[FILM: Interview] Ridley Scott and the cast of Prometheus
Our minds are really closed off if we really think we are alone in this galaxy; f*#k off – you’ve got to be kidding!” That’s Sir Ridley Scott talking, the 74-years-young director who defined modern-day science fiction with the epochal films Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982). Three decades later, he returns to the genre he helped define with a new ‘highbrow’ blockbuster, Prometheus.
Originally intended as a prequel to Alien, the idea for Prometheus was born from the burning question posed (and left unanswered) by that film: What was the ‘space jockey’? Where did it come from? And how did this giant fossilised creature with a punctured chest get to be in the pilot’s seat?
Four years and several drafts later (with 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 earlier, and the events in the film may shed some new glimmers of light on the seminal sci-fi.
Filmed in luscious 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 question: Where did we come from? Who made us?
Playing the lead character, archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw, is Noomi Rapace, best known from the Swedish adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. 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 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, so it really put a mark on me.”
What sets Rapace’s character apart from the other scientists on the expedition is that she believes in a creator and she desires to meet this maker, and her faith is the driving force for the trip to another galaxy. In reality, Rapace says, “I don’t really believe in a God, but I know that whatever you decide to believe in, that will be your source of strength and power.
Michael Fassbender (Shame), meanwhile, plays android David, who is in many ways the ideal human – although he has no ‘soul’. On preparing for his role, the Irish-German actor says he deliberately didn’t re-watch the Alien films, but found “an interesting quality” in Sean Young’s replicant ‘Rachael’, in Blade Runner, and HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Remembering his first encounter with Alien, Fassbender says, “It seems so probable and tangible that you sort of get sucked into that world.” Evoking the same ‘tangibility’ with Prometheus, Scott built entire sets rather than having his actors perform against green-screens.
The other cast members include a barely recognisable Guy Pearce, who plays the 90-year-old head of Weyland Industries, and Charlize Theron – who was originally going to play Elizabeth Shaw, until a schedule clash with the upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road made it impossible. “It was gut-wrenching,” she says. But after Rapace was cast in the lead, Scott offered Theron the smaller role of Meredith Vickers, a high-powered ‘suit’ at Weyland Industries whose motives are unclear. “This is the kind of film where you think everything means something,” says Theron. “You’re watching it and you’re suspicious of everybody and everything, and I think that’s good.”
In fact the film 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 says. “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, but 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 him the chance to be like the gods. (As a punishment, he was consigned to eternal disembowelment-by-eagle.)
The film also pays tribute to Erich von Däniken’s 1968 book Chariots Of The Gods?, which argues not only that we are not alone in the universe, but that another life force in the universe may have spawned us, and posits 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…” the director 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 points out that even Stephen Hawking believes there are other life forms in the universe, and has said that he hopes they don’t visit Earth because he believes they’ll be more capable than us.
Besides believing in aliens, Scott – perhaps echoing the ideas of his faith-driven 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 twelve 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.” As he leaves, Scott turns and says, “You’ve got to open up your mind.”
When: Opens June 7 / Pre-release screenings on June 6 at Dendy, Palace, Hoyts and Event cinemas.