Ridley Scott’s Prometheus had a very interesting development lifecycle. It began as a straight up prequel to Scott’s 1979 masterpiece Alien, and then it suddenly wasn’t a prequel any more. Then the movie came out and for the first 95% it was indeed its own beast, until a different beast showed up which kinda made you think it was actually an Alien prequel after all. Then the sequel was announced, and once again it looked to be doing its own thing and not tying into Alien, only for Scott to give the proverbial raspberry to that idea by renaming it as Alien: Paradise Lost.
That’s a whole lot of identity crises, all of which could have been avoided if Prometheus had actually stuck to it’s initial prequel guns. That’s what original screenwriter Jon Spaihts intended with his draft of the script – which, by the way, I actually thought was a superior read to the movie we ended up getting – but then Scott brought divisive screenwriter Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers, World War Z) on board for a new draft and he made a couple of big changes. Most notably, removing most of the early references to Alien. But why?
During a chat with THR during their Hollywood Masters interviews, Lindelof revealed that he had very good intentions for his choice of excisions. He explained that he was called up out of the blue by Scott (which nearly caused him to crash his car) to read Spaihts’ script and give suggestions and immediately felt that a few things needed to change.
I read the script. It was called Alien Zero. It was written by Jon Spaihts, who I was honored to share a writing credit with on Prometheus, that’s what it ended up becoming. I thought that there were a lot of really great ideas embedded in it. But when you are reading a script in this context, you’re being essentially asked to replace someone, right? I have to ask myself, “Why is Jon Spaihts not continuing on in this project?” And this is something that’s very unfair that happens to writers, which is, the way that filmmakers signal the studio that they’re ready to make a radical or drastic change is they replace the writer, which never happens in TV; it’s the exact opposite. I felt Jon had done a number of really smart things, but I tried to figure out why is it that they are sending the script to me? What is it that they think that I can do? I anticipated what those things might be, and then I sent an email.
The language of Alien Zero was very much an Alien reboot, in my opinion. There were facehuggers, and xenomorphs, and eggs, in the language of that movie, by page 30. I had heard this thing was a prequel, and there’s a problem with prequels; there’s something I don’t like about prequels, which is there’s an inevitability, that you’re just connecting dots.
Lindelof went on to explain the problem with this “connecting dots” approach, using the often reviled Star Wars Prequel Trilogy as an example.
So this idea of the Star Wars prequels, for example, is you’re going to make three movies where you basically just tell me what I already know. At least embed a new idea in there that I didn’t already know, or introduce a different thematic. Like, what if Obi-Wan Kenobi had stolen Anakin’s girlfriend away from him. And that way, when I watch Star Wars again, I’d realize, “Oh, that’s why Obi-Wan Kenobi is letting Darth Vader strike him down, ‘cause he feels guilty. That’s why Obi-Wan Kenobi is watching over Luke, the progeny of the guy that he screwed over.” So you know, embed a new idea.
There were some new ideas in Spaihts’ script that Lindelof immediately latched onto though, namely the story of the mysterious Engineers perhaps being the creators of humankind, and how that paralleled with the human creation of David, the duplicitous android played by Michael Fassbender.
In Jon Spaihts’ script for Prometheus was this creation myth. The opening of Prometheus as you see it was in Jon’s script. Oh this is a movie about scientists who are searching for the existence of their creators, and so there’s this kind of religious spirit, a pseudo-spiritual thing told in scientific language. And then what was really interesting to me was there was a robot along for the ride, an android, named David in Jon’s script, and I was like, “Oh this is cool. These idiot humans are basically going and looking for their creator.” And anybody who’s ever watched a science fiction movie knows, all great sci-fi is: don’t cross this line; there are questions that mankind should not answer, do not reanimate dead bodies. And it’s like, “Well let’s f—ing do it anyway,” and then it doesn’t turn out well. And because it’s an Alien movie, we know how it’s going to end.
But that was an interesting idea, because the android was there, and he’s there with his creators, and they’re seeking out their creators. And he’s not impressed by his creators. The android, he’s the smartest guy in the room, and I was like, “I’m going to take those ideas, and I’m going to say that’s what the movie is, and we don’t even get to anything, any familiar Alien language, until the end of this movie and if there was a sequel to Prometheus, it would not be Alien — it would go off in its own direction. And therefore it would be exciting to watch because we’re not just connecting dots.
Admittedly, I actually feel Lindelof was onto the right idea here. The entire overarching mystery of the Engineers and why they seemingly created humanity only to then try and destroy it a few thousand years later, was by far the most intriguing aspect of Prometheus for me, and was the main reason why I still wanted to see a sequel despite the film’s problems. Most of those problems of course just coming from the smaller character/plot details and the execution of that story.
We’ll have to wait and see which direction Scott and new screenwriter Michael Green (Heroes, Smallville, Kings) takes Alien: Paradise Lost into in 2017, but hopefully it’s one where people learn to sidestep giant freaking spaceships slowly falling on them.
Last Updated: November 12, 2015