Does the Prometheus Blu-ray resolve the film’s mysteries?

Feature Ryan Lambie 11 Oct 2012 - 07:44

Prometheus left lots of us with questions earlier this year, but does the Blu-ray answer them as the advertising suggests? We find out…

“Questions will be answered,” the trailers promise for the Prometheus Blu-ray, out in the UK this week. And given that so many people came out of cinemas earlier this year either arguing, debating or just plain moaning about Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien universe, it’s interesting that the minds behind its marketing would address audiences so directly.

“Yes,” the adverts seem to say. “We know you were perplexed and maybe even a bit annoyed by our movie. But don’t worry, the home release will give you some of the answers you’ve been looking for.”

So is the disc effectively a Prometheus: Version 1.5, a patch update that gives us a greater sense of closure, or are the film’s mysteries (and possible inconsistencies) still broadly intact? We dug into the Blu-ray to see whether we could find the answers to the following questions…

What was Prometheus like when it was still an Alien prequel?

As you may know by now, Prometheus wasn’t always Prometheus, but a prequel to Alien. Written by Jon Spaihts, the original drafts of the scripts still contained the spine of the story as we know it – a group of explorers follow a star map to a distant planet, where they discover evidence of the Engineers’ society (yes, the Engineers were in there right from the beginning), and worse, alien eggs and the facehuggers within.

The Blu-ray’s content is refreshingly open about the gradual mutation that took place as the drafts wore on. Spaihts and several producers talk about the various names they went through as their ideas changed – at one point, the movie could have been called, variously, Alien: Engineers, Alien: Origins, Alien: Genesis, Alien: Tomb Of The Gods or even LV-426 (back when that stormy planetoid was still the venue for the film’s horrors). 

Gradually, the involvement of the facehuggers, chestbursters and aliens gradually dwindled into the background, and the story of the Engineers and their creation of human life took its place. Intimate horror – which would have seen Holloway give birth to a chestburster while making love to an early version of Elizabeth Shaw’s character in a scene Spaihts dubbed ‘The Sexburster’ – gave way to grand themes and big Chariots Of The Gods ideas.

After a brief flirtation with the name Paradise, Ridley Scott picked the title Prometheus instead. Damon Lindelof was brought in relatively late to write subsequent drafts of the script (Spaihts doesn’t hide his disappointment about this), and gradually, the movie as we now know it took shape.

Why did Milburn try to tickle the alien snake creature?

One of the more contentious – and scorned – sequences in Prometheus comes in the second act, where are brave adventurers have already breached the tomb-like Engineer lair on LV-223. After a storm cuts their investigations short, the characters Fifield and Milburn become lost in the warren-like network of tunnels, and are forced to stay the night as the wind howls outside. 

While exploring, they stumble upon the canister chamber seen earlier in the movie, where they encounter a creature the film’s effects designers have dubbed the Hammerpede – a pale creature that’s midway between a traditional facehugger and a king cobra. The xeno-biologist Milburn – who you might think would be seasoned enough to be wary of this sort of thing – seems positively attracted by the beast, and when he practically tickles it, is unsurprisingly attacked and killed.

Milburn’s childlike curiosity was actually given a bit of grounding in an earlier, deleted scene which can be found on the disc’s extras. Here, he’s shown gathering up a relatively small, primitive worm-like creature, and excitedly jabbering about it being his first encounter with such an advanced alien lifeform. The scene would have at least made his subsequent snake tickling a little less surprising, but it was unfortunately snipped out for pacing purposes.

Even Damon Lindelof admits, in his commentary track, “He’s acting like a complete and total moron.” Spaihts, who also weighs in with his comments, also gives a clue as to why Milburn seems so fearless in this scene – it all goes back to an earlier draft of the script, where the explorers’ suits were described as heavily armoured and presumably alien proof. Here, Milburn would have picked up a form of facehugger that looked like a centipede. 

“He had a lot more faith in his suit in my version,” Spaihts explains, “though he didn’t reckon on the acid…”

Why was Holloway so unpleasant? 

