge.
How can the crew possibly be lucky enough to find the Engineer’s ships when they first land on LV-223 without any scans or reconnaissance?
This is purely here to move the story along. Yes, a few more minutes could have been added to the running time of the film to show the crew scanning for something and then finding the ships but to move the story along and cut some time, they just randomly find them so we can get right to the action.
Why are the scientists so unscientific (they appear to know next to nothing about the scientific method)?
This is a very common criticism and valid. Because the crew of the Nostromo in ALIEN were all miners, they were given a pass in terms of protocol and scientific knowledge (with the exception of Ash who was crazy). But here, we are told that the Prometheus is a science vessel, made up of a crew of scientists. So why are they not more “by the book” and logical about their approach? I firmly believe this was a decision on Ridley’s part to cut out a lot of the more “hardcore” science fiction aspects and highlight more of the action and adventure aspects for entertainment value. Ridley is a big believer in balancing art with entertainment. And while the science fiction fans would love an additional 20 minutes of footage (as would I) of the scientists doing very logical and scientific things like scanning, mission planning, taking extra precautions, etc. It just would slow down the story that Ridley was ultimately trying to tell (maybe a director’s cut addresses some of this).
How does the Engineer know to find Shaw in Vicker’s lifeboat and how does David know he is coming for her?
After the Engineer’s ship crashes, a few minutes later David tells Shaw that the Engineer is coming for her. Although it seems like a stretch, since he survived the crash of his ship, if he left the ship, he would be looking at a barren wasteland of a planet. It would be hard to miss Vicker’s lifeboat not far away from the crash site so it seems possible. How he knew Shaw was in there is probably a minor plot mistake. In terms of David, since he was a head rolling around in the Engineer ship’s bridge, he would have seen the Engineer get out of the control chair and run out of the ship so he assumed that the Engineer was coming for Shaw. Again, some weak plotting here.
Why did Janek and the ship navigators decide to sacrifice themselves to stop the Engineer’s ship from going to Earth?
This scene was definitely not earned in the script as there was not enough character development to merit the decision by the navigation crew to go with Janek to their deaths. That is definitely a weakness in the script. But as to why they sacrificed themselves, it does play into the overall plot. First, it was a way to kill the remaining crew so that only Shaw, Vickers, and David were still alive. Second, Janek has a scene towards the end of the film where he promises Shaw he will do what he has to in order to make sure that the Engineer’s ship does not reach Earth. Shaw even begs Janek to kill himself before he makes the decision to ram the Engineer’s ship. Third, this sacrifice plays into the religious themes of self sacrifice.
Why does Janek proposition Vickers for sex?
Janek is captain and has two men (Millburn and Fifeld) stuck in the Engineer’s ship while he is blocked from rescuing them because of a storm. He also appears to be the only one manning the bridge and only communication Fifeld and Millburn have with the ship. Instead, he decides to proposition Vickers for sex. It is out of character but provides the writers the chance to: 1) Give more proof that Vickers is not a robot. 2) Allow Fifeld and Millburn to be killed without the crew knowing so that they can be discovered the next day by Janek in a horror scene. 3) Give backstory and flesh out Janek’s character by showing him to be more laid back than we would expect a captain to be. 4) Provide a humorous beat to the story with the accordion and the chemistry between him and Vickers.
Why do they hook up electricity to the Engineer’s head and cause it to explode?
This seems like a ridiculous thing to do while examining this well preserved specimen of the Engineer’s head by hooking it up to electrical current but there is a reason behind this. It is to serve the theme of the story. First, it illustrates humans trying to “play god”. The electricity reminds us of Frankenstein, being reanimated by electricity also (though his head doesn’t explode). In fact, the subtitle of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein book is “The Modern Prometheus”. That is no coincidence. So the characters do something very unscientific and out of character in order to build further on the overall theme discussed above.
Why does Holloway die so much slower than the first Engineer that is exposed to the black liquid?
Holloway’s dosage is much smaller than what the first Engineer drank from the cup. The first Engineer drank about a half a liter of the black liquid (based on his relative size to us) but Holloway had only a single drop of the liquid (and we don’t know how much of what had been on David’s finger remained after he dipped his finger in the alcohol). It is also possible that the alcohol slowed the reaction time of the black liquid.
Why hadn’t the crew trained together for the mission or met before arriving at LV-223?
The thought goes that the mission would have gone much smoother if the crew had met and worked together before they arrived at their destination. But this was not a government mission. It was organized and funded by a corporation. Even as scientists, many appeared to be more like mercenaries for hire (as Fifeld said he was only there for the money). Also, their destination (as appears on the screen when we first see the Prometheus) is classified as “undisclosed” which means that probably not even Weyland had said where he was going. He funded the mission in secret in order to find his own immortality and offered money to whoever appeared to be qualified to come. Vickers appears to have hand selected some of the crew but others were there purely for the pay. They were obviously unprepared and suffered for it. But with the hubris of Weyland, it might be expected he would make a rash decision like this as his life was about to end and time was of the essence. There may not have been time for Weyland to organize better because of his failing health.
