Who were the Engineers in Prometheus? And what happened in that movie?
Ridley Scott burst onto the scene as a director with the movie Alien. It was a cold, dark, journey through space where a crew had to survive an evil corporation's quest to bring an alien home. Many years later, Scott returned to the Alien franchise with Prometheus, a prequel to the series that introduced the Engineers; the aliens who created the alien, and maybe who created us. Prometheus was directed by Ridley Scott, written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, and stars Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron, and Logan Marshall-Green.
With the advent of this movie, Scott dug deep into the unseen mysteries of the franchise, and also into his own personal wonderment about the world and existence. Today, I want to go over the meaning of the movie Prometheus. We'll go over the opening and ending, and also talk about that black goo, the monster, and the star map. Hopefully, we'll all walk away with a better understanding of the film.
Ready? Let's take off our helmets and begin.
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Table of Contents
Prometheus Explained—What Did the Movie Mean and Who Are the Engineers?
This movie relaunched the Alien franchise for Fox and reintroduced a lot of people to Alien as well. It also was a thinker of a film that raised many Prometheus movie questions, which we'll try to answer today.
Needless to say, there will be many spoilers for the movie.
What Is the Movie Prometheus About?
As I mentioned in the opening, the movie is about a group of scientists hired by a corporation to visit a planet where they believe the aliens who engineered the human race now live. Once there, they deal with a lost civilization and a disease that seems to be growing something inside of them.
The Prometheus Plot
As the movie begins, we're flying over a lush planet. A humanoid alien walks up to a waterfall. We will learn later that these beings are called Engineers. As a spacecraft leaves the planet, our humanoid alien drinks a black goo, causing its body to dissolve from the inside out. The body falls off a waterfall, and then the DNA separates and reforms.
We then cut to 2089, where archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway have found a star map in Scotland that matches ones from around disparate parts of the globe. This leads them to theorize that they have found an invitation from the "Engineers," an alien life force that actually created humanity.
What Does the Weyland Corporation want?
We then meet Peter Weyland. He's the elderly CEO of Weyland Corporation. He's dying but funds an expedition to find these beings anyway. A group of scientists is taken on the spaceship Prometheus, to follow the star map to the distant moon called LV-223. They travel in stasis, while the android David monitors the ship and passes time. It takes two years for their journey. When they wake up, mission director Meredith Vickers runs them through their operation to make contact with the Engineers.
The Prometheus lands on the planet near a large structure. A team heads inside, and they find stone cylinders, a monolithic statue of the humanoid alien head, and the decapitated corpse of a large alien, thought to be an Engineer. Shaw recovers its head. They think these people have gone extinct. The scientists break apart and study different parts of the place.
Crew members Millburn and Fifield attempt to return to Prometheus, but become lost in the structure. There's a silica storm and everyone has to return to the ship, but Millburn and Fifeld are stranded. Meanwhile, David takes a cylinder from the structure, while the remaining cylinders begin leaking the black goo from the opening.
Prometheus DNA Scene
Back in the ship's lab, the Engineer's DNA is found to match human DNA. David investigates the cylinder. He takes some of the black goo out and then taints a drink with the liquid and gives it to an unknowing Holloway. Shortly after, Shaw and Holloway have sex.
Meanwhile, inside the structure, a snake-like creature kills Millburn and sprays acid that melts Fifield's helmet. Fifield falls face-first into a puddle of black goo.
Prometheus Star Map Scene
The next day, the crew goes back and finds Millburn's corpse. David discovers a control room containing a surviving Engineer who is in stasis. He also finds a massive 3D holographic star map that is highlighting Earth. Meanwhile, Holloway begins to get very ill. He is rushed back to Prometheus, but Vickers refuses to let him aboard since no one knows what he has.
Holloway begs for them to burn him to death because he thinks something is inside him. They do so with a flamethrower. Back in the lab, a medical scan reveals that Shaw, despite being infertile, is now in advanced pregnancy.
This completely freaks her out and she uses an automated surgery table to abort a creature from her abdomen. After this, Shaw finds out that Weyland is actually alive, and has been in stasis aboard the spaceship Prometheus. Weyland tells her he wanted to ask the Engineers how to prevent his death from old age. As Weyland prepares to leave for the structure, Vickers addresses him as "Father" and we learn she is his daughter.
