Over three decades since Alien hit cinema screens, director Ridley Scott returns with a prequel – the highly-anticipated and secrecy-shrouded Prometheus. By Roger Crow
Ridley Scott has a glint in his eye. It could be that Britain’s most successful Hollywood director is simply full of the joys of spring on this sunny London morning, but it’s more likely because he’s put the finishing touches to one of 2012’s most anticipated movies, Prometheus.
Whatever the reason, the 74-year-old triple Oscar-nominee is naturally hoping the multi-million pound gamble pays off.
Prometheus, starring Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender, is a 3D science fiction epic that has been brewing for years. It’s a prequel to Alien, and comes 33 years after the groundbreaking blockbuster (with that glorious tagline: ‘In space, no one can hear you scream’) was released in 1979.
The movie was a visceral, stomach-churning smash that transformed Sigourney Weaver into a star and marked the beginning of one of 20th Century Fox’s most lucrative franchises.
While film-makers James Cameron, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet continued the adventures of long-suffering Ripley (with Aliens, Alien 3, Alien Resurrection – films Scott diplomatically describes as “all jolly good in some form or other”) by 1997, the saga seemed to be on its last legs.
Though Scott thought the franchise was “fundamentally used up”, that fossilised humanoid from his first offering, nicknamed ‘the Space Jockey’, continued to bug him.
“Something that had stayed with me ever since Alien, was the mystery behind it,” explains the South Shields-born film-maker.
“Who was he? Where was he from? What was his mission? What kind of technology would his kind possess? I thought those questions could provide a springboard for even larger ideas.”
Those ideas formed the seed of Prometheus, his first science-fiction epic since Blade Runner, 30 years ago.
Though that Harrison Ford vehicle was an initial flop (it recouped its losses later), Scott found more success with contemporary offerings such as Black Rain, Thelma and Louise, and period adventures Gladiator and Robin Hood.
During his absence from science fiction, a generation of film-makers and game developers weaned on Alien and Blade Runner adopted Scott’s style for their own endeavours.
Like a copy of a photocopy, the freshness of his futuristic worlds started looking overly familiar, and Scott knew that when he eventually found a sci-fi project worth working on, something different was called for.
“Over the past few decades, we’ve been ‘action filmed-out’ and ‘monster filmed-out’ and almost ‘science fiction filmed-out’,” he says. “So the baseline question is: how original are you going to be?”
The answer was to tackle the sort of big issues presented by Swiss author Erich Von Daniken decades ago – that the human race has ties with extra-terrestrials.
Scott sat down with screenwriter Jon Spaihts and Lost veteran Damon Lindelof to hammer out a concept – using Alien as a springboard to examine one very simple, universal question: where did the human race come from?
“Out of the creative process in developing the picture emerged a new, grand mythology, in which this original story takes place,” explains Scott.
“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.
“Prometheus is the singular genre tale I’d been searching for.”
Once the title was revealed, fans worldwide brushed up on their history lessons in the hope of gleaning some hints about the movie.
“The film’s central metaphor is about the Greek Titan Prometheus, who defies the gods by giving humans the gift of fire, for which he is horribly punished,” Scott explains.
“When you talk about the myth on which the title is based, you’re dealing with humankind’s relationship with the gods – the beings who created us – and what happens when we defy them.”
In his 20th movie, a team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a journey aboard the eponymous spaceship to the darkest reaches of the galaxy.
They land on an alien world and naively expect to find a benevolent race, but what they actually discover is beyond their worst nightmares…
In April, following assorted teaser trailers, Scott proudly revealed 13 minutes of footage to a captive audience which filled in a few of the blanks, at the same time introducing three of the Prometheus crew – Noomi Rapace’s God-fearing scientist Elizabeth Shaw; Charlize Theron’s ice maiden company official Meredith Vickers, and Michael Fassbender, who provides much-needed comic relief as blond robot servant David.
Though the film’s style and marketing may be cut from the same cloth as Alien, the connections within the plot lines are by no means predictable.
That chest-bursting dinner table scene in Alien was one of cinema’s most shocking images, though – can viewers expect something of equal measures this time round?
“There is a scene that could be called the equivalent of that in this film,” Scott reveals, careful not to let the cat out of the bag.
“But that was private, no one witnessed that.”
Well, nobody apart from the small crew that shot it, on a closed set with Noomi Rapace – who admitted she suffered two weeks of bad dreams afterwards.
Frustratingly Scott won’t elaborate, but judging by that glint in his eye, whatever happens, it won’t be for the faint hearted.
Prometheus opens in cinemas on Friday