Today is Christmas. Whether you celebrate it or not, the general masses often enjoy the festivities, especially watching classic holiday movies: Home Alone, A Christmas Story, Jingle All the Way, or Elf. There are plenty to choose from. There is always a person online who makes a case that Die Hard is a Christmas movie because it occurs on the day. Let’s go with that logic and add Batman Returns, and Rocky IV to the list of Christmas movies. Today I’m writing about the greatest Christmas movie—Prometheus. This film released Summer of 2012 marked the return of Ridley Scott to the Alien franchise he birthed nearly forty years prior. At the time, the film had a lot of anticipation and expectation with one of the best trailers ever. I was living in Brooklyn at the time and spent the rainy day seeing it at Nighthawk Cinema in Williamsburg.
The reactions for many people were mixed, or they hated it. To this day, Prometheus is one of the most polarizing films ever. Admitedly, upon first view, I had mixed feelings. However, after many years and re-watches, I’ve found great appreciation for the ambitious film. This isn’t a movie review or an attempt to convince you that Prometheus is a great movie (but it is), it’s a reflection on the lessons we can learn as creators and builders on the ambition of this film.
(Some spoilers if you haven’t seen Prometheus!)
Dom Nero wrote in his Esquire article, It's Time to Redeem Prometheus: "Like it or not, you've got to admire Scott's audacity in giving us such an expansive new scope for the franchise." Regardless if people liked the film or not, a common praise everyone gives it is the ambition of what they made. Many prequels deliver lackluster narratives—showing the events the lead up to the original film without expanding the world. A great prequel expands on the world while respecting what came before it, and Prometheus does this in a grand way. In fact, it’s one of the films which content connects Alien to Blade Runner implying they are in the same world.
Ambition is the strong desire to do or achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work. Ambition is not hustle culture and working hundreds of hours a week, it’s going after a big vision. Ambition enables you to think big, and be confident, and is a shield against adversity you encounter. The two common people humanity roots for are the underdogs and people who chase their dreams, and boy, this Ridley Scott swung for the fences with this one. The baseball players who hit the most home runs are the ones who strike out, and Scott has no fear in striking out epically (have you ever seen The Counselor?). Having an ambitious mindset gives you the grit to keep iterating and confidently continue the great pursuit.
The visual language of this film is absolutely stunning—something people critical of the film admit as well. Despite appreciation for the aesthetics, the plot holes and narrative challenges couldn't save the film for people. Without solid grounding and foundations of elements that make an experience successful, visual aesthetics cannot save it.
I'm inspired by world-building as it pertains to software development and creativity. A practice often found in film and fiction writing, world-building in a nutshell is about the rules you create in the space of the experience you're designing and building.
Big things certainly have small beginnings. In my research, which is basically reading articles and watching the commentaries again, I learned the small and big details the team put in the world-building. The original script writer Jon Spaihts talks a lot about the design decisions to hint at the world being built. Spaihts mentioned the design of the helmets the crew wears, which are completely transparent. It's mentioned that in this world Gorilla Glass innovation would get to the point where it's stronger than steel, making the design choice glass. The vehicles have a lot of copper, hinting the crew navigates the planet with battery-powered vehicles.
In addition to the small details that hint at the world, Scott dramatically expanded the scope of what the world could be, always challenging us to think bigger. The aforementioned tiny details hint at a much bigger world. In its core essence, world-building is user experience and how someone interacts with what you build. The more we can have a 30,000 ft and 1px view of that, the more our end users gain.
There is a line in the film said by David, the Android on the ship played by the brilliant Michael Fassbender: "Sometimes to create, one must first destroy." In issue 117 we talked about the importance of subversion. Destroying something in order to create something new is arguable the greatest act of subversion. I'm not telling you to go delete your codebase tomorrow and start anew, but think about what room needs to be made to create something new. However, there are times that call for the destruction of something in order to create a new foundation.
This is happening in the DC Universe with newly appointed co-CEO James Gunn. As sad as I am that Henry Cavill is no longer Superman, it appears that the former Marvel Studios director and architect for a lot of the cosmic stories are rebooting the world from scratch. You can't keep a house that's falling apart because it has one good guest bedroom. You must destroy and start anew. The last few weeks have been a lot about the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in software with the release of ChatGPT with OpenAI. The temptation for many might be figuring out how to quickly pivot or tack on a layer of AI to what they're doing. However, a new innovation or invention like this might require exploring how things are built or created from the ground up.
Prometheus is the classic Five Ws for problem solving. Asking the right questions and having important discussions are key attributes of design and product development. If you spend as much time (or more) discussing the film than the length of the film, it’s notable. It’s here we have to acknowledge that the script rewrite was done by Damon Lindelof, who wrote the series Lost1. If you’ve seen either Prometheus or Lost, you’ll know things rarely get answered in a clear way. This may frustrate a lot of people, but I believe good Science Fiction prompts you to seek the answers yourself.
Before Prometheus, the 2010s lacked Sci-Fi ambition: Tron: Legacy, Cowboys and Aliens, Battle Los Angeles, Battleship, and Men in Black 3. After Prometheus we saw incredible Sci-Fi titles released such as Gravity, Snowpiercer, Interstellar, Ex Machina, The Lobster, The Martian, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, Annihilation, and many others. I like to think because of Scott’s ambitious attempt with Prometheus sparked other people to swing for the fences. It’s fitting that the film Prometheus is the Engineer in the opening scene that sacrifices itself to spark life.
If you've never seen Prometheus, give it a try. Perhaps you saw it in 2012 in theaters like me and haven't seen it since—give it another watch. Hint: Prometheus is better if you watch it as a Blade Runner movie than an Alien movie.
Finally, I commend Ridley Scott's ambition and output at his age. The man is definitely YOLO'ing it. At age 85 Scott has no signal of slowing down. For someone nearer to the end of his life and lost two brothers (including the tragic suicide of Tony Scott the same year Prometheus was released), what does he have to lose in being ambitious? Life is too short and not a promise, so you might as well swing for the fences. As I reflect on 2022 and find a guiding light for 2023, it’s simple: be ambitious and go for broke.