Over 30 years after the space jockey first appeared in “Alien,” and after months of speculation, rumor and anticipation, Ridley Scott‘s “Prometheus” — his return to sci-fi for the first time since “Blade Runner“, and his continuation/prequel/spin-off/whatever to his 1979 space horror classic — finally hits theaters in the U.S. today. The film is already inspiring fierce debate, and The Playlist team are split down the middle on the project, with wildly divided reactions from those who’ve seen it.
Love it or loathe it, there’s a lot to talk about, not least from the cast and crew of the film: Ridley Scott, writer Damon Lindelof and stars Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce and Idris Elba have all been giving countless interviews over the last few weeks. To give you something to dig into once you see the film this weekend, we’ve collected some of the highlights about the production of the film, the questions it raises, and where a sequel might end up going. Be warned: major spoilers are ahead, so best to stick a pin in it until you’ve caught the film. Read on for more.
SERIOUSLY, MAJOR SPOILERS
Early titles included “Alien: Paradise” and “Tomb Of The Gods”
“Prometheus” is an iconic name, with its suggestion to Greek myth, but it was one that only arrived relatively late in the process. Concept artist Steven Messing revealed to Hollywood.com that “Tomb of the Gods” was one possibility at one stage, while Scott himself liked the name “Alien: Paradise” when the film was still tied more directly into the franchise. He relates, “I was going to call it ‘Alien: Paradise’ because I thought that had a spooky connotation to the idea, because it concocts our notion and idea of paradise and ‘what is that?’ And paradise to us suggests religion and religion says ‘God’ and then God, who created us, and that’s certainly… you’ve got a scientist who believes in God and there’s lots of scientists who believe flatly in God and even though they may be in quantum physics, they say ‘I get to a wall and some times wonder ‘who the hell thought of this one?’ and I can’t get through the wall. When I get through the wall more is revealed and I still see another wall, so who is making this sh*t up?'” [Bloody Disgusting]
For all the 3D bells and whistles, Scott still considers the screenplay king.
As one of cinema’s premiere visualists, Scott has a reputation for spectacle, but he maintains that the most crucial thing to an audience, and a movie, is a story and a script. “The most important, significant thing in all films – I don’t give a sh*t whether it’s science fiction or a western or whatever – is the goddamn screenplay. Get the screenplay right and all this technology enhances it. But when the screenplay is weak… The technology is the means to the end, the screenplay is the end. If you get that right first, the rest is relatively straightforward. Consequently the hardest single thing to do is get it on paper, and that’s why today there are many, many more movies being made than, say, 20 years ago. I’m just going to say it flat-out: the screenplays, the stories are mostly pretty sh*t. That’s why people who are coming [to cinemas] yearn for better content. Now we’ve got prime-time television in England running a Scandinavian show called ‘The Bridge.’ I’ve watched nine hours of it. It’s subtitled, on prime-time British TV. What does that tell you? A massive audience has built up because it’s good, has great characters, and this is gradually going to shift into movies. At the moment we’re still getting away with it, but I think people are getting impatient, particularly in what I’d call the majority part of the world – which is now two-thirds of the world audience and is everything outside of the domestic market, i.e. outside of the U.S. Get the story right.” [T3]
Scott used the opportunity of the film to improve some of the designs he wasn’t happy with.
As memorable as many of H.R. Giger’s designs for the original were, it turns out that when the opportunity came for Scott to revisit it, the director found some of the originals lacking in retrospect. According to concept designer Steven Messing “Ridley would call the old Giger stuff ‘porkchops.'” For instance, with the engineer’s pilot chamber, the designer says “I spent a lot of time redesigning that whole set. He hated it because [on the original], they basically took a bunch of plumbing and pipes that they found and laid it out on the ground. He walked in there and that’s what he saw and he couldn’t change it.” [Hollywood.com]
Ridley Scott was committed to making everything as tangible as possible.
While the director’s been unafraid of using CGI in recent years, he’s still someone who likes to do as much as possible practically. Charlize Theron in particular was amazed by the extent to which the titular ship was realized. “The entire ship was built,” she says. “Every button, every wall, every hallway. I think Arthur [Max, production designer] did an amazing job. The [only] green screen that I saw was through the windows. That was it. Even what the monitors were showing like the scene where I’m watching Weyland out in space, he had pre-CGI’d all of that for us on videos so that it was projected for us to watch… I mean, the day that the projectors started showing the scene, I was like, ‘Ridley, now you’ve really crossed the line.’ You know, I can act, too, a little bit here.” [Collider]
Fox were nervous about Rapace being in the lead, and she had to convince them she could act in English.
