Interview: "Prometheus" Screenwriter Damon Lindelof Talks "Alien" Fans' Expectations & Ambitiously Hardcore Sci-Fi

Interview: "Prometheus" Screenwriter Damon Lindelof Talks "Alien" Fans' Expectations & Ambitiously Hardcore Sci-Fi

It makes perfect sense that Damon Lindelof is the writer behind Prometheus, director Ridley Scott’s already polarizing prequel to his 1979 classic Alien. For the last year, movie buffs and science fiction die-hards alike have been speculating over whether Prometheus actually is connected to Alien, a dramatic talking point that has given the massively ambitious film (in theaters tomorrow) an almost unfair amount of pre-release expectations. Meaning, there will no doubt be plenty of unsatisfied Alien fans this weekend, due to the fact that the answers about the 1979 movie’s mysterious “Space Jockey” provided in Lindelof’s Prometheus script aren’t going to make everyone happy—that’s just the way it goes in Hollywood.

Not that the New Jersey-born Lindelof isn’t mentally equipped to handle such pressures. From 2004 through 2010, the television veteran, along with creative partner Carlton Cuse, oversaw the ins and outs of ABC’s divisive, and mysterious, smash series Lost, a show Lindelof co-created with Cuse and J.J. Abrams. And when many Lost fanatics railed against its May 23, 2010, series finale, Lindelof had to weather the storm of viewer disappointments and, in some cases, vitriolic anger.

With its heady ideas about creation, mixed with plenty of gross-out scenes and a surprisingly hardcore edge, Prometheus is bound to split audience reactions down the line—we, it should be noted, dig it quite a bit. Which is why Complex recently chatted with Lindelof about managing Alien fans’ hopes, the luxuries that come from working with a filmmaker of Ridley Scott’s caliber, and the film’s lofty notions about religion and mankind’s origins.

Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

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It must feel good to finally talk about Prometheus with people who’ve actually seen the film, instead of having to maneuver around speculative, “Is it an Alien movie or not?” questions.
It is, yeah. It is a relief to be in the haze of Christmas Day, as opposed to when the presents are all locked up in the closet. [Laughs.]

And now that you’re speaking with people who’ve seen the film, how have the reactions been so far?
Well, like you say, it’s one thing to be talking about a movie that nobody has seen and it’s another thing to be talking about a movie that people have seen. And once people have seen Prometheus, some people totally dig it and other people not so much, but that’s the nature of the beast. I’m more than happy to hear both opinions.

It’s interesting, after the screening I attended, I overheard a few of the film’s haters complaining about how it’s nothing like Alien, or just straight-up comparing it to Alien rather than critiquing it on its own merits. And I guess that’s inevitable.
Sure, the movie invites it, without a doubt.

Exactly. In one sense, Prometheus is such a totally different movie, but then there are those key images taken from Alien that make it impossible not to compare the two movies.
Indeed, and I think that the prevailing question in advance of the movie was, “What’s this movie’s relationship to Alien?” That’s what people wanted to ask us, and now they’ve seen it. On one side of it, they want to make sure that question was answered definitively, and one person’s “definitively” is another person’s “not definitively.” So, while I think that, certainly, it’s pretty clear what this movie’s relationship is to the original Alien, perhaps it’s not clear enough for some people, and for other people it’s not the connection they wanted it to be.

The thing about Alien is that it’s a classic movie, it’s been out there for more than 30 years, and your own imagination, in terms of, “What’s the story of the Space Jockey and the derelict ship?” might be different from the one that Prometheus presented, and you might not like it, as it is your right to not like it.

Speaking of the film’s interpretation of those Alien mysteries, there was already a draft of the script written when you signed on, correct? Did you connect with the original interpretation and ideas?
Yeah, I was sent a draft of what I’m assuming was the latest draft of what Jon Spaihts had written, who was the only writer on the project prior to me. I got the script with the sort of mysterious request of “tell us what you think.” These are essentially job interviews, situations like this, and you don’t know what they like or what they don’t like, or if they even know what to do at that point.

 
What seemed really appealing was the idea of looking at that theme [of creation] not through a supernatural construct but through a sci-fi construct, in the same way that Frankenstein looks at life after death in terms of what’s grounded in a scientific reality as opposed to a paranormal reality.
 

I really liked Jon’s script; I thought there were some very cool and original ideas in it that I thought were potentially dangerous, and I like danger—I don’t respond to “safe,” creatively. I said to myself, “Oh, this is sort of unexpected, but it’s not unexpected just to be shocking. It’s cool.” I read it and enjoyed it, but I just felt like that draft was very married to Alien; 35 pages in, we’re already dealing with eggs and facehuggers and chestbursters and xenomorphs and acid blood.

I felt like that was all the stuff we’ve seen before, and then there was this other idea in the script that I haven’t seen before, so I told them, “What I think this script would really benefit from is a remixing of its ideas, to make the movie about these ideas and themes of creation, and focus it more on the idea of going to visit these beings who may or may not have made us. And a little bit less on things jumping out of eggs and running after us with mandibles of death.” All of which probably would have been awesome in any other context, but I think it would’ve definitely been more along the expected path.

So that’s what I pitched to Ridley [Scott] and the production team, and that’s what they responded to. For some crazy reason, they hired me, and thus began the next year of my life.

Your fascination with this idea of creation can be traced back to Lost, as well, and the show’s final season revelations and overarching themes.
Sure, that’s very perceptive of you to say, too.

Why has the idea of creation always interested you?
It’s definitely something that’s interesting to me, and it was of particular interest to Ridley. What seemed really appealing was the idea of looking at that theme not through a supernatural construct but through a sci-fi construct, in the same way that Frankenstein looks at life after death in terms of what’s grounded in a scientific reality as opposed to a paranormal reality.

This movie was going to say, What if creation wasn’t the result of some kind of all-knowing deity? What if it’s the result of something we can actually go and visit? Are we the result of an experiment, and what’s the purpose of that experiment? Are we deemed a success or a failure?

These were really interesting ideas. Ridley is certainly not the first person to have them; in fact, he often referenced the work of Erich von Daniken and others, like Stanley Kubrick adapting Arthur C. Clarke’s book to make 2001: A Space Odyssey. But these sort of grander themes tied into a sci-fi retelling of them with the idea of saying, “Let’s apply all of that to the Alien universe.” It’s looking at it from the angle where, in the six films that have been made in the Alien universe, it hasn’t really been looked at through that microscope before.

Tags: prometheus, damon-lindelof, alien, sci-fi, lost, idris-elba, ridley-scott
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