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Room 101


Reflections on Ancient Astronauts in Prometheus

Ridley Scott's highly anticipated Alien prequel Prometheus promised to answer the questions Alien fans had been asking about the origins of the famous Xenomorphs since the release of Alien in 1979. Unfortunately, cinema goers will have to wait for the sequel as the film asks more questions than it answers. Audiences might have gotten some tentative answers about the evolution of the Alien, but they were left wondering about mankind's own origin. We can, however, look to other films that have explored the ancient astronaut theory to find some possible answers.

In a viral video released to promote Scott's return to the universe of space jockeys and chest-bursters, a young Peter Wayland, the founder and CEO of Weyland Corp, gives a presentation at the TED conference in the year 2023. During his talk the corporate chief lists mankind's greatest discoveries and inventions, culminating with the creation of "cybernetic individuals" who we're told in just a few short years will be indistinguishable from us. "We are the Gods now", Weyland boasts at the end.

The TED 2023 video sets up audiences for the events of Prometheus, in which in 2090 a human crew are sent to LV-223 to investigate the theory that humans were created by an unknown extraterrestrial species thousands of years ago.

The film begins with a prologue in which an alien "engineer" digests a black liquid reminiscent of the "black oil" in The X-Files. After swallowing this elixir the grey humanoid begins to die, its bulked up body breaking down on a cellular level before disintegrating into nothing. We can infer from film's title that this creature is supposed to be the real Prometheus, the Greek God who gave mankind fire, in the words of Mr Weyland at TED 2023: "Our first true piece of technology". We can also guess that because the race that this being belonged to has DNA that matches exactly with human DNA, that this being's sacrifice was the catalyst for mankind's evolution on Earth.

Betty Hill star map

Oddly paralleling the UFO research, after the opening credits two archaeologists discover a cave painting in Scotland of a star map that resembles the one drawn in real life by Betty Hill after recalling her alien abduction experience from 1961. This might just be a coincidence, however, Marjorie Fish has interrupted the Betty Hill star map as showing the double star system of Zeta Reticuli, which is the same star system where the Prometheus crew journey to in search of mankind's creators. Although, the name of the solar system is never stated in Prometheus, it is mentioned by the character Lambert in the original Alien.

The biggest problem with Prometheus is that the purpose the alien "engineers" had for creating humans is never revealed, although we are told they intended to wipe out all life on Earth before they either changed their minds or were interrupted at the last minuet. The closest we get to an answer as to why the "Gods" created mankind is when Mr Weyland's android son David asks one of the crewmen why did humans create artificial humans like himself. The answer "because we could" is as disappointing as it is scary.

The ancient astronaut theory, of course, is nothing new, especially in science fiction. Before Eric Von Daniken's 1968 best-seller Chariots of the Gods? popularised the theory that Earth had been visited by extraterrestrials back in pre-history, science fiction writers like Arthur C. Clarke and Nigel Kneale were exploring this idea in fiction.

In his 1951 short story The Sentinel, which later became the basis for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke was among the first to play with the idea that mankind could have been "engineered" by alien visitors in the remote past.

Monolith-like object photographed on Phobos, a moon of Mars

In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film begins with a tribe of apemen being visited by a mysterious black monolith. After touching the alien object the apeman tribe begins to develop new skills and intelligence. This is shown by the apeman leader Moon-Watcher picking up a bone and using it as a club. In a documentary about the making of 2001 to mark the film's 30th anniversary, Arthur C. Clarke explained that he and the director Stanley Kubrick had intended the strange artifact to be a kind of teaching machine: "The Monolith was essentially a teaching machine. In fact our original idea was to have something with a transparent screen on which images would appear, which would teach the apes how to fight each other, how to maybe even make fire. But that was much too naive an idea. So eventually we just bypassed it with a device which we didn't explain ... but they just touched it, and things happened to their brains, and they were transformed."

Clarke also explains in the same documentary the meaning of the famous scene when Moon-Watcher throws the bone weapon he invents into the air and the scene shifts to a satellite orbiting Earth in the year 2001. According to the inventor of the communications satellite, the spacecraft orbiting Earth is a nuclear weapon. The message being that the same intelligence that gave humans the ability to go into space can also be used to destroy ourselves before we journey into outer space.

Apemen were also the target of ancient alien manipulation in Nigel Kneale's third Quatermass story, Quatermass and The Pit. Originally a six part story broadcast live on the BBC between December 1959 and January 1958, the story centres around the discovery of a mysterious "unexploded bomb" at an archaeological dig in London. Found near the remains of apemen with unusually large skulls, the object is in fact a Martian spaceship that had been sent to Earth to return several apemen to the planet after they had been augmented. Going one step beyond 2001, the reason the aliens had for altering the apemen is given in Quatermass and The Pit. With their own race doomed by an environmental cataclysm on Mars, the aliens intended the apemen to be their successors. In the words of Quatermass: "It would be a way of possessing the Earth. Only a colony by proxy, but better than leaving nothing at all behind."

Another interesting parallel between Clarke's 2001 and Nigel Kneale's Quatermass and The Pit is that that the increased intelligence of the apemen has potentially catastrophic results. In 2001 the very first tool Moon-Watcher creates is used as a weapon to club another apeman to death, and millions of years later mankind uses its intelligence to put nuclear weapons in orbit. Paralleling this, Quatermass and The Pit begins with Professor Quatermass condemning a government plan to put similar weapons in space. Might this have been the reason for the "engineers" in Prometheus wanting to wipe us out, were they afraid of what humans might do once they began to develop more sophisticated weapons than bone clubs? In Ufology the explosion of the first atomic bomb in 1945 is often suggested as a reason why aliens might be visiting Earth, but if Scott's "engineers" had similar concerns about the course human technology was taking towards destruction, then why then didn't they go ahead with their planned annihilation of all life on Earth?

Again a possible explanation might be found in Kneale's Quatemass and The Pit. In that film the reason the aliens are unable to finish their colonisation of Earth is because the Martians, obsessed with a hatred for nonconformity and anything different, wipe themselves out in a race war first.

Prometheus ends with the archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw and the decapitated head of the android David setting course for the home world of the "engineers". Will they find a dead planet with only hints of the civilisation that once existed there in the proposed sequel to the prequel? We will have to wait for Scott to finish his long awaited Blade Runner sequel, another film that asks questions about the nature of God, to find out.

Whether any of these films are some form of UFO disclosure or disinformation effort, or simply the product of imaginative minds... I'll leave that for another column, though.

Richard Thomas's new book “Sci-Fi Worlds - Doctor Who, Doomwatch, Battlestar Galactica And Other Cult TV Shows” is available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. For more information about Richard Thomas's books go to www.richardthomas.eu or email sue@bretwaldabooks.com.