Jun 8, 2012

Ancient Aliens

1979 - Ripley
This is the fifth in a series of blog posts about my Search for Interesting Hollywood Aliens (SIHA) in science fiction movies this summer. In Part 1 of this series, I gave my pessimistic prediction for what might be put up on the big screen by Hollywood when the idea of ancient alien visitors to Earth is brought into a SciFi flick. This weekend Prometheus is opening in the U.S.A. and I have been reading online accounts of the aliens.
"lots of candy for the eye and just about nothing for the brain"

now, cut that out!
Apparently the creators of Prometheus think it is cool to make ambiguous science fiction stories. The fans will debate the meaning of Prometheus until the sequel comes out. I can understand that approach as a strategy for stringing a television audience along year-after-year-after year. The X-files did it well. Will a movie audience put up with the same kind of treatment? $ure they will, if you market it right.
2012 -  "We must go one better! I want a whole bunch of mysterious black objects!"
"gardener in space"
I've seen many observers who interpret an early scene in Prometheus (see "oil crisis", below) as depicting aliens who come to planets like Earth and "seed their DNA patterns" into the environment, leading to the evolution of creatures like we humans...creatures who are chemically and structurally similar to the aliens. Why do this? Obviously, this ensures that there will be an endless parade of actresses in underwear who can play roles in horror movies about slimy alien snake-like creatures doing nasty things inside their bodies. However, the movie never says that Earth was seeded with alien DNA. The "oil crisis" scene at the start of the movie might be LV-223 about 2,000 years ago.
1968           2001: A Space Odyssey          One mysterious black object

Take my liver, please!
Why do these lithe heroines continually rush off to tinseltown and sign up for this kind of SciFi/horror trouble? Because there is always a lurking corporate magnate who eagerly rushes out to meet the aliens in hope of immortality or, at least, a seven figure Hollywood movie contract.

Any other questions?

Aliens left their calling card (a star map) on Earth so that we humans would build spaceships and travel through the stars and make a Summer Blockbuster movie about it. Those aliens really like mammals. We can be easily milked for endless runs of SciFi/horror trilogies, trilogies of prequels, trilogies of re-imaginings, etc etc.  

What the hell? Is that it?!
Prometheus 1 can't tell us anything coherent about the aliens because there must be a Prometheus 2 and a Prometheus 3. And then the Prometheus the Next Generation trilogy.

"pseudo sciency mumbo jumbo about DNA"
oil crisis
So, how do aliens "seed their DNA" into the ecosystems of planets? In The X-Files, it was "black oil", a mysterious substance that could infect humans and turn humanity into the slaves of aliens. In Prometheus there is a strange "dark liquid", a plot device that is well-stocked on LV-223 and that when poured out on a Hollywood movie set does anything called for in the story line. In Star Trek, such magical plot devices are given a name such as nanites.

dinner is served
Review (there will be a quiz on this). Did you get that? Here it is in 3D: if you want to send astronauts in underwear to a distant planet for your next horror movie then you use "dark liquid" to put alien DNA into the water. Stir and wait a while: humans  follow their "racial memory" (and cave paintings) upstream to the distant star of the aliens where the horrid decapitations and slimy snake-like things can parade across the big $creen of the $ummer blockbu$ter.

"one of the most disappointing movies I have seen"
I like the idea that human-like creatures might visit Earth and tell Earthlings their story, resulting in cave paintings and other evidence of "ancient astronauts". Why haven't we seen those human-like creatures lately? Maybe those human-like visitors to Earth suffered a technological disaster similar to "gray goo"...nanites-gone-wrong. Hey, these things happen when you let Hollywood script writers get involved.

If "shit happens" does not satisfy you, then blame everything on Jesus.

How do I get out of this movie?
What is the deep "big question" philosophy of Prometheus? " ... science fiction is really just the cautionary tale writ large. The fundamental law of nature is to not know too much about yourself. So God forbid we fly too close to that flame — we are going to get burned." So, if human-like creatures visited Earth thousands of years ago, it is best that we not know too much about that?

Science fiction is a rational exploration of a speculative fiction idea. Prometheus puts a boat-load of scientists into what can be interpreted as an antiscience fiction horror story. In Prometheus some old and dying rich dude (who wants to find the Fountain of Youth) loads up a crew of low-quality scientists and flies off to the stars. Prometheus is lost in a Hollywood fantasy where scientists are as ignorant about science as your average film school graduate and Hollywood script writer. Nothing need be explained or make sense in any horror movie, including Prometheus; just $plash the big $creen with enough blood and play plenty of loud annoying music....the $ummer turnstile$ will whirl. Ka-ching!

Antiscience? Lindelof: "It's definitely not anti-science" ..... "there are certain questions that we as humans should not be asking. ....That was the story that Ridley wanted to tell, and the story that I felt was really cool." Lindelof says that questions like where do we come from? are nonscientific questions, according to Lindelof they are spiritual questions. So, do I have this correct...humans are programmed to use science to explore philosophical questions and that inevitably leads to a horror story? As Lindelof says, "That's Frankenstein 101." I'm sorry Damon, but I don't agree. As far as I can tell, science is the only thing that gives humanity a chance to answering the question: where do we come from? True horror stories of humanity come from ignorance, often ignorance dressed up in the form if indisputable religious and philosophical doctrines.

Prometheus might be an equal opportunity offender. Some observers feel it is antiscience and others feel it is anti-religion (example). Maybe the film must be judged a success if people are discussing it.

