Prometheus: Interview with Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott, the three-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker who invigorated (some say reinvented) the sci-fi film genre with Alien, in 1979, offers his signature brand of action, thrills and scares, with his new picture, Prometheus.

With Prometheus, Scott has created an original mythology that tips its hat to elements of the original Alien. In the story a team of explorers discovers a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a thrilling journey aboard the spaceship Prometheus to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race.

Although he has not helmed a science fiction picture in three decades (1982’s Blade Runner) Ridley Scott’s interest in the genre never abated. Having made two of the most revered genre films of all time, his return would only be triggered by a truly grand and original idea. “Over the past few decades, we’ve been ‘action filmed-out’ and ‘monster filmed-out’ and almost ‘science fiction filmed-out,” says Scott. “So the baseline question is: how original are you going to be?”

“The reason I haven’t made another sci-fi film in so many years, apart from the fact I’ve been busy making other films and exploring different genres, is because frankly I haven’t come across anything worthwhile for me to do with enough truth, originality and strength. Prometheus has all three.”

The script that preceded Prometheus started out as a prequel to Alien, but when Scott came onboard to direct and Damon Lindelof to work on the screenplay, the project evolved into a stand-alone film; you need not know anything about Alien to appreciate Prometheus.

Says co-screenwriter Jon Spaihts: “The most difficult thing about writing this story was that nothing was given. Everything had to be invented. In creating an entire world with Ridley Scott, I had an enormous canvas to paint on.” Co-writer/exec- producer Damon Lindelof says he was “incredibly struck by just how original Ridley’s vision was for this movie. It’s daring, visceral and the last thing anyone expects.”

As the script was developed, the story’s big ideas emerged: During a journey to meet what some of the scientist crew believe to be their “makers”–beings who may have created life on our planet–the crew of the spaceship Prometheus and the mega-corporation funding its trillion-dollar mission, are challenging the gods. As experienced by the figure from which the ship takes its name, challenging the gods is a very bad idea.

“We named the ship Prometheus as a reference to the character in Greek mythology who alternatively gave fire to man or shaped man’s image from clay,” Scott explains. “In either case, he was instrumental in changing the entire evolution of mankind. He also angered the gods in a big way and suffered mercilessly for it. All three aspects of the myth have analogies in our story.

But ultimately, notes Lindelof, Prometheus is centered around us. “It’s about humanity in the future, challenging some of our most cherished scientific and philosophic ideas.”

The team of scientists and explorers aboard the Prometheus are on nothing less than a journey to discover answers to some of life’s most profound questions.

In Ridley Scott’s films, including Prometheus, the protagonists’ discoveries often defy expectations. “That’s what makes good drama,” states the filmmaker. “Our story circles the truth of what might be out there and therein lays its most frightening aspect. Feasibility always creates the finest and most dangerous drama and the opportunity for me to scare the hell out of everyone.”

On the planet, the team meets a survivor of a civilization in control of some very dangerous elements, including various forms of biology and biomechanics. “This brings us to the question,” says Scott, “what are the consequences of meeting a superior being, whose capabilities are quantum leaps beyond one’s own, and are in effect god-like?”

Or as famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking claimed (on the television show Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking): “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans. We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.”