The last thing the Alien franchise needed was another sequel. Or, for that matter, another mandible-crunching clash with a Predator. Still, after 1997’s divisive Alien: Resurrection , rumours of an Alien 5 were more persistent than a Facehugger with a crush. Sigourney Weaver didn’t help matters, repeatedly pledging her allegiance to keeping the franchise alive.
Just last year she spoke to Moviefone about returning one last time to round off Ripley’s story. “I would have liked to do one last story where we go back to the planet, where Ripley’s history is resolved,” she said. Sadly, the likelihood of that happening is looking bleaker by the year. “I doubt [it will happen] just because the way the industry is,” she added. “While I can't speak for them, I think for Fox, once you're 60, you're not going to be starring in an action movie. I think it's too bad that that's the case.” Another reason it’s unlikely to happen? Ridley Scott’s going back to “the planet”, or LV-426, himself, and he’s left Ripley at home…
A False Start
In 2002, director Ridley Scott was considering returning to the universe that kick-started his career by mounting a sequel to Alien . He recruited James Cameron to work on a script, and Sigourney Weaver was expected to return. Something got in the way, though.
“Ridley and I talked about doing another Alien film,” Cameron told Ain’t It Cool News shortly after. “And I said to 20th Century Fox that I would develop a fifth Alien film. I started working on a story, I was working with another writer and Fox came back to me and said, ‘We've got this really good script for Alien Vs Predator ,’ and I got pretty upset. I said, ‘You do that you're going to kill the validity of the franchise in my mind.’” Needless to say, Cameron departed, and the project was put on ice. By 2009, though, Fox had trundled out a trashed AVP (and AVP2 ) and were looking for new directions to take the franchise in…
To Prequel Or Not To Prequel?
May 2009, and 20th Century Fox announced it was financing a reboot of the Alien franchise. Their condition for making another Alien film? Ridley Scott had to direct. Having spent the intervening seven years making historical epics like Kingdom Of Heaven and crime thriller American Gangster , Scott still had a sci-fi itch that he wanted to scratch.
He had his own condition for returning, though: he wanted to make an Alien prequel, one that explored the origins of the Space Jockey (we’ll get to him later) glimpsed in the 1979 film. With a script by Jon Spaihts, filming was scheduled to begin in January 2011. But then Ridley changed his mind about creating a purely Alien prequel. It would be far more interesting, thought he, to make a stand-alone film that occupied the same realm as the Alien franchise…
Pen To Paper
One person relieved by Ridley’s decision to make a stand-alone film was Lost co-writer Damon Lindelof. Fresh from that goliath of a TV show, Lindelof was brought in by Ridley to transform Jon Spaihts’ original, more Alien -flavoured draft into a free-standing entity. “It would have been really difficult to do a straight-up Alien sequel or Alien prequel because you’re beholden to so many of the things that came before it,” Lindelof said at this year’s WonderCon. “To be able to shed that stuff [ made it easier ]. This was Ridley’s idea.”
So how did it feel going from Lost to something like Prometheus ? “A huge relief,” Lindelof admits. “Obviously, with Lost , it was six years of my life. The idea of telling a story over 121 hours of time just felt so unwieldy. The first project that I committed the next year of my life to, exclusively, was Prometheus . So, the idea of saying, ‘Yes, it’s just going to fit within the confines of 120 pages,’ was a relief.”
The as-yet-untitled new Alien project received a working title in December 2010 – Paradise . It wasn’t long before that was replaced with the film’s existing title, Prometheus . Scott spoke cryptically about the film, revealing that while Alien provided a jumping-off point for the film, it would be its own beast.
“By the end of the third act you start to realise there’s a DNA of the very first Alien , but none of the subsequent Aliens ,” the director recently told Filmophilia . “To tell you what that is is a pity, and I'm not going to tell you, because it's actually pretty good, pretty organic to the process and to the original. But we go back, we don't go forward.” Does that mean we can expect to see the xenomorph, then? “No. Absolutely not,” Ridley confirms. “They squeezed it dry. He did very well. [ laughs ] He survived, he’s now in Disneyland in Orlando, and no way am I going back there.”
The xenomorphs are out, then. But one fellow you can count on turning up is the feted Space Jockey. Though he appeared in only one scene in Scott’s original Alien (as a fossilised ET with a tell-tale hole punched through massive ribs, see above), the Space Jockey remained an unexplained enigma for the remainder of the Alien films. Enter Ridley.
“I was always amazed that no one asked who the hell the Space Jockey was,” the director marvels. “He wasn't even called the Space Jockey. During the film they started to call it the Space Jockey. I don't know who started that one off. I always thought it was amazing that no one ever asked who he was, and why was he there. What was all that about? I sat thinking about this for a while and thought, well, there’s a story! And the other four [ films ] missed it! So, here it is.”
Its All In The Name
So why is a science-fiction film called Prometheus ? “The story of Prometheus is the idea that if you’re given a gift from the gods, do not abuse it and do not think you can compete,” Ridley explains, citing the original Greek myth. “[ Prometheus ] stole fire and then had his entrails torn out every day in perpetuity by an eagle as a punishment. Basically, don’t fuck around with gods!”
Prometheus , then, is a story about power, control and possibly even the origins of man. Though many of its mysteries won’t be revealed until the film opens in cinemas this week, Ridley and co clearly have some big ideas to back up their tale of intergalactic mayhem. “It is about the beginning of life,” Ridley says. “It’s a giant ‘what if?’ Has this ball that we’re sitting on right now been around here for three billion years or one billion? Either way, it’s a long fucking time. It’s only our kind of arrogance that says, ‘We’re the first ones.’”