Why does Vickers wake up from stasis before everyone else (is she a robot)?
Vickers is in charge of the ship. It appears that the chain of command goes from Vickers to Janek (the captain) to Shaw/Holloway. When the decision involves the crew, Vickers is in charge. When the decision involves the ship, Janek is in charge. And when the decision involves the scientific exploration, Shaw/Holloway are in charge. So Vickers is the first to wake because she is in charge of the ship. Not to mention that she is the only one that knows that Weyland is aboard. In addition, she gives the order to David to wake everyone else up. The reason she does not vomit like the rest of the crew is to show that she is tough and calculating and in control of every aspect of herself. She is not a robot as she would not need to have been put in stasis sleep if she was an android.
Aren’t the Engineers too small? In ALIEN, they seemed to be much bigger?
First of all, it is hard to judge the relative size as many of the scenes with the Engineer and humans are shot in a way that perspective is not obvious. The Engineer appears to be roughly 9 feet tall when standing next to David. But when he gets into the command console of the bridge of his ship (giant cannon-looking console), he has a mask placed on him and bio suit and with that additional equipment, could be as large as 10 to 12 feet. It does seem slightly smaller than the Space Jockey found in ALIEN but within relative ranges. It is also possible that the Engineer they encountered in ALIEN is a different type of being from the Engineer encountered in Prometheus.
Why are there two types of Engineers? The Engineer at the beginning looks different from the one at the end?
The Engineer at the beginning is muscular with no visible body modifications or imperfections on his skin whereas the Engineer at the end looks to have massive body modifications. The Engineer at the beginning wears a loose robe and undergarment which he takes off the robe to reveal his perfect physique. The Engineer at the end appears to wear a suit that is quite literally part of his body. There are even “gill-like” curves around his neck. His clothing appears to be part of him like some kind of built-in clothing that is part of his skin. It is not known why they are different but it is possible that they have different purposes and goals. More information about this will most likely be revealed in a sequel.
Why did the Engineers want to kill us?
It is purely conjecture. This is the main point that Ridley wants to explore and answer in the next film. Some theories include: 1) Humans killed Jesus (who was actually an Engineer sent to Earth). 2) Humans are evil by nature and were a failed creation. 3) Humans had become too advanced and were threatening the hegemony of the Engineers.
Is Earth the planet we see at the beginning of the film?
Well, technically it is Iceland, but in the context of the film, it isn’t clear. Ridley has gone on record as saying it may or may not be but it doesn’t actually matter. The point was to show the Engineer’s seeding and creating life on a lifeless world, not specifically to show the creation of life on Earth.
Why does David take Shaw’s cross necklace only to give it back later?
Even stranger is the fact that David keeps the necklace on his utility belt. It may be related to the theme of religion and belief being lost in that David takes the necklace at Shaw’s darkest moment and only gives it back after the encounter with the Engineer goes so poorly. It may symbolize David’s belief that he has “become a god” and holds the cross for his own benefit and vanity. He gives it back after he has been cut back down to size and realizes his place back as subservient to Shaw who is giving him the orders and he is helpless because he has no body.
Is Vickers actually a robot?
No. It has been denied both by Ridley Scott and writer Damon Lindelof. She is human. As proof, there is the point that she was in stasis sleep with the rest of the crew. She had sex with Janik. She obviously experiences emotions. Most importantly it is important that her character be human to show a counter-point to the David/Weyland relationship. It is more dramatic if Weyland feels greater kinship with a robot (David) than with his own flesh and blood daughter (Vickers). It reinforces the creator / created relationship and builds on the family dynamic.
Is LV-223 the same place that the Nostromo in ALIEN landed? Why didn’t the Engineer die in his seat in his ship like the one they found?
The Nostromo in ALIEN landed on the planet LV-426. Prometheus went to the moon LV-223. Both worlds are in the same Zeta 2 Reiculi system which is why there is the confusion. Also, Prometheus was billed as a prequel to ALIEN so many fans were expecting to see the story of the Space Jockey and were confused that this was a separate place and time.
Why did David call Vickers “Mother”?
He didn’t. He called here “ma’am” which he pronounced “mum”? It is a common British way of showing respect often used with royalty or those in high positions.
I am still confused. Will the Director’s Cut fix everything?
After so many battles with studios over the years, it is inevitable that fans of Ridley Scott are expecting a director’s cut of Prometheus. Ridley has confirmed a directors cut. (1) The cut will have an additional 20 to 30 minutes of footage. But Ridley is also on record as saying he is doing the director’s cut only for the fans. He personally believes the theatrical cut to be his preferred cut and is happy with the film the way it is.
Weren’t the worms in the tomb brought by the crew’s boots?
Some have theorized that the worms seen in the tomb room were actually brought by the crew. But if you look closely, it is clear they do not fall off the boot of the crew member but instead are already crawling through the dirt when the crew member steps on them. It is assumed they have been there already as there were decomposing things in the room. Probably exposing the room to air after 2,000 years caused them to come to the surface of the ground.