The Ampule Room

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PYRAMID – CORE CHAMBER
The vast central chamber of the pyramid. An immense space. Holloway walks in, his flashlight searching. Watts hurries after. The others follow, rovers tagging along.

A colossal structure stands in the center of the chamber, convoluted and strange. A mechanism. Chasms yawn in the floor all around it, their depths lost in darkness.
~ Alien: Engineers, by Jon Spaihts.

In the original script by Spaihts the ampule room did not appear. Instead the Magellan crew find the pyramid’s atmospheric processor. In his screenplay the chamber is more akin to a garden than the dark shrine that appears in the movie:

The core chamber brightens as the sun outside moves into alignment. The shaft of light perfectly centered.

A vast SIGH as if the pyramid itself is breathing.

A fat drop of water falls on Watts’s glove. She looks up in surprise. Another falls on her visor. And then it’s raining inside the pyramid. Water trickles into the chasms, inundating the mossy growths that cling to the walls.

Damon Lindelof’s Prometheus script removed the air processor and replaced the sequence with the ampule room. Notably, there is no giant head in the script (at least not in the version that leaked – there seems to be no ‘Ridleygrams’ of it either), though there is a wall of ampules, “rows and rows of them.” The room’s exposure to new air causes the ampules to ‘sweat’ as they do in the movie, but they also topple and pop open and shatter in the screenplay.

The room is described in Lindelof’s script as being “scaled for beings twice our size. It makes our heroes look like children.” The chamber also boasts “cathedral ceilings fifty feet above [them].” David shines a light on the roof, illuminating the Engineer artwork. “It’s a painting,” he says. “Not a painting,” Shaw objects, “it’s a fresco.” David wonders what the difference is. “Frescoes are in houses of worship,” she answers. Shaw’s reaction to the facility is laden with religious overtones in both scripts. Spaihts writes that “She holds her map unit as a pilgrim holds a bible: a guide in the darkness.”

“We can’t help but agree with her,” says the script, “this does feel somehow holy… like an alien Sistine Chapel.” For Holloway, the chamber evokes a very different feeling, that of “a laboratory” which houses “technology and equipment we have never seen before.”

Unfortunately, the crew’s entrance triggers the destruction of the Engineer art – “like the picture of Dorian Gray — exposure to the environment is literally dissolving it.”

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Before the film’s release it was stated that HR Giger had designed a set of frescoes for the film. Fans were understandably excited and subsequently confused when his artwork did not appear.

The exposure of the pyramid’s insect life to the mutagen is more dramatic in the script. “We see several small centipedes that came in from outside skittering away as the liquid washes over them.” These centipedes mutate into the Hammerpede creature. Worms replace the centipedes in the film.

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The monolithic head, once rumoured to be the pilot of the Juggernaut ship, seems to testify some sort of blank, terrible power. Whether it signifies a god, a particular Engineer, or the Engineer race as a whole, we don’t know. Before the film’s release the giant head was rumoured to pilot the ship, and was imagined by fans as being a living, bodiless and biomechanic intelligence – a sort of riff on the legless, sessile Space Jockey seen in Alien. In the film it instead silently looms over the ampules in a chamber described as both a vault and a chapel.

“The idea there is that it’s part of the culture of the Engineers,” said Arthur Max, not revealing too much, except to elaborate that the Engineers are “this race of interplanetary visitors who have given us upgrades –mentally and physically– over the millennium.”

The head is inscribed with glyphs on its front and sides. One idea thrown around production was to have the Engineers bearing facial tribal tattoos. The glyphs on the giant head resemble the alien language inscribed on the structure’s walls, doorways and on the deadly ampules.

Ethiopian statue of Benito Mussolini, and the Engineers' 'God-Head'. Testaments to power and worship. Mussolini was gunned down, hoisted to the girder of a garage, and his corpse pelted, shot, and spat on. As Percy Shelley wrote in his poem Ozymandias, great and terrible leaders die, and the monuments to their reign topple and crumble, left to gaze over a buried empire. The legacy of the Engineers has fared no better.

Ethiopian statue of Benito Mussolini, and the Engineers’ ‘God-Head’. Testaments to power and worship. Mussolini was gunned down, hoisted to the girder of a garage, and his corpse pelted, shot, and spat on. As Percy Shelley wrote in his poem Ozymandias, great and terrible leaders die, and the monuments to their reign topple and crumble, left to gaze over a buried empire. The legacy of the Engineers has fared no better.

The headquarters of Benito Mussolini and the Italian Fascist party, taken in Rome in 1930. The Engineer head monument is an allusion to worship and power, perhaps even fascistic power.

Billboard for the 1934 parliamentary election for Benito Mussolini and the Italian Fascist party, taken in Rome. The Engineer head monument is an allusion to worship and power, perhaps even fascistic power.

A giant head featured in John Boorman's Zardoz (1974).

A giant head featured in John Boorman’s Zardoz (1974). Zardoz, a godly being, teaches that human procreation is an evil, since it results in the propagation of man. War is good, since it cleanses the world of men. There is no direct correlation between Prometheus and Zardoz, but these common elements are intriguing enough to merit a mention.

One of the chamber’s more interesting elements is the Alien mural that lies at the far end of the vault, behind the Engineer head.

