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Prometheus (2012) Vivisected: Part 2: The sea of questions regarding the mysterious black goo

November 16, 2012


I hope you enjoyed Prometheus (2012) Vivisected: Part 1: The Unacceptable Discontinuity between Alien and Prometheus.  If you didn’t, then go post a complaint or disagreement; start some fires.  I really wanna’ hear it!  If not, then sit back and enjoy my rabble-rousing second installment.

Again, as a friendly reminder, I did not dislike this movie.  I rather enjoyed it very much.  Despite that, I have numerous complaints about the movie and, like any blogger, I feel empowered by my newfound “voice” and exploit the fact that my friends often give me pity-reads.  So here’s more about a movie that I loved watching and love to hate analyzing.

Another disclaimer, I am on the tail end of my second graduate degree—I’m an insect phylogeneticist. Given today’s topic, you’ll notice the science geek in me truly emerging within some of the justifications of my complaints.  In future installments of this unending series of rants, you’ll see the bug geek emerge, too.

In today’s installment I will address the sea of questions immersed in Prometheus’ mysterious black goo…

The website:  Various online fora have attempted to provide answers regarding technical aspects of Prometheus.  But so much is left in the hands of the writers’ and directors’ use of artistic license and their weighing what we “do see” versus what we “don’t see” between the scenes and beyond the camera angles of “the story.”  However, the black goo comes off as “a thing that should come with rules.”  As such, the Prometheus-movie website forum co-administrator (handled “Snorkelbottom”) contributed to a forum called “The Secrets of the Black Liquid REVEALED.”  How legit is this website?  Very.  How legit is his forum poster?  I’m not really sure.  Is Snorkelbottom just “some dude” with some random ideas like me?  Not sure again.  But he is more than just a random “member” of the movie’s official website (and hype/propaganda machine).  As a biologist (my day job), I find a lot of holes in Snorkelbottom’s explanations—not that I could perfectly solve them without an elaborate treatise and a few more doctorates.  However, his answers represent a serviceable effort in making sense in the writers’/director’s decisions about the goo to the general population—however I’d ignore his sections “The Dark Truth” to “Conclusion”… simply not enough understanding of evolution, genetics or genomics in this forum discussion.  I’ll attempt to my own extrapolations about the goo but encourage you to check out his forum post.  Like me, he clearly put a lot of thought into it.

What does this stuff do?  Let’ try it out on a friend…

My issues regarding the question “What exactly does the black goo do?”  The effect of the goo seems to vary as wildly as the results of casting two dice on a craps table?  Further confusing is that no two people or things come in contact with the goo under the same circumstances.  And yet more perplexing is the case of whether or not the black goo and the stuff in the glass vials (in the urns) have the same properties, completely unrelated properties, or if they had to mix.  I am deliberately treating them as the same substance for now.  Case by case from the movie, I present my questions and suppositions. So let’s skip the anesthesia and get this Alien autopsy vivisection going!

Super tiny constrictor eggs.  [FYI—Here I operate under the assumption that the snaky things develop from the tiny worms in the goo.] The goo is a zygotic muck that spawns little vermiform worms which, evidently within hours, become three-foot long boa constrictor leeches that bleed acid and love go spelunking in human digestive systems (e.g., down biologist Millburn’s throat).


This is what you get!  You’re a biologist who treated a snake thing from another galaxy like a damned puppy.  You deserved this.

What nutrients they consume to reach this size this fast, I do not know…let’s just pretend they get all the carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and nitrogen they need for the cellular building blocks of life from the air.  At this point, we’ll ignore the extremely low atmospheric density of these elements compared to a four pound organism (assuming there was only one of them).  Otherwise, recalling Chemistry 101, we’d realize that if that room were a closed system no one would be able to breathe in that room anymore after this critter developed.

Oh, look, it hisses. Let’s pet it.  Stupidest biologist ever!

And just how and why did these things develop in the first place if, indeed, they developed from the little worms?  Was it just because the goo triggered some developmental response when exposed to atmospheric changes (somehow from the human presence)?  Lots of blogs out there have lots of answers. We’ll never know.

