What exactly is PROMETHEUS? Judging from Saturday's presentation at WonderCon, it's the movie that's going to make or break my summer.
While the teaser Fox released last December was tantalizing, what the studio unveiled over the last twenty-four hours was an expertly orchestrated marketing coup. First, there was the IMAX trailer. Then a virally-leaked confirmation of the artificial origin of Michael Fassbender's character. Finally, there was the full theatrical trailer, presented in 3D to a packed ballroom in the Anaheim Convention Center. Now, there's just an agonizing two-and-a-half month wait until June 8th.
Sir Ridley Scott's reentry into the ALIEN universe is also his first science-fiction film since 1982's BLADE RUNNER, and that's what he prefers to emphasize when discussing the forthcoming film. My feeling since PROMETHEUS was announced has been that Scott was eager to made a sci-fi epic, and he knew that the best way of getting it into production with the proper budget was to link it, however tangentially, to the franchise he co-created with Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett thirty-three years ago. If that's what it takes to get this widescreen maestro working on a massive scale in this genre again, I'm all for it.
Some filmmakers slow down once they hit seventy; Scott's looking to his past to invigorate his future. PROMETHEUS is also Scott's first 3D production, and, in talking to him Saturday, it sounds like he's a total convert. I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to chat with Scott and Damon Lindelof (who shares a writing credit with Jon Spaihts) for ten minutes in the midst of their very busy WonderCon, and, joking aside, I tried to ask questions that would illuminate the aim of PROMETHEUS without spoiling its big reveals (and while you've seen some cool shit in these marketing materials, the big reveals have yet to be disclosed). We did discuss the film's rating, which is still up in the air. Scott and Lindelof are very diplomatic in their responses, but I sense that they would prefer the R cut. Read the interview and decide for yourself.
I should add that this interview was conducted prior to the screening of the theatrical trailer. My line of questioning might've been a little different had I viewed that trailer ahead of time.
Mr. Beaks: Let's see how much I can get you guys to give away.
Damon Lindelof: Good luck.
Beaks: What's exciting about PROMETHEUS to me is that it feels, on one level, like you're using the bait of ALIEN to bring people into a smart science-fiction film they might otherwise avoid if they didn't suspect it was connected to a popular franchise.
Sir Ridley Scott: That's a good way of putting it.
Lindelof: It's feels a little more manipulative than we would put it probably, but it's not the most unfair characterization.
Scott: The very loose target was that nineteen months ago. Then what happened was you get an idea, which is the starting spec, and the evolution occurs. It just moved further and further away from that original thought that you specified. It has nothing to do with that now. It begs much larger, more interesting questions.
Lindelof: I think that the creative process was such that I was coming at it from the fanboy perspective, which is "If Ridley Scott is going to do a science-fiction movie, do I want to see any of that stuff?" Yeah, I want to see some of it, but I don't want it to be about that. From Ridley's point of view, he said, "I did that in 1979, and I'm not looking to outdo myself or repeat myself. I want to do something new." Yet there is a certain cool familiarity. There's something about saying, "I've recorded a new album, but in the encore I might play a couple of the songs from earlier albums." That's what the fan experience wants to be, and we tried to craft the movie accordingly.
Beaks: We've seen the Space Jockey. You talk about the evolution, but were there certain elements from ALIEN that you always wanted to incorporate?
Scott: No plan. The starting block had a kind of general, generic... well, actually, one specific question: "Who are they and why?" Then "Who are they and why?' started to get answered, and that's where you get the complete branch-out into, honestly, another universe.
Beaks: With a Space Jockey.
Lindelof: Well, you've seen shots now in some of the materials that are going out there, and I think that hopefully the question changes from what it's been - which is "What is this movie's relationship to ALIEN?" - into "How much of the movie is going to be focused on the guy in that chair? Who is the guy in that chair? Is it a guy in that chair?" All of those questions sort of power us up until the movie, which will speak for itself hopefully.
Beaks: Genre-wise, judging from what we've seen so far, the horror element seems to be the most pronounced. Obviously there's sci-fi and action as well. How did you view the mix of genres?
Scott: With as much good, inventive taste as possible; without treading on things that have been done before, and trying to be as original as possible, where the events occur organically from the backbone of the story so you experience everything. You mention horror. Yeah, it's kind of horror, but frankly the whole package is way more interesting than that. It's a combination of everything. Is there action? Of course there is. Is there horror? Of course there is. But I think the overall scheme of things is always on this platform of these big questions, which always make it more interesting. It's very provoking.
