Before PROMETHEUS: A Look At Ancient Astronauts In Pop Culture
Most people know the Greek mythological figure Prometheus, if they know him at all, as the dude who stole fire from Olympus, gave to to mankind, then suffered a penalty that even Texas would call harsh. What's less well known is that Prometheus (and fellow titan Epimetheus) were tasked with actually creating mankind. He molded the first humans out of clay, Athena blew on them and, voila, a few millennia later everyone is watching Hot Shots Part Deux.
The search for mankind's creators (and the desire to ask them why they did it) is what launches the film Prometheus and the ship that bears its name. (The name doesn't quite make sense, even knowing the ending, because it implies that the ship is bringing new life - but by the end of this flick, trust me, you'll have other, bigger questions.)
Director Ridley Scott is quite adept at making the discoveries of the Prometheus seem vital and important, but the fact is that there are MANY other pop culture examples of Ancient Astronauts visiting and creating life on Earth. Here are some of the big ones. As you read, feel free to let the music of “Inca Roads” by Frank Zappa play in the background.
If you can't handle complex time signatures, the lyrics refer to the enormous glyphs in Peru representing animal forms called the Nazca Lines. The question asked is whether the pre-industrial Indians carved up as a giant free parking sign for UFOs. (Then there's a rockin' medium-tempo guitar jam followed by a series of blazingly fast arpeggios on the vibraphone.)
The song (which I recognize is not for everyone, don't feel bad if you had to turn it off) was released in 1975, a full seven years after the publication of Erich von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods?. It's a title that looks ominous but if you say it out loud with the question mark it makes you sound like a Jewish grandfather. (So? Chariots of the Gods? You have my receipt?)
Chariots of the Gods? suggests that many of the technologically puzzling artifacts of prehistory (the Pyramids, Stonehenge, those Easter Island heads) were actually developed in concert with aliens.
Part of the book deals with these creatures seeding humanity, but hip TV audiences would have already had their minds blown about that one a full year prior with the broadcast of Who Mourns For Adonais? on a little program called Star Trek.
This episode doesn't just have a higher-than-usual rate of exposed male chests, it posits that Apollo, Athena, Aphrodite, Artemis and other legendary Greek figures whose names don't begin with A aren't myths – they were aliens from Pollux IV. It is strongly implied that human life on Earth is the result of their design and characteristics (minus some of the magic powers Apollo has) and that this seeding across the stars explains why so many of the creatures the Enterprise discovers are humanoid.
It's heavy stuff, but you can't take it too seriously when a dude in a gold robe (whose other work mainly consists of soaps and American dubs of anime) bellows “I Am Apollo!"
In 1959 Kurt Vonnegut wrote the hilarious and whacked-out novel The Sirens of Titan, which features alien intervention in a more unusual way. In it, he describes how the entirety of mankind's existence is solely to let a traveling alien marooned on Titan know to sit tight and wait for a replacement part.
Yes, all of our collective endeavors, the wars, the inventions and the subsequent innovations of architecture – particularly the Great Wall of China, the Kremlin and Stonehenge – are merely meant as a courtesy from Intergalactic Triple-A to assuage the nerves of a traveler from Tralfamadore.
Life on Earth is truly a cosmic joke to Vonnegut - our struggles are so meaningless in the grand scheme of things that to let minor manipulations and tweaks to our history spell out this simple message over enormous stretches of time is seen as a reasonable course of action to the capital u Universe.
Jerry Garcia worked for years to get a movie version off the ground.
Source, Dr. FaustusAU at Deviant Art
Elder Things. The Star-spawn of Cthulhu. Shoggoths. Mi-go. All of these cool sounding beasties come from Outer Space. (Well, not the Shoggoths, they were created by the Elder Things here on Earth, but they probably created guys like 'em elsewhere, too.)
They were buried in Antarctica and discovered by explorers from Miskatonic University in H.P. Lovercraft's At the Mountains of Madness which pretty much set the wheels of Ancient Astronauts in motion.
I'm no Lovecraft scholar so I'm ill-equipped to draw parallels between the Cthulhu Mythos and other well-known prehistoric alien visitors (other than The Thing, due to its location) but I will say that At the Mountains of Madness is fun, short and a free PDF download if you do a quick search.
There are a slew of recent examples of the trope, but the one that's most similar to Prometheus is probably Mission to Mars.
MTM's third act is basically one of those stand-up 360 degree movies like they have at EPCOT, wherein the exploring astronauts witness how Earth's evolution came from the heavens. (Why these creatures could spread their genetics through the vacuum of space but could not afford decent CGI isn't discussed.)
I think Mission to Mars makes a nice bookend and closer (as opposed to, say, the Milla Jovovich vehicle The Fourth Kind - remember that one?) because it is like a mirror of Prometheus. Both come from gifted, legendary directors whose later work has been one excuse after another from fans. Both films had terrific promise and wonderful trailers. Whereas Prometheus stumbles in that it leaves too much unanswered, Mission to Mars, in my opinion, collapses under its specificity.
Before we wrap this up, let's not leave out the strangest and least expected example of Ancient Astronauts in movies: