The details are beginning to emerge on Prometheus, Ridley Scott's return to the sci-fi genre. Scott and 20th Century Fox have done a great job of building up the level of anticipation on Prometheus without giving anything away, but at the 2012 WonderCon in Anaheim they unveiled a new trailer and addressed questions from the audience as to what we can expect from what's likely to be one of the year's biggest films. After talking to the enthusiastic crowd (and keeping things as spoiler-free as possible), Scott was joined by co-writer Damon Lindelof and actor Michael Fassbender for a small press conference to further explore the world they've created with Prometheus. And just in case you have no idea what Prometheus is, here's the official-but-brief synopsis Fox has released in support of the film:"Ridley Scott, director of Alien and Blade Runner, returns to the genre he helped define. With Prometheus, he creates a groundbreaking mythology, in which a team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a thrilling journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race."
Ridley Scott, Michael Fassbender, and Damon Lindelof Prometheus Press Conference:
It’s been awhile since the first Alien film came out, and there have been so many advances in technology. Was that a problem, in terms of writing this, or was that advancement a positive point?
Ridley Scott: "It’s easier to carry it out, but it’s still as difficult to write something. In fact, it’s getting more difficult because there are almost too many movies being made."
Damon Lindelof: "Yeah, and I think that 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. To be able to shed that stuff [made it easier]. This was Ridley’s idea. From the screenwriting standpoint, for me, it was really just all about getting a clear sense of what was the movie that he wanted to make. It’s Ridley Scott. The movie is his vision, so I did my best to channel it. We had almost no conversations about any other movies, other than this one, which might have been hubris or it might have been freeing, but it felt good, maybe just because we were drunk."
How much thought was put into the technology that’s in the film, especially with audience expectations being so much greater?
Ridley Scott: "You think about everything, down to the shoe laces. We even had a big argument about the globular helmets. I was certain that I wanted the fully spherical glass helmet. In fact, in my research, I read this biography on Steve Jobs’ life and he talks about how he wanted to make his entire office of this glass, which is called Gorilla Glass, and this guy said, 'We don’t make it anymore.' So, Steve Jobs actually then re-opened up the factory and started remaking Gorilla Glass. If I’m in 2083 and I’m going into space, why would I design a helmet that has blind spots. What I want is something where I have 360 [vision]. Glass, by then, will be light and you won’t be able to break it with a bullet."
How did you approach the android and what he would be capable of?
Ridley Scott: "What was important was the story. There’s nothing new about an android. There’s nothing new about a robot. That idea is 800 years old. So then, embrace what it is. By embracing it, he becomes that much more interesting because he’s just part of the ship. In a sense, he’s not just a butler, but he’s housekeeper and maintenance man who legitimately does not need to sleep. From that, then he also becomes extremely useful during the story, as it evolves. There’s a great scene where Holloway [played by Logan Marshall-Green] is actually a bit of a bitch, occasionally, says, 'Hey, you, boy!,' to him. I thought that was real cheeky. And then he says, 'Why are you wearing one of those suits? You don’t have to breathe.' It ends up with David [Michael Fassbender] saying, 'Not too close, I hope,' referring to being told, 'We’re making you guys just like us.' You don’t know who’s insulting who there. That’s when those turn-abouts starts to occur."
What is the mix of genres in this film? How much horror does it offer versus science fiction?
Ridley Scott: "The bottom line is just to make a good movie. Just make a f**king good movie. It’s got nothing to do with horror or whatever. That’s why there’s only a few really, really great ones. Thereafter, there are only evolutions of copycats. There are two great horror movies that I never got over. One was called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre by Tobe Hooper. I knew I didn’t really want to go see that movie, just by seeing the f**king poster. But, eventually I had to, as research for Alien. The other great one, with a single idea, was the first Exorcist. Possession of the body by a demon was marvelous. Since then, there have been 900,000 clones of those ideas."
Michael Fassbender: "I could never swim in the ocean after seeing Jaws."
Ridley Scott: "We’re trying to come up with a few first notions with Prometheus, and I think we did."
Damon Lindelof: "In this day and age, when you’re trying to market a movie and you say, 'It’s a romance. It’s a comedy,' neither of those are inherent in Prometheus, although there are funny scenes and romantic scenes. I think there’s a lot of action adventure elements to this movie, in terms of looking at it, in comparison to the original Alien. But, the fact that we can’t really put it in that box of, 'It’s a this,' is refreshing. I think that there’s a quiet suspense to the movie. It really takes its time. If you have a master filmmaker who’s working with incredibly talented actors, you just have to say, 'We’re going to be patient. We do not need to have things exploding every 10 minutes.'"
"It’s a little bit of an old-school approach to filmmaking in that it trusts the audience to have a little bit of patience. Just as someone who is a fan of these kinds of movies, I’ve been astonished by the patience of the fan base, in terms of how little we’re telling them about the movie. We’re doing this dance together, as filmmakers, where people want to know more about it, but we say to them, 'Do you really want to know?,' and they go, 'No, no, no, we don’t! We actually just want to go into the theater, not knowing if there’s a bomb under the table or not, or when it’s going to go off.' Ridley has always had a tremendous amount of faith in the audience’s intelligence. He directs and tells stories in a way that you come up to them, as opposed to them talking down to you. I feel like Prometheus is a proud member of that thing he does so well."
Michael, how did you approach playing an android with no emotion?