“Another set that I worked on was known as the ‘Head Room.’ This was a ceremonial room that contained hundreds of ampules beneath a giant sculpture of an Engineer’s head. Julian Caldrow did an amazing job of working out all of the details for this environment and created the set drawings. The final set was built at full scale and was incredible to walk on. I also sculpted an altar area for this set that paid homage to Giger – it is a relief sculpture hanging from the wall and has the impression of an alien form with flowing structures surrounding it. There are a lot of easter eggs in this sculpture – including several hidden Giger motifs that were not used in the original film.”
~ Steven Messing, i09.com, 2012.

Holloway notices a small altar before the Alien mural. Atop this altar is a jade crystal – in the film’s trailers the crystal does not appear. Instead, a bowl like the one the Sacrificial Engineer drinks from in the film’s opening takes its place.

The mural’s significance is not revealed in Prometheus, but Steven Messing mused that “[The Engineers are] a lot about sacrifice, so in my mind there was an Engineer [in the past] who sacrificed himself to this virus and it created this horrific creature. This being, that was gonna eradicate planets, was like a parasite that would destroy the planet and then [the Engineers] could start over and rebirth it. And they kind of worshipped it and you see this relief sculpture where it’s almost a religious sculpture.”

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Ultramorph? Xenomorph? Proto-Alien?

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7 Comments

Filed under Prometheus

7 responses to “The Ampule Room

  1. Darrell Curtis

    The best part of the ‘Prometheus’ film is the questions it spawns. Will we get answers, or more questions, in sequels..?

  2. BillTed

    I sure wish I knew what the giant head had to do with anything.
    Its featured rather prominently in the advertising,
    like the egg was for Alien.
    The significance of the egg becomes pretty clear very early in Alien.
    The giant head?
    Not so much.

    Although it would be a difficult task to give the head significance to anything, when everything else in the movie around it doesn’t have much apparent significance or relation to each other either.
    Everything and everyone just appears to be wandering around in front of the screen handsomely, but pointlessly.

    I have to admit that I find this Prometheus additively fascinating.
    For all the wrong reasons.

    • BillTed

      Okay how about this,
      the giant head in the promotional material visually represents the humongous concept of faith in a creator. With little Shaw gazing up in awe at it.
      I can see that.

      And then when we see it in the movie, its the SJ’s who worship it. Suggesting that they also worship something greater then themselves, and like many religions picture it in their own image. Or more precisely, they in the creators image.
      (Or maybe I’m just doing all lindelofs writing for him.)

      I suppose IMO its a matter of the rest of the movie not seeming to have all that much to do with searching for or the concept of a creator. Other then as an excuse for them to get on the ship and go to a planet. They dont discuss it, no personal or theological revelations are made. Weyland just want to live longer, he’d be satisfied with goo if it does the job.

      The movie doesn’t really seem to be significantly about that.
      (That prometheus is really about anything at all may only be a myth.) Which is why the significance of a giant head idol in the context that it was presented seems negligible and peripheral to me.

      (I’ll figure it out eventually.)

  3. where's your mumma

    Steven Messing I believe is right on the money. The Trilobite and Deacon are proto-types but the ones spawned in the film aren’t the VERY first; they’re like living fossils. Engineers would seed worlds, populating them with hominids and tinkering them along, earth is one such planet. Since the engineers are all about sacrifice one engineer sacrificed himself to an early facehugger (Trilobite) spawning a deacon, which went on to kill and morph victims into eggs. (Remember the deacon in the film has plenty of corpses to play with, how else would this solitary creature reproduce? Look at the mural depicting the deacon, right above the hosts with facehuggers there are hosts in crouched, fetal positions, much like how Brett and Dallas were going to be morphed into eggs) This virus spread and evolved; trilobites got smaller and more advanced, evolving into the traditional huggers we know. Many primitive ancestors of organisms on earth were much larger than their current descendants. When the worlds are wiped out, the engineers collect the remaining eggs and return to LV-223. At some point something got out when earth was due for a black goo bombing, one Juggernaut escaped and crashed on 426. That is all reasonable to infer from the film but we’ll have to wait for what the licensed comics have in store.

  4. where's your mumma

    lol settle down, once I get going I care little for brevity.

    But you know what a simpler explanation is? Consider how similar the ampule chamber looks to the egg chamber, how the urns are spaced and arranged like the eggs in the derelict.

    Perhaps something got loose, a proto-xeno or whatever, and started secreting slimy resin all over the urns, cocooning them into eggs.
    The black goo needs something to incubate inside of, a womb, if a proto-xeno got loose it makes sense for it to cocoon the urns containing the larvae of his brothers and sisters.

    If the eggs were cargo on the derelict (and Ridley has said that they were cargo time and time again) how on earth would the engineers be able to handle them and stockpile them without being ahem faceraped?

    Once you get close to an egg it opens up, doesn’t it? I think the simplest explanation is that the derelict never had eggs to begin with but urns that were changed into leathery ‘eggs’. Indeed, in Dan O’Bannon’s original script the eggs were originally described as glossy urns or vases.

  5. billted

    “…brevity.”
    I love you.

    “…how the urns are spaced and arranged like the eggs in the derelict….”
    I think we’ve figured out who is lazily ripping off other peoples ideas and imagery without adding anything by now.

    “…and Ridley has said …”
    Ridley is half an idiot.
    He’s like rainman for framing and filming a scene.
    But Idi Amin for anything regarding a script.

    Ridley never wrote his better accomplishments.

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