HAIRCUT 100: Day 96, No. 96. Sticking with the Alien franchise – and why not? – The Engineers (AKA Pilots, Ossians, Mala’kak and ‘Space Jockeys’); in the Prometheus universe: God. It took a couple of watches, but I’ve got to admit I liked this movie, although the pacing was off: too much build-up followed by a hasty and inconclusive climax. That said, the cast is wonderful. Michael Fassbender as the Peter O’Toole obsessed android David owns this movie, while Idris Elba effortlessly steals every scene that he’s in and Noomi Rapace is far from terrible as the ‘Ripley’ figure. The story itself is a nice development of the so called ‘Ancient Astronaut’ hypothesis that became very popular cultural currency in the 1970s in the wake of the writings of Erich von Däniken, beginning with Chariots of the Gods in 1968, who famously argued that many archaic civilisations were visited and influenced by advanced alien cultures. Other examples of this thesis are Zecharia Sitchin’s Earth Chronicles series (1976 – 2007), which introduced the ‘Nibiru’ myth in which the ‘Anunnaki’ wipe out the Neanderthals, and The Sirius Mystery (1976) by Robert Temple, who claimed that the Dogon people of Mali in Western Africa preserve a tradition of contact with intelligent extra-terrestrial beings. These are all pseudo-scientific investigations of myths involving the so called ‘First Ones.’ These ideas had already been enthusiastically explored in the pulp magazines, most notably in H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘Cthulu Mythos,’ and in stories like Robert Arthur’s ‘Evolution’s End’ (1941), Eric Frank Russell’s Dreadful Sanctuary (1948), and ‘The Writing of the Rat’ by James Blish (1956). You can also see the influence in the work of Arthur C. Clarke (particularly Rendezvous with Rama and 2001), and L. Ron Hubbard, notably his ‘Galactic Confederacy’ myths.
In Ridley Scott’s epic Prometheus (2012), late-21st century archaeologists discover a star map in Scotland that matches others from several unconnected ancient cultures. They interpret this as an invitation from humanity’s forerunners, who they call the ‘Engineers,’ and follow it in search of the origins of the human race. Meeting God is a Miltonic device used in the original Frankenstein, and one apparently close to Scott’s heart, also forming the foundation of Bladerunner, in which the Replicants confront their creator, Tyrell.
The Engineers are an ancient and highly advanced extra-terrestrial species, with the technology to seed life and terraform planets. They first appear in the derelict spacecraft in Alien, the implication being that they fell victim to the ‘Xenomorph’ threat, as will the crew of the Nostromo. In the preface to the Prometheus story arc, a lone Engineer is shown drinking a chemical compound that dissolves him, his remains merging with a large body of water. Presumably, as human and Engineer DNA is later shown to be almost identical, we can read this as the creation of life on earth at the single-cellular level. As the film’s title suggests, this was not sanctioned by his people, and the ‘aliens’ are looking more and more like a biological weapon intended to cleanse planets of unwanted lifeforms. Seemingly the Engineers lost control of their fatal cargo somewhere along the way…
Physically, the Engineers are, like the Alien, Gigeresque, with design echoes from the Swiss surrealist’s Necronomicon series of paintings. They are pale, hairless and humanoid giants, with shark-like eyes and sexy biomechanical pressure suits. Whether they are gods or monsters or both remains to be seen, but it should be fun finding out. Alien: Covenant (provisionally entitled Alien: Paradise Lost) is scheduled for release next August, assuming we’re all still here.
Holloway: ‘What we hoped to achieve was to meet our makers. To get answers. Why they even made us in the first place.’
David: ‘Why do you think your people made me?’
Holloway: ‘We made you because we could.’
David: ‘Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?’
Holloway: ‘I guess it’s good you can’t be disappointed.’