Alien spawns Prometheus
It has been 33 years since the release of Alien on the big screen, a film that arguably launched the science-fiction/horror genre.
Director Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking film spawned a hugely successful – some would say superior – sequel, directed by James Cameron; third and fourth instalments which were not as successful; and a further two films in the spinoff franchise Alien vs Predator, the less said about which the better.
Scott went on to direct another seminal sci-fi classic, 1982’s Blade Runner, but 30 years would pass before he would return to the genre.
His interest, however, never abated. As he states in the production notes of Prometheus – out this week – he always maintained he would only make another sci-fi film if he was offered a truly grand idea.
No doubt echoing the sentiments of millions of sci-fi fans around the world, Scott said candidly: “over the past few decades we’ve been action filmed-out and monster filmed-out and almost science fiction filmed-out. So the baseline question is: how original are you going to be?”
He goes on to explain that although he has been constantly busy making other films, he never came across anything within the genre that was “worthwhile for me to do with enough truth, originality and strength.” Luckily for us, with Prometheus he found all three.
The seed for Prometheus was sown by a figure seen in a scene in the original Alien. That figure – a giant, fossilised creature sitting at the controls of some sort of craft with a large gaping hole in his chest – was incidental to the overall story of that film, but it was a figure that stayed in Scott’s mind.
Who was he, where was he from and what did he want? These questions provided the basis to the story that would become Prometheus.
The idea of a further entry in the Alien canon had been around ever since the fourth instalment, Alien Resurrection, was released in 1997. In fact, Prometheus started life as a clear prequel, but as Scott describes it, it became much more than that.
“Out of this creative process in developing the picture emerged a new, grand mythology in which this original story takes place,” he says. “The keen fan will recognise strands of Alien’s DNA so to speak, but the ideas tackled in this film are unique, far-reaching and provocative.”
Provocative indeed. Alien was a tight, tense and well-told horror movie – at its most basic premise about an alien being attacking a group of humans. But as Prometheus’s story written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof developed, grand ideas began to emerge.
Eventually, the idea that the film’s metaphor would mirror the myth of Greek Titan Prometheus took hold, as the crew of the spaceship that bears his name, led by brilliant scientists Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Holloway (Logan Marshall-Greene), embark on their journey.
Executive producer Michael Ellenberg said: “When Shaw and Holloway conceive their mission, their expectation was they would discover a benevolent species that might provide answers to some of our greatest mysteries.
“In other words,” he continued, “they were hoping to meet gods. But these things prove to be anything but compassionate. They are a dangerous race of super-beings.”
This does not mean that Prometheus is some profound analysis on the origins of mankind. Once they land on the planet, mapped out by a series of mysterious cave drawings discovered on earth, the crew finds a dark, twisted, horrific world, and they have to rely on themselves and their resources to survive.
The world they arrive on was mostly built on a soundstage. Although computer-generated imagery has made remarkable advances in the 33 years since he explored the first alien planet, Scott still believes in “the real thing”.
Most of the sets, props and stunts are real, contributing to the awe-inspiring beauty on one hand, and visceral terror on the other, combining Scott’s unquestionable talents of visual craftsmanship and superior storytelling.
For fear not: questions of God, creation and mankind notwithstanding, Prometheus is still a horror film and some things have not changed... especially the fact that in space, no one can hear you scream.