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Damon Lindelof Talks ‘Prometheus’ Writing Process; Explains ‘Alien’ Prequel Aspects

Written by on June 28, 2011 

I’m not quite sure if Prometheus being a prequel to Alien is still considered a secret by anybody, but just how it’s a prequel remains a mystery. Michael Fassbender said it has the “DNA” of the original series lived on and we’ve heard that a pivotal character from the first will be showing up here, while news of creature designs have appeared online. But the plot remains a mystery and, therefore, so does almost everything else.

While appearing on Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show, Lost co-creator and Prometheus writer Damon Lindelof spoke of both the movie’s status as a prequel, in addition to the writing process that took place before a script was handed in. It’s been transcribed by /Film, and is definitely worth giving a read. Take a look below:

“It started as an Alien prequel. That is what everybody wanted it to be. Obviously, Ridley Scott has not made a science fiction movie in 25 years, since Blade Runner, so the idea that he’s returning to this genre is huge. But there is a real issue which is — what is the state of the Alien franchise at this point in our lives? There has been Alien vs. Predator and all these things, and its been completely and totally diluted. I’ve always felt that really good prequels should be original movies. And the sequels to those prequels should not be the movie which already exists because, with all due respect to anyone who makes a prequel, but why would you ruin the greatest twist in the history of cinema, “Luke, I am your father”, by showing me three movies which basically spoil that surprise. You can do movies which take place before Star Wars, but I don’t need to see the story of the Skywalker clan. Show me something else which I can’t guess the possible outcome of. There is no suspense in inevitability. So a true prequel should essentially proceed the events of the original film, but be about something entirely different, feature different characters , have an entirely different theme, although it takes place in that same world. That was my fundamental feeling about what this movie wanted to be.

And truth be told, it wasn’t script doctoring in the strictest sense because the draft that existed before I came on was written by this guy named Jon Spaihts and it was very good. And there were a lot of things in the movie, Prometheus, which were Jon Spaihts and I feel like somewhere in the media reconstruction of this story, the tale is that I come in, I pitch an entirely new story, and its so original that everything else gets thrown out and that’s what we’re doing. In my brain, that’s not exactly what happened. But I also do feel that this movie is the movie I would want to see as a fanboy, take place in that Alien universe, which precedes the events of the original Alien, but is not necessarily burdened by all the tropes of that franchise with Facehuggers and Chestbursters, and all that stuff that I love… but its sorta like, we’ve seen it before, can we do something different this time? And that’s the movie that Ridley wanted to make. And when you’re working with an auteur, you basically just shut your mouth and listen and try to transcribe and channel the vision of that person, and get out of the way.

So I read it, and it was good. This was not a disaster. There were really good ideas in that script. So I sent off an email…. Ridley works with these guys, Michael Ellenberg and Michael Costigan. I basically sent them an e-mail and said, here is what I think, and here is what I would do, if you were interested, and the next morning … I get the call and they are like “We like your take, can you come in to Scott Free?” I walk into a room and there is Ridley Scott and an executive at Fox and I verbally present, here is everything in the script that I like now, here’s some of my thinking on it — what’s the lay of the land? What are the issues that you guys are having? And we have a great 90 minute meeting in which I do a lot of listening. Again, I don’t want to say I went in and WOWed them, when what really happened was I gave a really short presentation and then Ridley talked about the movie he wanted to make. And then, they decided to hire me. I had to go down to Fox and talk to Tom Rothman about what I wanted to do as well.

And then Sir Ridley Scott and I, and Michael Ellenberg, sat in a conference room for four hours a day, three days a week, and sort of went over it, again and again and again until I understood exactly what he wanted to do and I wrote it. It took me two weeks to write it, not a lot of time — the time consuming part was the collaboration because he thinks, and I know this sounds like I’m brown-noising but, Ridley Scott is a true genius and he thinks in visual terms far beyond the comprehension of mortals like us but also understands story and mood and tone.”

Let’s get the short part out of the way first — the writing process on this movie, at least to my uninterested-in-the-writing-process-on-a-big-movie ears, sounds fairly interesting. I think I found myself surprised by his statements mostly because Ridley Scott has been regarded by some as lazy in his older age, and is often accused of phoning it in. Not only did he apparently go through this extensive process of planning out the script, but he had a lot of the visuals planned out in his mind; that doesn’t sound like someone who’s lazy to me.

Of course, Lindelof could be lying. It’s entirely possible that Scott sat around all day, mapping out a sequel to Robin Hood with Russell Crowe over the phone, while Damon did all the heavy lifting. But that’s probably not the case.

I do have to contend with his remarks when it comes to why a prequel should be done, however. He says a prequel should  show something he “can’t guess the possible outcome of,” and while it “should essentially proceed the events of the original film,” it’s important for it to “be about something entirely different, feature different characters , have an entirely different theme, although it takes place in that same world.” In addition to that, he says this will “take place in that Alien universe, which precedes the events of the original Alien, but is not necessarily burdened by all the tropes of that franchise with Facehuggers and Chestbursters,” while, again, also being “something different.”

The problem I have with that line of thinking is this: If you’re going to make something that’s different from Alien, why bother setting it in the same world? A lot of the people involved in this are stressing that this is something different than what we would expect from a movie in this franchise, and that’s fine.

But weren’t you a little more excited when you thought this was going to be an entirely original project? The fact that it’s a prequel, but at the same time they’re saying, “Don’t worry! We know you don’t like prequels, so this will be different!” just leaves me a little confused. I honestly think it would be easier to do something completely divorced from any pre-existing property, and just tell your own story. Maybe they’ll do that here — I’m sort of getting that impression — but you know they’ll have to tie it to the original in some way by the end, and I consider that to be kind of a bummer.

Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba and Logan Marshall-Green, Prometheus will hit theaters on June 8th, 2012.

Do you want to see Prometheus? Is the fact that it’s definitely a prequel to Alien lower your anticipation a little?

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