In some ways, the casting of Noomi Rapace as the lead is an even bolder move than the then-unknown Sigourney Weaver in the original — while the actress had starred in the Swedish “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” films, she’d never before shot a film in English when she was cast (although she ended up shooting “Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows” before “Prometheus”). Rapace relates the screen test she had with Scott, who’d already decided he wanted the actress: “Ridley worked with me as if it was a real scene. He kept saying to me, ‘You don’t have to prove anything, this is not a test for me. You’re my girl. We’re just doing this together so they can see that you can act in English.’” Ultimately, between the test and Scott’s reputation, the studio was convinced: Emma Watts, president of production at Fox, adds “I think it’s a hard role to fill, but Ridley was confident in Noomi from the get-go and he has a pretty good track record with casting.” [LA Times]
Noomi Rapace says her physicality was inspired by a cat.
As you might imagine, “Prometheus” is a very physical movie, and one of the most interesting things about the performances is the body language the actors use. Rapace says that one animal in particular inspired Elizabeth Shaw’s movement (perhaps in homage to Jones in the original…) “I finished ‘Sherlock Holmes’ in January and then I had like eight weeks to prep. I remember I told me trainer that I wanted to change my body into like a cat. I want to be like an animal, be able to do whatever is necessary for me to do to survive. You know, if you throw a cat down from a tree they will land on their feet, and they can run if they need to and they can climb,” Rapace explained. “So I wanted to make my body be ready for whatever she’s going to face, whatever she’s going to be confronting out in that, on this journey. Because I think that Elizabeth Shaw has been prepping. She’s been going through all those physical tests and prepping probably a couple of years before they went on this journey, and also because I want to be in a condition so I can do as much of my own stunts as they allow me to do.” [Shock Til You Drop]
Sex and birth is a key aspect of the movie.
One of the key things that made the original “Alien” so memorable was the highly sexual imagery of the creatures, and that’s certainly present in the follow-up. As Damon Lindelof says, “I think ultimately everything thematically comes back to the idea of creation, like the drop which can start an entire branch of this incestuous perverted family tree. We don’t have to be pretentious about sex, but there are all different kinds and forms of sex, for lack of a better way to look at, and birthing and creating life, from the beings that created us to the beings we create, and the various roles in fertilization, from the bee to the flower to the pollen. Even those of us who can’t generate our own seed. So the entire movie is an exercise in what is the family tree and whose progeny are we. You’re looking at one wild, sick, and twisted extraterrestrial orgy! That should be out there. We should brand it like that.” [Vulture]
The surgery scene — the gruesome highlight of the film — was shot on a closed set.
Just as “Alien” had its legendary chestburster scene, “Prometheus” has a gruesome surgery set-piece where Elizabeth Shaw tries to remove the fast-growing mutant fetus that she’s conceived with Holloway. But in order to protect Rapace, and the secret, Scott says the scene was “private, no one witnessed that” — it was shot on a closed set, with a minimal crew. Nevertheless, Rapace admits that it gave her bad dreams for two weeks afterwards, and anyone who’s seen the scene won’t be surprised. [This Is Cornwall]
Guy Pearce thinks he got the part because of his role in “The King’s Speech.”
The Australian actor knew he’d been in consideration for parts in Scott’s films in the past, but only met the director a few years back. “He came to a screening of ‘Hurt Locker.’ I think that was the first time I met him, a couple of years back. We had a lovely chat, just a brief chat, and I think there might have been jobs in the past where my agent might have said, ‘Ridley is doing… If you’re going to be around, it might be good to go and meet [him],’ but I can’t remember. Maybe ‘Black Hawk Down,’ but nothing that I have auditioned for or nothing that ever got close or even seriously considered or even things that came my way.” But the actor says that it was his turn in the Oscar-winner “The King’s Speech” that won him the part in “Prometheus.” “I think Chris, my agent, was really just going ‘Let’s just get you in front of Ridley and see if he thinks there’s something.’ And Ridley was a fan of ‘King’s Speech.’ So we actually talked about that a lot and you know I think he probably thought there was something in what I had done there that might actually work for Weyland, but he didn’t talk to me about Weyland at all and then we suddenly got an offer.” [Collider]
Pearce plays the elderly Peter Weyland because of a scene that ended up being scrapped from the finished film.
Those understandably puzzled by the casting of 45-year-old Guy Pearce as an elderly man in the film should know that there was initially rhyme and reason to the decision: originally, you would see Peter Weyland in the film as a young man within a virtual reality dream on the ship. Damon Lindelof explains: “Originally in the draft there’s a scene in the movie where we see David with his headset on and he’s talking to someone, and we don’t know who it is. And we decided not to shoot the other side of that scene, where we see the inside of that dream, and basically David takes a jet ski out with a beautiful woman in a bikini, to a yacht, and on the yacht is Weyland – played by Guy, without old-age make-up: this is his dream. They have a scene together and in it David says, ‘The engineers are dead, they’re all gone, mission failure,’ and Weyland says, ‘Go back and try harder.’ We rewrote it so that we were going to play Weyland’s identity closed, give the audience a sense that David was talking to someone on the ship but not view them. But we had already shot the scenes with Guy in the old-age make-up. So we were like, ‘Are people are going to wonder why we cast Guy Pearce to play an old man, unless we represent him as Guy Pearce?’ So that basically tapped into a piece of viral we had already been talking about, [the TED talk].” [T3]
There should be at least one more viral ad on the Blu-Ray.