Fifield’s transformation into a rage zombie.  After getting a face full of acid-melted glass (or plastic or whatever from his helmet)—during the encounter with biologist Millburn and the snake thing—geologist Fifield apparently dies (or nearly so) and falls melted-face first into the black goo-mucky ground (or maybe it was just the alien’s blood that induced his “changes”).  The next time we see him he has a mutated hate, super strength and some serious rage issues.  But how did he get this way?  Would his eyes even function anymore after the whole melted glass in the face event?  Or does he regenerate now?  He basically comes off as a mix between a “Zerg-infected” human from Starcraft and a 28 Days Later rage zombie. Why even have that rage zombie scene at all?

If someone just offered Fifield some aspirin and aloe vera, all that mayhem in that stupid scene could have been completely avoided.

Now for the big question: What induced his transformation?  Was it because the alien DNA in the acid blood affected his system?  Was it because of the fluid on the ground?  Was it, perhaps, a combination of the two?

Why not a virus instead of a rage zombie?  If indeed this use of the black goo was to create an infected unit (or a decoy as in Screamers) to infiltrate target populations, then how about infect him, then make him a decoy to allow him (infected and all) back on the ship?  If the goo transformation could first heal/regenerate him (i.e., if injured at all) but keep him human (with his mind intact), then he could make it back onto the ship (or into a human colony, etc.), in which there would be the delayed transformation and he could infect others in the general population the same way.  Hell, it could even be a deadly virus (like an Ebolavirus) with a 48-72 hour incubation period.  Wouldn’t that be a better plan on the Engineers’ part?  After all, they have plenty of other toys (like the xenomorphs) to do any necessary killing.  A viral agent (to which Engineers are immune) would be a good start to any spirited human genocide.  Don’t you think?

A worm-based disease with an elaborate life cycle.   Remember when David goo-ruphies Holloway’s drink?  This elixir of—I guess—parasitic eggs can be ingested, infiltrate the blood stream and pop up in places like, oh I don’t know, Holloway’s eyeball…not unlike a form of filariasis (e.g., onchocerciasis).  For whatever reason, these worms don’t develop into anything snake-like and affect Holloway more like a rapidly degenerative virus which, again for whatever reason, fails to infect others by any means other than fluid exchange like when he impregnates the barren Shaw with what turns out to be a chest-bursting facehugger.  Now THAT reverses everything we thought we knew about Alien biology.  Sure, maybe she was going to have a conventional vaginal delivery—it did, after all, have an umbilical cord.  But still, she was impregnated with an alien by someone who had an alien-borne disease without contracting the worm-based infectious disease, then she gave birth to something we’re accustomed to seeing hatch from an egg, and this thing’s purpose is to impregnate yet another host with yet another alien which, presumably, will burst from their chest and then develop into a big xenomorph.

That’s a worm host, then a chest-bursting facehugger host, then a face-hugged facehugger host.  Three different hosts.  ELABORATE!  This may seem crazy, but this elaborate case also occurs in real life with the life cycle of the causitive agent of bird flu.  But, would the Engineers really come up with something so elaborate.  Why not skip a step?  Their goal is genocide, not to make us suffer.

Another question altogether: Was Holloway on his way to transforming into a rage zombie like Fifield?  Maybe it wasn’t a degenerative disease at all, but rather the beginning of a painful transformation.  Changing genetic code in a living organism sounds like it could be painful.

Is the black goo within the urns’ vials different from the urn goo that isn’t in the vials?  And does it regenerate tissue?  Snorkelbottom suggested that the goo in the vials within the urns has the “effect of revitalizing dead/dying cells, seemingly resulting in re-animation (Shaw’s womb/Fifield)” and that this goo is different from the goo that wasn’t inside the vials.

This is why you should buy your own drinks at the bar.

But Shaw was impregnated by Holloway who ingested the goo from within the vials and Fifield fell face first into the floor which was wet with the goo that wasn’t in the vial…or was it there, too?  On top of that, the inability to conceive is not necessarily the product of dead cells or damaged tissue and Shaw wasn’t actually exposed to the goo but rather body fluids of someone else who was infected–if that makes a difference.  So that’s a double-tap to the head of questions for that theory–not that I can find an easy explanation as to why there were two different liquids.  Perhaps the fertility of the host is irrelevant as long as there is a uterus, or simply, a living body!  This stuff is pretty good at playing with DNA (as we saw with Fifield, discussed above) so I doubt that it would require a host ovum to develop.  To say we would need one would also imply that the worms (or their eggs or whatever) actually functioned as sperm!  See how this is getting silly fast?  This shit is complicated enough as it is.

