Everyone is comparing Ridley Scott’s new film with his original Alien, and there are parallels, not just the fact that it’s meant to be a prequel. The crew include an android, a corporate nasty and a gutsy heroine, just like the first two movies. There are also encounters with unpleasant creatures. Alien was a seminal movie, which spawned its own sequels, albeit under different directors, yet it was more horror movie than Sci-Fi. But SF often combines genres and is invariably expected to be a thriller. Prometheus is not as graphically or viscerally scary as Alien, but it’s more a true Sci-Fi than a horror flick. In that respect I think it’s a better movie, though most reviewers I’ve read disagree with me.
Prometheus is a good title because it’s the Greek story about the Gods giving some of their abilities to humankind. Scott’s tale is a 21st Century creation myth, whereby mankind goes in search of the ‘people’ who supposedly ‘engineered’ us. One of the characters in the film quips in response to this claim: ‘There goes 3 centuries of Darwinism.’ From a purely scientific perspective, it’s possible that DNA originally came from somewhere else, either as spores or in meteorites or an icy comet, but it would have been very simple life forms at the start of evolution not the end of it. The idea that someone engineered our DNA so it would be compatible with Earthbound DNA destroys the suspension of disbelief required for the story, so it’s best to ignore that point.
But lots of Sci-Fi stories overlook this fundamental point when aliens meet Earthlings and interbreed for example (Avatar). And I’ve done it myself (in my fiction) though only to the extent that humans could eat food found on another planet. I suspect we could only do that, in reality, if the food contained DNA with the same chirality as ours. The universal unidirectional chirality of DNA is one of the strongest evidential factors that all life on Earth had a common origin.
But I have to admit that Ridley has me intrigued and I’m looking forward to the sequel, as the final scenes effectively promise us one. One of the major differences with Alien and its spinoffs is that there is a mystery in this story and the heroine is bent on finding the answer to it. She wants to find out who made us and where they came from and why they did it. There is an obvious religious allusion here, but this is closer to the Greek gods, suggested by the title rather than the Biblical god. Having said that, our heroine wears a cross and this is emphasised. I expect Ridley wants us to make a religious connection.
Good Sci-Fi in my view should contain a bit of philosophy – make us think about stuff. In this case, stuff includes the possibility of life on other worlds and the possibility that there may exist civilizations greater than ours, to the extent that they could have created us. We find it hard to imagine that we are the end result of a process that started from stardust; that something as complex and intelligent as us could not have been created by a greater intelligence. Ridley brings that point home when the android asks someone how would they feel about meeting their maker, as he has had to. So I’m happy to see where Ridley is going with this – it’s a question that most people have asked and not been satisfied with the answer. I don’t think Ridley is going to give us a metaphysical answer. I expect he’s going to challenge what it means to be human and what responsibilities that entails in the universe’s creation.