Three decades later, the three time Academy Award nominated director (for his work on Black Hawk Down, Gladiator and Thelma & Louise) who was awarded a knighthood in 2003, returns to the genre he helped define with new ‘highbrow’ blockbuster, Prometheus.
Originally intended as a prequel to Alien, the idea for Prometheus was borne from what Scott believes is the most serious and glaring unanswered question in his 1979 futuristic horror thriller: the space jockey, what was it? Where did it come form? And how did the giant fossilised creature with a punctured chest get to be in the pilot’s seat of the derelict spaceship?
Four years in the making and several drafts later (the final script written by Lost screenwriter Damon Lindelof), Prometheus isn’t exactly a prequel to Alien, but it does take place in the same universe 30 years prior, and the events in the film may shed some glimmers of new light on the seminal sci-fi.
Filmed lusciously in 3D at Pinewood Studios and on location in Iceland, Prometheus follows the cosmic voyage of a team of scientists and Weyland Industries employees, who believe they’ve found a clue – an invitation, if you will – to unlocking mankind’s most fundamental questions: where did we come from? Who made us? Who am I?
Playing lead character, archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw, is Noomi Rapace, best known for her lead role in Steigh Larsson’s film adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series and more recently for starring alongside Roberty Downey Jr and Jude Law in Guy Ritchie’s sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
While Rapace was born the year Alien came out, the film – in particular the lead character played by Sigourney Weaver – had a profound impact on her.
“It felt like a mind-reality opened up because I saw someone, I saw a woman, who was not posing, was not trying to be sexy and not trying to be charming. She was a person in a situation and that was really a revolution for me because most things I was watching at that time on television were Baywatch and Beverley Hills. It really put a mark on me.”
Prometheus is deliberately ambiguous in places, and it seems to open up more questions than it answers. Which, un-coincidentally, seems to parallel Scott’s view on scientific advancements and discoveries.
“As science clarifies things, it’s like removing veils, the horizon gets clearer,” he states. “You get to the horizon and you think that you’re there and then you get to another horizon and you see that there’s another horizon filled with valleys. It’s a constant process of discovering, so while you are learning in quantum leaps you are also uncovering much bigger questions. So when does it stop?”
The film’s title doubles as the name of the spaceship in this film and also alludes to the Greek Titan Prometheus, who dared to defy the gods by giving man the latest technology of that time – fire – and thereby offering man the chance to be like gods. Prometheus was punished horribly; an eagle would peck out his stomach bit by bit, only for his stomach and the eagle to return the next day, for eternity.
The film also pays tribute to Erich von Däniken’s 1968 book Chariots Of The Gods, which argues that we are not alone in the universe, that another life force in the universe may have spawned us as well as the idea of pre-visitation – that they’ve visited us too.
When Scott first read Däniken’s book as a student, he says he was quite the cynic and didn’t believe the arguments being put forth. “In those days, I didn’t really believe that stuff because it was all to do with sightings that were never really that well thought about or images were reproduced in a grainy way and because I was at art school at the time I could see how they made the pictures. Yet, when you look at the other stuff, which is the comparison of drawings, carvings, hieroglyphics, paintings on walls of ancient artefacts, the lines in the desert in Central America, which are very specific and something to be seen from above, and the pyramids pointing up…” he trails off.
“People have pooh-poohed it for so long that no-one has actually sat down and said ‘you know what, we should actually take this seriously.”
Scott says that even Stephen Hawking believes there are other life forms in the universe and he hopes they don’t visit because he believes they’ll be more capable than us.
As well as believing in another life form out there, Ridley – perhaps echoing the ideas of his faith-driven female scientist protagonist – puts forth the view that as science becomes more sophisticated the irony seems to be that it approaches the question even more of: is there a god?
“I’ve had NASA scientists sit at a table, and I say ‘who believes in god?’ and about four of them out of nine say ‘I do’ because they get to a point where there’s no answer, they can’t break through, and they start to think about the creation beyond that.”
Before he leaves, Scott turns and says, “You’ve got to open up your mind”.