One of the highlights of the marketing campaign have been the viral ads, featuring Guy Pearce, Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace in character. According to producer Michael Costigan, they came from the filmmakers, rather than the marketing team, and more may surface on the home video release: “What’s so satisfying about the process is that some of the things a director looks to do, those viral films allow you to kind of explore some different ideas… Different ideas would pop up, that you knew, in building the mythology for this movie, it’s a two hour movie, there’s a limit to how much can make it into the film, and so different ideas were accrued over time, and we logged them. We started making those movies while we were shooting the film… I would hope, if there’s anything additional on the Blu-Ray, it should be more of those.” And writer Damon Lindelof gives a hint as to what one of the others might be: “There was one other piece, that’s in the movie… there’s a message that they’re transmitting to the Engineers, with the girl playing the violin, and David and Holloway have the scene [in the movie] where they haven’t responded to the message. That’s another piece of viral which we may or may not release.” [HeyUGuys/T3]
Idris Elba sees his character as the equivalent of an old sea captain.
One of the film’s highlights is the lovely turn by Idris Elba (who worked with Scott previously on “American Gangster“) as Janek, the captain of the Prometheus. The actor says that he saw his role as a representation of the working-class aesthetic seen in some of the earlier “Alien” films. “…my character’s functionality in the film is to represent a working man. Yes, we’re going to space, but so what? Usually I take monkeys, today I’m taking scientists, so what? [My accent] was just a choice based on some of the history, looking at who would choose this type of profession,” he said. “It wasn’t boys from Chicago who could play the piano. These guys were working seamen, lived by the shore, didn’t have much going on in their lives. I brought the Southern thing into it, nothing specific.” [Film.com]
Could Meredith Vickers be an android? Charlize Theron ain’t telling.
Any “Blade Runner” fans will get a kick out of the suggestion by Idris Elba’s Janek that Meredith Vickers, Theron’s character, might be a robot. While Vickers offers to sleep with her captain to prove otherwise, Theron says they didn’t decide on anything for certain on set, particularly when it came to her relationship with her “brother,” David. “We played around with a lot of stuff, I’ll just say that. We threw a lot of stuff out there very loosely. There was definitely something that happened once David and I kind of stood next to each other, where I started feeling like his posture was overtaking my posture. There’s the good age-old question like, ‘Is the chicken before the egg?’ Like, is it him or is it me or is it part of my DNA in him? We did talk about that a lot, that it was nice to have something ambiguous about the origins of both of us, maybe, like why do we look so much alike? Why am I walking so much like him? Is it that I am an android or is it that I gave him human qualities, that I gave him my DNA?” [Collider]
Lindelof says the sequel could begin 2000 years ago.
One of the big questions the film hints at is why the Engineers were seemingly intent on wiping out Earth. For the answer, which may follow in a sequel, Damon Lindelof says it may lie in Earth’s past: “When they do the carbon gating on the dead engineer and realise he has been dead for 2000 years then you wonder about when, 2000 years ago, the Engineers decided to wipe us out. What happened 2000 years ago? Is there any correlation with what happened on the Earth 2000 years ago and this decision that was already in motion? Could a sequel start in that time period and contextualize what we did to piss these beings off?… If a lot of people go to see this movie and there is a critical sense of people wanting there to be another one, the second movie would clearly answer the question of ‘what did we do to deserve this?'” Jesus as a space jockey? Yeah, we’d pay to see that. All that said Lindelof isn’t sure if he’ll be back for any prospective follow-up, especially given he’s got TV work and the Brad Bird-directed “1952” coming up. “I do feel like the movie might benefit from a fresh voice or a fresh take or a fresh thought. Sometimes the baton should be passed, if that’s what the story demands. I had [‘Prometheus’] for the period of time that I was running the race, and if that story continues, it could actually benefit going into someone else’s able hand.” [Bleeding Cool/THR]
The other big unanswered question for the sequel revolves around the nature of the black goo that mutates Holloway.
It’s clear that strands are being set up for the sequel to follow up, and aside from the Engineer’s plans for Earth, one is exactly what the black goo inside the urns is, and what it does: Damon Lindelof explains: “I think that one of the things that I love about Ridley’s movies, and have loved long before I worked with him, is 30-some odd years after ‘Blade Runner’ we’re all still talking about whether or not Deckard is a replicant. So there’s a speculative part of it – the question becomes, ‘What does the black goo do?’ That is the question that you’re supposed to be asking coming out of this movie. The movie demonstrates what it does in certain circumstances. So, here’s what it does if it gets on worms; here’s what it does if it gets on your face; here’s what it does if someone just puts a little bit of it in your drink. Now we see that that lots of this is headed to Earth. [There’s] the theory Janek has, because it looks like a payload to him; all these ships are loaded with this stuff, and they’re headed for Earth. The intent has to be to wipe us out, or is it to evolve us, or is it for something else?” [T3]
“Prometheus” is in theaters now.