Although Prometheus has more than its fair share of antagonists and people of uncertain agendas, one of the least sympathetic characters is surely Elizabeth Shaw’s boyfriend, Holloway. After Shaw and her compatriots discover groundbreaking evidence of a dead civilization on LV-223, Holloway unaccountably descends into booze-soaked gloom.

Believe it or not, Holloway was even more unpleasant in an earlier cut of the film, where originally shot scenes showed him pouring scorn on Shaw’s excitement at their discoveries. Holloway, it seems, was hoping to make contact with living engineers, and when he doesn’t, he finds his frustration impossible to hide.  In pick-up shots filmed later on, a further argument between Holloway and Shaw is replaced with a toned-down sequence where Holloway's less bullish. 

It’s not entirely clear why Holloway was written as such a reckless, petulant character, but we do now know that elements of this were in even the earliest drafts. Back when Prometheus was still an Alien prequel, Holloway would have been attacked by a facehugger after blithely taking off his space helmet in the Engineers’ lair – something the character still does in the finished film.

Why does David infect Holloway?

Untrustworthy robot space butler David’s motivations are easy to guess, but never made absolutely clear. We see David bring back a canister from the Engineers’ place, and aboard the Prometheus, open it up. He takes a droplet of black mutagen from within, and quietly slips it into Holloway’s drink.

Was David acting out of his own personal curiosity in doing this, or was he doing the bidding of his master, Peter Weyland? In the Blu-ray commentary, Lindelof makes it plain: it was the latter.

“Weyland has told him, whatever you find, I want you to find a solution to my problem. There’s only one way to find out what the goo does, and that’s to put it in a rat. And to David, that’s what the rest of the crew are.”

David, then, really is Peter Weyland’s pawn, and his mission is to find a way to give his aging master eternal life – and just as in Alien, the lives of the humans around him are expendable. 

And while Fassbender’s brilliantly frosty performance may give David’s actions some ambiguity right until the end, it seems that the android isn’t quite as double-dealing as some have suggested. In the sequence where David speaks to the Engineer, prompting a brief scuffle in which the android’s head is ripped off, and Peter Weyland is killed, some have speculated that David may have said something that triggered the being’s rampage.

According to Damon Lindelof, David really did say what he claims to have said – “This man wants you to give him eternal life” – and not something antagonistic. The Engineer, Lindelof says, is simply taken aback at having been woken from his slumber by what to him are a group of chattering chimps.

There was originally a much longer version of this scene, in which the Engineer, David and Weyland have a longer chat about eternal life and gods. Scott cut out this and a later fight scene with an axe-wielding Shaw, because he thought it diminished the Engineer’s mysterious, god-like ambience.

Why was Guy Pearce cast?

Peter Weyland is over a hundred years old during the events of Prometheus, so why cast a 40-something actor like Guy Pearce to play him? Was it really just so he could do that TED talk viral ad released in the run-up to the movie? There were suggestions and guesses that Pearce would have had also appeared in flashback as a younger man, and this is borne out in Damon Lindelof’s commentary.

In the script, David would have held an impromptu conference with his master, who of course is in hypersleep somewhere on the ship. David would have appeared on a beach with Weyland, who imagines himself as still being 40 years old in what is essentially a dream. This scene would have come before David infected Holloway, and would have made it clearer what David was up to.

For reasons best known to Ridley Scott, this sequence was never even shot.

Why did Peter Weyland keep his presence on the ship a secret?

Having this as a final-act revelation didn’t appear, it seems, until relatively late in the editing process. Among the deleted scenes, there’s a moment where David, on discovering the slumbering Engineer deep within the bowels of the planet, radios back to the Prometheus and says to Vickers, “It’s time to wake the old man up.”  This would have made it clearer to the audience that Weyland was stowing away on his own ship a little earlier in the film, and provided a few more clues about the nature of David’s furtive little mission – even though Shaw and the rest of the crew still had no idea of what he was up to.

