Spotting the retro toys in Prometheus

Beneath the high-gloss sci-fi of last year's Prometheus lurked a wealth of retro toy references...

Yes, we know Prometheus is old news now. But even as its release fades into history, we can’t help returning to it now and again, to revel in its occasional flashes of inspiration as well as its quirkier occurrences, which even its staunchest defenders will surely admit it contains.

That Prometheus also provides the occasional nod to 80s toys is something we’d noted from its earlier trailers, and we immediately put it down to the film’s designers obliquely acknowledging its roots in the 70s and 80s Alien franchise. But as we’ve subjected ourselves to repeat viewings, we’ve gradually noticed more and more pieces of set and prop design apparently inspired by retro toys from 20 or so years ago.

You may have noticed one or two of the things we’ve spotted below yourselves, but it’s only when these references are all taken together that Prometheus begins to resemble the range of prizes that Pat Sharp used to give out to starry-eyed children in the 80s gameshow, Funhouse. See for yourself…

Rubik’s Cube

It’s quite likely you spotted this particular toy months ago – hence our putting it first. The Rubik’s Cube, of course, was the colour-matching puzzle that became a must-have item in the early 1980s. As imagined by Ridley Scott and his production designers, Erno Rubik’s immediately-recognisable design will prevail well into the latter half of the 20th century, where it’ll take the form of a holographic overhead projector.

Ad – content continues below

Quick Shot Joystick

The controller of choice for a generation of enthusiastic 8-bit gamers, the Quick Shot joystick made youngsters everywhere feel like a Top Gun-style flying ace while they played on their ZX Spectrums. Admittedly, the Quick Shot’s design was inspired by the joysticks of fighter planes, and it’s likely that the makers of Prometheus had this in mind rather than an 80s videogame peripheral. But at the same time, it really does look more like something you’d use to play Afterburner with than pilot a spacecraft.

Bontempi Keyboard with stand

Idris Elba memorably plays an accordion in Prometheus, and the terminal he’s seen hunched over elsewhere in the film looks uncannily like a retro keyboard with stand. We suspect it has one of those demo buttons that plays an electronic version of a Burt Bacharach song.

Big Trak

Released by Milton Bradley in 1979, the programmable electronic Big Trak looked like something beamed in from the future. And if Prometheus is to be believed, it really was from the future – a foot-long version of the sort of thing space explorers will be hurtling around in some 110 years in the future. Interestingly, Alien was released in the same year as Big Trak; surely, that can’t be a coincidence.

Silly Putty

In one of Prometheus’s commentary tracks, screenwriter Jonathan Spaihts pointed this particular toy reference out to us. “I’m not sold on the Silly Putty eggs,” Spaihts said, referring to the fleshy, glowing ovoids which appear to act as ignition buttons on the Engineers’ high-tech craft.

Fun fact: Silly Putty was taken into orbit by astronauts on the Apollo 8 mission.

Bossk Empire Strikes Back action figure

Okay, this one’s probably pushing your credulity a bit. But once we made the connection between the Fifield monster and the action figure of Bossk released by Kenner in 1980, we simply couldn’t get it out of our heads. In Star Wars lore, Bossk is a Trandoshan bounty hunter, whose name literally means “Devours his prey”. The Fifield monster doesn’t appear to devour his prey – rather, he just bashes them about a bit like an angry ape – but we bet he would if he’d been given the chance. And maybe some mayonnaise.

Ad – content continues below

Castle Grayskull

It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it toy reference, this, but we like it anyway. Atop the huge stone structure which houses untold eldritch nightmares, there sits a huge carved skull – something the crew don’t appear to notice, or at least comment on. If they had, one of them may have said, “Crikey, that looks just like the Castle Grayskull He-Man action set I used to play with as a kid, as made by Mattel in the 1980s”. Or maybe not.

Actually, the design’s an unused concept from artist HR Giger, which he first drew for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s aborted Dune movie, and later suggested as a possible structure for Alien. But we’re sticking with the Castle Grayskull angle, because it fits our admittedly flimsy retro toy thesis.

BMX bike

Ah, the BMX bike; a simple mode of transport that turned children everywhere into would-be stunt performers. The humble BMX (short for bicycle motorcross, fact fans) reached its popular zenith in 1983, when the movie BMX Bandits was released. If you haven’t seen BMX Bandits, it’s like The Fast & The Furious, except with Nicole Kidman on a bike instead of Vin Diesel in a Datsun.

At any rate, the BMX makes its Prometheus cameo roughly 20 minutes in, where it’s being ridden by Michael Fassbender, of all people. There’s also a basketball, which may be an oblique reference to Ripley’s sporting antics in Alien Resurrection.

Thunderbird 2

Gerry Anderson’s TV show featured some stunning ship designs, and it’s little surprise that the toys would prove to be so enduringly popular. And the design of Thunderbird 2 appears to have inspired the creators of both Aliens (with its dropship and accompanying APC vehicle) and the Prometheus, with its modular belly which can flop down and give birth to all sorts of vehicles and flamethrower-toting soldiers.

Ad – content continues below


Another classic Milton Bradley toy gets a special reference in Prometheus‘s toe-curling alien extraction sequence. While some have made the connection between the medipod and one of those Japanese UFO grabbers, we can’t help thinking of Operation every time we see those metal tweezers reach inside Noomi Rapace’s stomach – and if you look closely, her nose even lights up when the tweezers touch the sides. Why Fox and Milton Bradley didn’t team up to produce a Prometheus Operation edition is a mystery…