Lindelof: I think there is a good version of saying "It's very hard to describe what this movie is" in terms of tying it up in a neat bow. And then there's a bad version of that, where the movie is just all over the place. If you take a movie like INCEPTION, which sort of defies explanation but obviously connected very well with audiences... in terms of saying, "Is that an action movie?" Yeah, people are running around and shooting each other with guns. But you can't really describe it, and one of the reasons is, love it or hate it, it's trying to do something new. That's what I thought was so exciting about the movie that Ridley wanted to make. "Let's not rely on trying to put this in the horror movie corner." He pitched me this sequence that just him talking about it scared the shit out of me. (Laughs) Now that I've seen it on screen, I think probably the most iconic scene in the movie is going to be a horror scene. It's psychologically scary and viscerally scary. That being said, that's just three minutes of screen time in a two-hour film. Hopefully, it has all of the above.
Beaks: In trying to do something different, how much latitude did you have with the studio?
Scott: Total. They don't interfere. You come to them finally with a complete thing saying this is what it is, and they have comments and points and "Didn't get this" or "Got that." Fundamentally, it's just entirely supportive. My conversation with them was, honestly, pretty quick. Two-and-a-half years ago, I said "There's this idea I want to do, which is science fiction." And here we are two-and-a-half years later sitting here talking with this big thing coming out. That's very fast in this business, isn't it?
Lindelof: Yeah. Amazing.
Scott: I think they're very happy. So the inception... bad word? Good word?
Scott: The inception was a relatively short space of time.
Lindelof: There's been a massive amount of trust, I think. The Fox executive we've been working with most - other than Tom Rothman, who's been amazing - is this guy Steve Asbell, who is a massive Ridley Scott fan and a massive science-fiction fan. So he's always looking at the movie through the prism of "I get to this as a job!?!?" as opposed to "I'm giving you notes to shape the movie in the way that I want to" - which can be the downside of the studio experience, but it hasn't been here.
Beaks: I have to ask about the rating. Has that been resolved yet? R or PG-13?
Scott: It will be what it is. At the end of the day, you've got to go for the best movie - and that comes from Tom Rothman basically.
Lindelof: You directed the movie that you wanted to direct though.
Scott: Yeah, yeah. Of course, you go for as stringent as possible. But at the end of the day, it's a pretty good relationship with me and Tom.
Beaks: Shooting in 3D, did that change how you thought compositionally?
Scott: Shooting in 3D? Easy. Very straightforward. I come from the visual side anyway, and I was punished for that for many years when I was trying to do television and film. "Yeah, but he doesn't talk to actors." And I said, "Well, I don't need to talk to actors when I can fucking well make a great picture. After all, Hitchcock said it's all about pictures, isn't it, dude?" Then I gradually learned how to speak to actors, and pulled myself together. I think I've operated on 3,000 commercials and half of my movies I've been the camera operator, so I can tell you what lens to put on eleven cameras in this room. And then working with [director of photography] Dariusz Wolski, who is one of the best, I'd say, of three or four around... it was the first time for me, and he'd just experienced 3D for the first time himself on [PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES]. It was easy. That said, his team below will read this and go, "Motherfucker!"
Lindelof: (Laughs) "We made it easy for him!"
Scott: I was standing on the platform going "No! Next! This! That! This! That! Boom! Boom!", and down below they're on cables and wires, pulling levers and cogs and shit. So I'm sure there were [problems] I wasn't aware of.
Lindelof: Again, from the fanboy perspective, you take a guy like Ridley, who's a brilliant visual storyteller, but he's been drawing with the same six crayons all this time. And then you suddenly say, "Hey, did you know that there's actually sixty-four crayons?" It was amazing to watch the facility with which you used those new tools. I love that you shot it in 3D, and it's not a conversion.
Scott: You could shoot this scene as a conversation piece in 3D, and there is no question it would add to the universe of the scene. There's no question about it. What you don't realize is that you see in 3D. You've got two cameras. (Points to my eyes.). You've got parallax. That's how you see in 3D. But your brain gets so used to seeing in 3D that you think you see in 2D. You don't. All that 3D does now is remind you that this is what you already see like. That's all it is.
And this June 6th, Sir Ridley Scott will hopefully remind us what it's like to be scared senseless with PROMETHEUS.