2001 lights
Clarke's law says, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Stanley Kubrick, in the pre-CGI era, adapted this law for film and came up with, "Any advanced technology can be depicted on the big screen by weird music or a psychedelic light show". Here in the CGI era, in Prometheus this becomes, "Depict for a modern film audience a semi-human space ship passenger (who might have seemed like a god to primitive Earthlings) as performing a magical/religious ritual while using the advanced alien technology (black goo)". Um, why? In a future blog post I'll I attempt to put a positive Exodemic spin on this flick and "explain away" the antiscience overtones of the horror story elements of Prometheus.

X marks the disposable sperm donor?
A sense of wonder
"a staggering disappointment"

As a fictional scientist trying to achieve First Contact, I'll take Carl Sagan's Contact and Ellie Arroway over horror sperm donor Charlie Holloway. But then, I hate horror stories.

"Scott seduces audiences with thought-provoking possibilities, then pulls a bait-and-switch, subbing in a familiar monster thriller and fiery explosion-fest"

Caesarean section, anyone?
I was tempted to see this movie before I learned that it is just a tease that tells us nothing interesting about the aliens who visited Earth long ago. It is a tease with the next movie in the $erie$ already being di$cu$$ed. Rather than go to the theater, I find it more fun to imagine how Prometheus could be turned into an interesting SciFi flick (see this blog post).

Rated R for "Relentless Hollywood money machine".

Wait! Remember, this is a horror movie, where is the axe?


God vs. Aliens 

Creationism for Geeks
If there is no God and we, as a species, found evidence that we had been created by Hollywood aliens then would nihilism rule the box office? One solution to the Fermi Paradox is that humanoids inevitably destroy themselves: some technology (death stars, nuclear power, genetic engineering or nanorobotics, take your pick) will spin out of control and exterminate any technological species. Is that the inevitable Hollywood vision of a godless future?

Imagine that Ridley Scott is able to make a sequel (or two, or three or whatever the market will allow) to Prometheus: what are the chances that such a movie would say something interesting about aliens? Four puzzle pieces need to be fit in:

David, I am your father.
1) When I look into my crystal ball, I feel like my answer to this question should include artificial intelligence and humanoid robots. Do the "aliens" of Prometheus, "aliens" who have traveled between the stars for thousands of years, "aliens" who are so much like humans, also have artificial intelligence and robots?

2) Why is it that when humans finally make first contact, after 4,000,000,000 years of evolution, the aliens are very close to our level of technological development? Just so that humans can always defeat the Evil Aliens and allow for next year's $equel?

3) Are all humanoids blundering fools who will eventually unleashed a destructive "dark liquid" upon the universe, causing all biological lifeforms to be exterminated, leaving only their machines to continue into the future?

2020 - They want to put what inside of me?
4) What do the marketing expert$ in Hollywood judge to be the be$t mo$t profitable path forward for $ciFi movie$?

In the spirit of Prometheus, where the Big Answers are purposefully withheld, I'll leave this puzzle as an exercise for the reader. Answers are due before Noomi wakes up for the sequel.

"the weaknesses of Prometheus might be said to illustrate ... the negative impact of the large, greedy corporations that now govern the production of science fiction films"

Related news.... 

Apparently there was a decade-long effort to bring At the Mountains of Madness to the big screen. Since the plot of Prometheus is so similar to that in the 1931 H. P. Lovecraft horror story, that effort might need to wait until audience memories fade. I wonder how they planned to depict ancient alien ruins in a remote corner of Earth. Given the James Cameron connection, maybe the plan was to discover evidence for past visitors to Earth under water. Just think of the horrors that Cameron might dredge up from Lake Vostok.

My fantasy about of how Hollywood is likely to complete the story told in Prometheus....

2015: Prometheus 2, or, Take Me to My Maker

I just wanted to get a head
Timewarp! So, it is now 2015. Elizabeth the Faithful still expects to have a nice chat with an "engineer". David's robot head is riding an alien hover-unicycle around the "engineer" ship during the trip to the "engineer" home world. We wonder....has the entire "engineer"  civilization been knocked out of the space age 2,000 years previously? David Headroom and Elizabeth the Faithful are the only two sentient beings who managed to escape from moon LV-223. Why is that? The rest of the crew was unworthy; a bunch of dope-smoking buggers who deserved to die in a horror movie. Elizabeth and David have the right stuff. It might be the gold...David has gold leads on his positronic brain circuits and Elizabeth has a gold cross.

At the alien home world David Headroom and the Alien Birther will learn the truth of humanity's past. Lucky for corporate, there will be many "engineers" in suspended animation on the "engineer" home world who can be awakened and infected with black slime in order to satisfy every Hollywood horror fetish. Then it will be time for Elizabeth and David to return triumphantly to Earth.

2020: Prometheus 3: The Voyage Home
But on the flight to Earth poor David will have his doubts. Logic will demand empirical evidence that worthy humans such as Elizabeth the Faithful are able to survive direct contact with the black slime. So, during their return flight to Earth, David will infect Noomi with black goo and something will grow inside her. Will it be the next stage human Star Child from 2001? In a horror movie? Get real. Well, maybe a Star Child with a giant prehensile snake-like organ (with teeth) that will emerge from Queen Elizabeth whenever an unworthy Earthling needs to be eliminated. Earth will be full of unworthy redshirts, more than enough to satisfy the casting call for yet another Hollywood horror movie.

Coming in 2025: a Prometheus the Next Generation trilogy.


See the exciting conclusion to the 2012 Search for Interesting Hollywood Aliens

Click here to see how I would convert Prometheus from a horror movie into an intellectually-stimulating SciFi adventure flick.

2013 SIHA Award.

2014 SIHA.

Related reading: how ancient? 2,000,000,000 years; the alien Huaoshy.

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