Although it’s hardly an earth-shattering plot twist, Old Man Weyland’s secrecy does, on reflection, make a weird sort of sense. If he’s on a mission to find the secret of eternal life, and willing to sacrifice the lives of about a dozen scientists and researchers to do it, he probably wouldn’t want to advertise the fact to the various board members at Weyland Yutani.

What was with the alien flute?

For us, this incidental mystery is the most frustrating of all. Why do the Engineers, a race advanced enough to have mastered interstellar travel and unlocked the secret of life itself, have ships activated by the power of tin flute? Is it some sort of allusion to their culture inspiring ours, given that the flute is reckoned to be one of the earliest forms of instrument? Was the flute one of the Engineers’ gifts to us, along with life and language?

Sadly, we combed all three hours and 40 minutes of the disc’s making-of documentary in vain, and Ridley Scott says not a word about it in his commentary track. Jon Spaihts does mention it briefly, saying, “I’m not sure I’m sold on the whistle or the silly putty eggs”. The eggs, of course, are a reference to the fleshy buttons on the Engineer ship’s control console. 

Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, we brought the subject up with Dr Anil Biltoo, the language consultant who both created the Engineers’ lingo and also appears in the film as a teacher hologram in a fetching white hat. Did he suggest the idea of the alien ship being powered by a flute?

“That wasn't in the script,” Dr Biltoo said, “and I have to say, I was quite shocked when I saw how they used that.”

The plot thickens. So if the ship wasn’t flute powered in the script, how did it work?

“There were some voice-activated sequences where Fassbender's moving around the pyramid and he reads glyphs,” Dr Biltoo explained. “He reads a writing system that seems to make sense to him. Now, in the script, he utters a sequence of words, and nothing happens. So he repositions the intonation, and something happens. The consoles light up on the craft, because they're speech activated. In the original script, they are not activated by flute.”

Dr Biltoo made it quite clear, therefore, that the flute didn’t spring from Lindelof’s mind, and Spaihts' bemusement on the commentary track certainly indicates that he didn’t suggest it, either. Although we have no firm evidence, the Prometheus Blu-ray does provide a few clues that Ridley Scott himself may have introduced the flute. 

In one of the snippets of supplementary footage on the extras disc, we see Scott walk around a large storage room with his filmmakers, choosing various bits and pieces to dress the sets. There are tables absolutely covered in random objects, ranging from Thermos flasks and Christmas decorations to mugs and executive stress toys.

As the camera follows him around, Scott selects certain objects quite rapidly, suggesting that one character might idly play with this item in one scene, and those items over there might look quite nice on a shelf in Vickers’ private quarters.

Given that Scott frequently made snap creative decisions throughout the film’s making, could it be possible that Scott saw the tin whistle in this storage room (along with Janek’s accordion, perhaps), and said, “You know what? This could be the ignition key for the spaceship.”

Right now, it’s the best theory we have. 

The unanswered questions 

Inevitably, there are plenty of mysteries left intact even after viewing the seven-or-so hours of content on the Prometheus Blu-ray. On the weird 3D recording that plays out in the corridors of the LV-223 lair, why do we see one of the Engineers going towards the room full of jars and goo instead of away from it? What was that green crystal seen lurking behind the big space head sculpture? Was it some sort of off-switch that would have shut the goo down had the Engineer activated it in time? Why did the facehugger-type creature that emerged from Shaw grow to the size of an elephant?

There are plenty of other unanswered questions, too, which we won’t list here. Some of these may possibly be resolved in the sequel, if it happens, while others may remain forever a mystery. Not that there’s anything wrong with mysteries, of course – Alien was filled with them, ranging from the origins of the derelict spacecraft to the nature of the creature itself. Some of these mysteries have been addressed in subsequent movies, so it’s perhaps good that, although it’s far from a perfect movie, Prometheus introduces a few new mysteries of its own – including, of course, the origins of that tin flute idea…

Prometheus is out now on Blu-ray 3D Collector’s Edition, Blu-ray and DVD.

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