A Shaw Thing
Just as Alien birthed a female icon in Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, so too would Prometheus have a strong woman at its helm. The plot follows the crew of starship Prometheus setting off on a scientific mission into space (sponsored by the Weyland Corporation, there’s more of that Alien DNA). Integral to that mission is archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw, a woman of great faith who transforms into a warrior.
Ridley’s list of potential Shaws was extensive, and included the mixed likes of Gemma Arterton, Carey Mulligan, Olivia Wilde, Anne Hathaway, Abbie Cornish and Natalie Portman. Also mentioned early on as a possible candidate was Noomi Rapace, the Swedish star of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo , whose role as Goth hacker Lisbeth Salander had taken the world by storm…
Rapace first met with Ridley in August 2010. After an exhaustive audition process, the director finally cast her in January 2011 as Elizabeth Shaw. Playing a British woman for the first time meant that Rapace had to perfect her accent, and worked with a dialect coach on set for the duration of filming.
“It’s a great honour and I’m really excited,” the actress said when first cast. “Ridley’s so passionate. He really loves movies.” On her character, she added: “She’s a believer. I think there are some similarities [ to Ripley ], but she’s very much her own [ person ]. I don’t think people will compare her so much to Ripley once they actually see the movie.”
Another holdover from the Alien franchise is the inclusion of an android character. Where Alien had Ash, Aliens had Bishop and Alien: Resurrection had Call, Prometheus has the alphabetically fitting David. A maintenance man and butler to Prometheus, David comes with his own ego and personality, not to mention a serious superiority complex. Who to play the part? Only one of the most exciting actors working today.
“What I thought was very interesting,” says Michael Fassbender, who was also cast in January 2011, “was that you have this guy who was on his own for two and a half years while everyone else was in cryostasis, so what did he do to amuse himself? The idea that there is something of a little boy there, and that he has to rely on his imagination to keep himself occupied, imagination is a very human trait. The fact that he’s curious, how far will that curiosity go?”
Remember that bit about the Weyland Company? Well, the shady corporation have their own representative onboard Prometheus in the shapely form of Charlize Theron. The actress plays Meredith Vickers, a ‘suit’ sent to keep an eye on the expedition. She’s variously described as “pragmatic” and “controlling” by the actress.
Interestingly, Theron was originally attached to play Shaw, but her commitments to the fourth Mad Max movie, Fury Road , nixed that plan. When Fury Road was put on hiatus, Theron rejoined the film as Vickers. Originally, though, she wasn’t pleased with the character’s one-dimensionality. “I got on the phone with [ Lindelof ] and Ridley, and I threw very loose cannons towards him, with no specific ideas, but just wanting her to be somewhat more layered,” Theron says. “I can’t tell you what Damon came up with, but he came up with some good shit!”
Though most of the cast members in the original Alien were complete unknowns (it was Weaver’s first starring role after a blink-miss debut in Annie Hall ), Ridley has assembled an impressive entourage for Prometheus .
It’s a unique band of cool cult stars and obscure up-and-comers. Top of the pile is Guy Pearce as the one and only Peter Weyland, who reckons he’s “only in the film for one minute”. Then there’s The Wire man Idris Elba as Janek, the captain of Prometheus. Rounding out the cast are Logan Marshall-Green as Shaw’s love interest, Rafe Spall as a botanist, and the always-entertaining Sean Harris as an unstable geologist.
Do It Live
Working with a budget of just over $120m, filming on Prometheus began in March 2011. Shooting in London, Iceland, Spain and Jordan, production over-ran by six months. Despite the popularity of CGI in modern moviemaking, Scott was keen to retain his roots and capture as much in-camera as he could. “If you can do it live, do it live,” he says, recalling the advice of Blade Runner ’s VFX expert Douglas Trumbull.
To that end, a whopping eight sound stages were used at Shepperton Studios to build some immense sets. They even expanded the 007 stage by 30%. According to Rapace, green screen was only used six times during filming,. Despite the pressures, the leading lady apparently had the time of her life. “I was out there filming for about six months and it was super-intense,” she recalls. “My body was in so much pain sometimes, but it was absolutely amazing.”
Since Prometheus began shooting, the production has kept its cards close to its chest. In February 2012, though, the first in a string of teasing virals arrived online amid much fanfare. It was a video of a speech by Peter Weyland (Pearce), set in 2023, in which the business mogul discusses his thoughts for the future at a TED conference. A second viral video was an advert for the David 8 android. According to Lindelof, Prometheus ’ viral campaign was mapped out very carefully by both he and Ridley.
“We wanted to generate viral content that starred and featured the characters from the movie,” he says. “Let’s see if we can talk Guy Pearce and Michael Fassbender into doing some stuff that would speak very directly to the prequel issue. So I pitched the idea of the TED talk, which everybody was responsive to and Ridley was able to convince Guy to do. And that TED talk really speaks to the prequel question because it’s Peter Weyland! And Weyland is a name that is very familiar in all of the Alien movies…”
First it was a sequel. Then a prequel. Then a reboot. Now, Prometheus has morphed entirely into its own creature. We won’t know exactly what the nature of that creature is until it opens in cinemas on 1 June. Needless to say, we’re more excited than a xenomorph with a jobbing crew to munch through. With that release date mere days away, though, what should we expect after the film’s unveiling? Well, according to Lindelof, there could very easily be a Prometheus 2 .
When he was first pitching his idea for re-drafting Jon Spaihts’ Alien 5 script to Fox, he also explained how a Prometheus 2 might unfurl a plotline that runs concurrent with the ’79 Alien . “This movie, hopefully, will contextualize the original Alien ,” he explains, “so that when you watch it again, maybe you know a little bit more. But, you don’t fuck around with that movie. It has to stand on its own. It’s a classic. If we’re fortunate enough to do a sequel to Prometheus , it will tangentialize even further away from the original Alien .” This is just the beginning…