Michael Fassbender: "You want to play with as many of those human traits as possible. You’re essentially trying to build a computer that has a physicality to it, that can respond and understand human behavior. It’s programmed to be able to incorporate itself within a human environment. You’re going into space, so you’ve got to get certain personalities that will get on in space. He has to be very flexible. So, what happens when you program that and the program then starts making its own connections and joins up to its own electrical linking to other areas and forming its own ego, insecurities, jealousy and envy? I don’t really think too much about things. I just try to explore what’s happening within the scene, moment to moment."
"What I thought was very interesting 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? The way that Damon [Lindelof] wrote it, people treat him as a robot and there’s a bit of contempt towards him because he has all the answers. He’s hyper-intelligent. His physicality is more advanced than human beings. So, people don’t really embrace him. He’s sort of used and abused. How does that make him feel, if robots can feel? I didn’t want to make a direct, definite choice. I played with the ambiguity. Is this robot starting to develop a human personality?"
Damon Lindelof: "I remember a conversation that Ridley and I had fairly early on about David. There was this idea that David is mass-produced. There are 20,000 other David units out there, who look exactly like Michael Fassbender. [Laughing] What a wonderful world that would be, wouldn’t it? It’s the idea that we all have our iPhones, yet we put different cases on them and different apps on them. This David, once you take him out of the wrapping, would begin to customize himself. He could change his hairstyle. He could change the way that he speaks. He could have different applications, based on what this unit is designed to do. That’s where I felt like, as soon as we cast Michael, that’s the killer app, right there. It’s pretty cool."
Alien had such a ground-breaking score from Jerry Goldsmith that it influenced a lot of films after it. Can you talk about the score for Prometheus?
Ridley Scott: "Jerry Goldsmith has been around for a while. I still think that was probably one of his best scores. The score is always a challenge. Every element you put into it, you always try to find something else. Before it’s done, it’s not written. Everything is abstract. It doesn’t really matter how good or bad the words in the screenplay are. Once you’ve got that hundred and some pages, you’ve got something to talk about. It’s the same with the music. You can get a lot of pretty good demos now, where you get the physical keyboard demonstration. It’s not a real choir or a real cello, but it’s digitalized. You don’t really know what you’re going to get until you’re actually in Abbey Road. That’s where I did all the music, in The Beatles’ place. You start to hear it then, and then you start putting it onto the film."
"Everything is trial and error. You’re always looking to find something more. That’s what’s interesting about filming, certainly for me. It’s always about, 'Yes, but...' But, you have to always try to keep reins on it and keep yourself within the parameters that you create early on. A three act play is a drama box. Create your ground rules and stay within that, and the chances are that you’ve got a good play. As soon as anything goes, it doesn’t work. It’s bullsh*t. Some writers work on the script with a board with every scene laid out, so they’re literally moving things around like chess pieces. Some people just start at the beginning and go through to the end, and then read it and go, 'Christ, that does work,' or 'That does work,' or 'I have to do that and that.' Everything is always on the move."
Since you’re leaving this film open with these bigger ideas that could lead to another film, would you take that film closer to the Alien franchise, or would it be its own different storyline?
Damon Lindelof: "I think that’s actually a really insightful question. This word 'prequel' was on the table. It was the elephant in the room and had to be discussed. When I had first heard that Ridley was going to direct an Alien prequel, and then six months later my phone rang and the voice on the other end said, 'Are you available to talk to Ridley Scott?,' and then I crashed into a telephone pole... I answered the call and Ridley was like, 'Hey, man, I’m going to send you a script tonight.' And, he doesn’t know he’s Ridley Scott. So, I read this thing and we had a meeting, and he was already very clearly saying, 'I want to come back to this genre. I want to do sci-fi again. I feel like this movie is just a little bit too close to Alien. I’ve done this stuff before. But, there are big ideas in it that are unique, in and of themselves. Is there a way to do that?' I said, 'I think that that’s what we have to do.'"
"If there were a sequel to this movie, it would not be Alien. Normally, that’s the definition of a prequel. It precedes the other movies. The Star Wars prequels are going to end with Darth Vader going, 'Noooo!,' unfortunately. There’s an inevitability in watching a prequel where you’re like, 'Okay, if the ending of this movie is just going to be the room that John Hurt walks into a room that’s full of eggs, there’s nothing interesting in that because we know where it’s going to end.' With really good stories, you don’t know where it’s going to end. So, this movie, hopefully, will contextualize the original Alien, so that when you watch it again, maybe you know a little bit more. But, you don’t f**k 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. When you go to the concert that is this movie, you want the Stones to play 'Satisfaction.' There is this sense of us saying, 'We want you to do something new, Ridley, but just give us a little bit of space jockey. Just play it! Even in the encore.' And, I think Ridley has given us the movie that I think we all want to see."
Damon, going from working on a very large canvas where you could explore your ideas on Lost, what was it like to pare it down to something more streamlined?
Damon Lindelof: "A huge relief. Obviously, with Lost, it was six years of my life. Between Carlton [Cuse] and I, we were at the wheel of the car. The idea of telling a story over 121 hours of time just felt so unwieldy. I went away for a month after Lost ended, and then 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. That’s the story, but you keep going over that same story again."
"And then, there was also the huge relief of whatever story is out there about me saying, 'This is what you should do, Ridley,' it’s, in fact, the opposite. It’s Ridley. I came in and he had a very clear sense of the movie he wanted to make. We had a number of conversations, he was enormously patient with me, and then I wrote that movie. It was nice to be sitting in the passenger seat and being like, 'Maybe we should just make a left up here,' as opposed to having to drive the car constantly. If you’re going to let somebody drive, I highly recommend Ridley Scott. Although, Michael [Fassbender] said he’s a bad driver. I think it’s exciting, if you might go off the road, occasionally."
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Prometheus opens in theaters on June 8, 2012.