A completely mutated Fifield returns to the Prometheus, infected by the goo, and kills several crew members before he is killed by the remaining members. Prometheus' captain, Janek, thinks that the structure they have visited is an Engineer military base where they lost control of a biological weapon they created, represented by the black goo. He also figures out that the structure houses a huge spacecraft.
The Prometheus Movie Ending Explained
Weyland and a team return to the structure, accompanied by Shaw. David wakes the Engineer from his stasis and speaks to him, asking him to help Weyland defeat old age. The Engineer responds by decapitating David and then killing Weyland and his team, before reactivating his spacecraft. Shaw runs and warns Janek that the Engineer is actually planning to release the black goo on Earth, killing their creation. Janek and the crew ram the Prometheus into the alien craft, ejecting the lifeboat in the process while Vickers flees in an escape pod. That alien craft crashes and kills Vickers as well.
Shaw heads to the lifeboat and finds her alien alive. It has grown to a gigantic size. It now resembles a giant squid. David's still-alive head warns Shaw that the Engineer is alive and will kill her. The Engineer forces open the lifeboat's airlock and attacks Shaw. To save herself, she releases the alien onto the Engineer. Shaw recovers David's remains and, with his help, launches another Engineer spacecraft. She intends to get to the Engineers' actual homeworld and to talk to them about their origins and why they wanted to destroy them.
Back in the lifeboat, we see that the alien has impregnated the Engineer, and another alien pops out of his chest. Now it looks like the alien we know from the other movies, a xenomorph.
Prometheus Movie Explained
This is one of the wildest science fiction movies, with many twists and turns along the way. To answer all your Prometheus questions, I figure we would handle them one by one. Let's dive into all the theories about the movie.
Where Did the Name Prometheus Come From?
The name "Prometheus "comes from Greek mythology. He was a Titan who defied the gods and gave humanity fire, for which he is subjected to eternal punishment. This is, of course, part of the theme of this movie.
Prometheus—Who Are the Engineers?
The Engineers from the movie Prometheus are an alien race that possibly created humans long ago. But they might not be the only race of aliens out there. There is a strong chance something created them first, and that's what is left of the original Engineer whose DNA was separated and became humanity over the course of evolution.
The Prometheus Opening Scene Meaning
In the opening of the movie, we see an oval ship drop an Engineer by a cliff. That Engineer drinks the black goo, which tears apart their DNA. They throw themselves into the newly formed ocean of Earth, which gives birth to humanity. This is the creation of all life on Earth as well.
What Is the Black Goo in Prometheus?
The black goo is a biological weapon that breaks down DNA and reforms it. In the opening scene, it broke the Engineer down and reformed him to evolve into us. But later, as humans come into contact with the goo, it breaks them down to become xenomorphs.
The goo was either created by the Engineers or gifted to them by another alien race. They were smart enough to keep it off their own planet because they knew how dangerous it would be. It is teaming with microorganisms that can evolve.
What Was David's Mission in Prometheus?
David's mission was to help Weyland learn not only the meaning of life, but also to help him extend his life by communicating with the Engineers. The reason he infected Holloway with the black goo was that he wanted to test it on a human to see if it was the key to immortality. When it was not, he also did the work to dispatch that person and to do more tests on Shaw to see if impregnation was the way.
Prometheus and Artificial Intelligence
Another general theme is that of our relationship with artificial intelligence. David can be seen as humanity's greatest creation in the movie. He's the next in the line of making something in our image and likeness, but he has none of our DNA or morals. He can only complete mission directives.
David is underwhelmed by the humans on this ship, and questions why they would want to find their creators since he thinks the people who created him are kind of lame. Even when David "dies" at the end of the movie, he only does so because his mission directive of keeping Weyland alive is now over.
What Are the Themes of Prometheus?
The most prevalent theme of the movie is based on Greek mythology. We see humanity's relationship with the gods—or in this movie, their creators. We also learn the consequences of going against the gods. The central story of Prometheus the movie is a human expedition to find their creators and learn about mortality. But the Prometheus crew suffer consequences for their pursuit. For nearly every one of them, it leads to death and destruction.
