Ridley Scott talks filming Alien back in 1979, Prometheus
and what you can expect come June 1st (or 8th for US film goers) when it comes to the big Alien and Prometheus tie in.
Can you talk about returning to science-fiction after all these years?
Science-fiction is a wonderful universe, sorry about the pun, for another much-overused word, creativity. It’s an arena where anything goes, but you have to make sure it’s a good story and is not abused.
There’s a serious lack of originality in many science fiction films in that often, they are mostly dressing. Many filmmakers do not really utilise the science-fiction idea which the arena itself presents.
You can fundamentally do anything you want, provided you draw up the rules of your drama first. Within that universe, you have to stick to your own rulebook.
The hardest thing to do is to get the bloody screenplay right.
When you first came on board, the film was, correctly or incorrectly, described as a prequel to Alien. Is that still an element?
That leads me to the $64,000 question, which I’m not going to answer.
You’ve got to see the film.
You won’t get an answer until about eight minutes from the end, and that is the answer. When it happens, people will think ‘Christ, of course!’
What it does do is open up a whole different door. A much bigger door, away from monsters and demons.
It’s interesting, for example, that the word ‘Alien’ doesn’t appear in the title?
Well, this movie didn’t really have anything to do with it except for some tiny elements.
It takes off on its own direction. When we analyzed it the title, we thought, why not? It has a certain depth and ring to it. As long as you can say it, Prometheus is a good title, and it looks good on the trailer!
So what is Prometheus?
I’ve got to tread very carefully here. You know who Prometheus was (the figure in Greek mythology who stole fire and gave it to man), and the idea is that if we’re given a gift from the gods, we must not abuse it — and we must never think that we can compete with them.
He stole fire and they had his entrails torn out every day in perpetuity by an eagle as a punishment. Every night, they’d repair and an eagle would come back and rip his kidney and liver out. It’s a perpetual purgatory. Basically, don’t f*ck around with the gods.
So it’s tackling major themes?
It is about the beginning of life. It’s a giant ‘what if?’ This ball we’ve been sitting on right now has been around for a long f*cking time. I think it’s three billion years.
There was a very nice quote by someone, whose name I can’t remember right now, which fundamentally said that if we haven’t been pre-visited, what on earth has this planet been doing for all that time?
It’s only our arrogance that says that’s impossible, that we’re the first ones. Are we the first hominids? I really, really doubt it.
Race memory, or legend, can say that we keep talking about wonderful and weird things like Atlantis. Where does that come from? Was it real? Is it a memory? Did it exist? If that didn’t exist, did it exist three quarters of a billion years ago? How was that created and who was it? Is there a guiding force into this process?
Is it a much larger idea, or an entity that we can’t fathom?
In Alien, the characters were at each other’s throats. They were very much a blue-collar crew. Is that the case here?
Not really. The problem in the original Alien script was that there was no motivation. That’s why I was so unpopular with the actors. They kept asking for motivation and eventually I said in exasperation, ‘your motivation is that if he catches you, he’ll rip your fucking head off.’
Eventually I sat down and wrote out their biographies and gave them each one of their own. They loved that because it was something they could hook into. That’s what they need to privately do their own work and create their own characterizations.
Here, the journey is slightly different so we came at it from a different direction. On a journey like this, everyone would be scientific.
The sets on this movie are enormous, and represent your commitment to shooting as much of this movie practically as you can. Was that a response to, say, Avatar?
I think Jim raised the bar both with what he did in the story and then pulled it off. God, he’s got patience. Four and a half years. I knew I wasn’t even going to get into that area. The actual truth is, if you know what you’re doing, it’s cheaper. Digital effects are not cheaper. We’ve done this film for a very good price.
Alien was described, famously, as a haunted house movie in space. Is Prometheus along the same lines, then?
More than that. It’s not entirely what you expect, but what I’m saying is that the film’s going to be scary.