The fact that we see goo-covered worms in one place and sealed vials in another suggests that they should be two very different things.  Perhaps all of the changes were somehow linked to the vialed fluid.  Perhaps some of the changes were from the goo, but those were a product of an indigenous bacteria or virus brought to the barren planetoid by the Engineers–yet not necessarily “engineered.” See how the questions stack up pretty high with this movie?

SUPER GEEKY SIDEBAR:  Back to developmental biology…  As I questioned above in addressing the tiny worm turning into a constrictor thing, what are these things consuming?  Let’s address John Hurt’s chestburster in Alien and Shaw’s fetal facehugger.  When they are inside their hosts, what do they feed on in order to grow?  It takes about 285-300 calories a day for nine months (that’s 77,000+ calories) to fully develop a human fetus[That’s right.  Only about 300 calories a day.  So YES, your wife IS taking advantage of her pregnancy and NO an extra 1000 calories a day isn’t necessary to ensure a healthy baby.  Eating for two?  Yes.  But one of them starts out smaller than a pin head and rarely exceeds 10% the size of mom.].  These things were ready to plague the world after under 24 and 12 hours, respectively.  This gets a bit abstract because maybe the aliens are WAY more efficient in their energy use and development.  But to make a 6 to 8 pound facehugger, Shaw had to feed it with something!  It wasn’t 77,000 calories of body fat (adipose tissue).  Anyway, those triglycerides have only carbon, oxygen and hydrogen—nothing else.  Also, she’d look a lot more wiry after losing about 20 pounds (~77,000 calories)!  She also didn’t seem weak until the baby was “kicking”, so she didn’t take a big hit to her muscle tissue, body fat, blood sugar, blood period, or anything.

Tsk tsk…You know, Shaw, abstinence is the only birth control that is 100%.  I hope he was worth it!

If it just fed on blood plasma or something, despite the lack of nutrients, she’d be quite anemic and sickly.  Even a combination tissues thereof is far-fetched considering the amazing speed at which that much poundage of alien critter is produced—no matter how well they we engineered!  Speaking of which, how did the chestburster in Alien put on 300 xenomorphic pounds in a day!?!  Was the Nostromo transporting bins or ProWeightGainer powder, steroids and whole milk loaded with growth hormones?  If it was then, no argument, I get it.  If not, then I’d like an explanation.


Yeah…this doesn’t happen over night.

GEEKY SIDEBAR CONTINUED: Then there’s the acid blood…  Continued from above, these critters at least began their development in a human host.  Well, the critters being discussed did.  But even the little snake things, which had acid blood as well, needed to get the appropriate elements for the acid.  I doubt they’re simply hydronium ions.  Typically we require nitrogen, chlorine or sulfur in addition to hydrogen and oxygen to form acid molecules.  H2SO4 (sulfuric) and HCl (hydrochloric) are examples of common acids which, at high molarities, become quite dangerous.  I’m sure these elements are present in humans, but are they present in appropriate concentrations to provision their parasites’ needs without noticeable, if not fatal, side effects?  I guess I don’t know.  So if you plan on harboring a uteral or alimentary fetal Alien perhaps you should consult your physician…or a nutritionist…or maybe even a biochemist?

What exactly is that black goo?  Does the goo contain little slimy black worm eggs?  Does the goo contain the basic engineered DNA of the xenomorph and/or the different castes/species of xenomorphs?  Does it contain both and are they separate entities?  Does it contain both, but one is the organism’s eggs and the fluid medium is a DNA mutagen that hybridizes/transforms its host?  Is there a viral component added to the goo?  Is the xenomorph based on a real creature they found on another planet and then modified into their creation? Is there something about the administration or the host environment of the goo that dictates the life cycle of the produced xenomorph?  The answer is, evidently, almost all of the above.

Here’s a recap of what the black goo does…
Circumstance                                        Result
Change in atmosphere                        Eggs hatches into worms (then snaky things)
Contact w/ dead/dying tissue           Rage Zombie
Ingestion                                                Degenerative disease
Sex with “diseased” male                    Facehugger baby (uteral)
Sex with “diseased” female                 [unknown]
Lady on “diseased” lady action          [I’m dying to know]

So if the goo exists and does all this stuff, the result is that the laws of chemistry, physics and biology cease to exist.

Do I think about this a little too much?  Sure.  But if you read all the way through this article to read this line then you’re surely just as geeky. The only question at that point is whether or not you judge.


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