Prometheus and the Bible
There are a lot of biblical references in the movie. Shaw is religious and comes to meet the creators because she wants answers about her father's death. This decision to challenge God for questions we're not supposed to have the answers to, and are punished for, is also part of the themes of the movie.
Another one of the prevailing interesting theories online is that the planet they visit, LV-223, actually stands for the biblical book of Leviticus, verse 22:3. "Say to them: 'For the generations to come, if any of your descendants is ceremonially unclean and yet comes near the sacred offerings that the Israelites consecrate to the LORD, that person must be cut off from my presence. I am the LORD.'"
We have seen that both humans and Engineers have been cut off from the presence of the ones who created them. And when they go looking for answers, they find destruction. Even in the end, waking up an Engineer leads them to want to fly to Earth to kill and destroy everyone.
Where Was Prometheus filmed?
Much of the film was shot at Pinewood Studios, in London. They also did a few shots around Spain. Large portions of the movie were shot in Iceland, especially the exterior alien landscapes. Filming took place near the Hekla volcano in the south of the country, as well as at the Dettifoss waterfall in the north.
Summing Up the Meaning of the Movie Prometheus and Its Engineers
This is a complex movie with many different readings. If you have theories on what happens in Prometheus or just about the Engineers, David, or the directorial intentions of Ridley Scott, I want to know! Feel free to put them in the comments. I think there's a lot to learn from this movie and a lot of questions we can turn about and ask ourselves.
I can't wait to hear what you think about this film as well.
Picking it apart the plot like this just reminds me of how terrible this movie was. Every scientist not only ignores the most basic protocols of safety and exploration, but then act like emotionally fragile children, tearfully asking absurd questions like "Why did you want to destroy your creation? What did we do wrong?!" Why in the world would Weyland ever think an advanced race of beings would care even an iota about his individual life? It would be like having a lab-rat plead with a scientist to give him a longer lifespan.
Everything about the story (and the next) just seemed like Ridley Scott decided that the Star Wars prequals were in fact "great" ideas, and to then apply the same formula to Alien. It just wasn't.
December 29, 2022 at 5:41PM
Love this movie. Definitely the best in the franchise since James Cameron's sequel. While many bemoan the scientists not acting like they expect (I feel like in a post-Covid world we can see how realistic this actually was, and that they are in fact human first), I do regret that an explanation in the script was cut from the movie, if only so the whiners would shut up and deal with the meat of the movie: the impeccable atmosphere, the poetry and themes, and the questions it asks.
It's amazing how consistent Scott has been about the Engineers. Listening to commentaries by Scott on the original Alien in the 90's he clearly felt like that movie's creature was a pilot carrying a biological weapon, and we see that played out here. Even the fact that the Xenomorphs would look different based on who they impregnated/used as a host is laid out. So the idea that people didn't feel like it was consistent with old Ridley Scott doesn't seem particularly rooted in any factual.
While there's a plemty of themes and ideas, for both Weyland and Shaw I feel like ultimately it's about questions. Particularly the tough questions of life. And how there are no easy answers. Perhaps even answers that we do not like or fully understand. (Which probably explains why some people dislike the movie so).
December 30, 2022 at 6:31AM, Edited December 30, 6:42AM
I really enjoyed this film but it has lots of critics. I fail to see why. the art direction is lush and a proper tribute to Geiger who inspired the whole series.
Scott draws heavily on the ancient alien theory throughout which of course has many detractors for good reason, but it is all still very possible.
most of the crew aren't scientists but explorers similar to captain cook or Columbus. Their crews didn't exactly cover themselves in glory either. Seems like it's human nature.
we crave answers but what happens when we don't like what we find out?
The engineers maybe our creators and it seems they wanted to come and wipe out their creation.
However the goo, xenomoph slime is a pretty blunt instrument and eventually finishes off all life, as it can infect and adapt to anything living as a parasitic form of procreation. This speaks to the morals of the engineers and to some aspects that of David. He is less nuanced and not human, relying on orders and logic, somewhat like the engineers themselves. But, without care for the consequences and well the humanity of it all.
It's a mirror held up to humans and the worst of our capabilities which leaves you hoping and cheering for a scrap of humanity which we find in Shaw.
visually stunning and though provoking if lacking some of the thriller aspects of the original (mainly as we all know the franchise too well now)
January 7, 2023 at 8:25AM