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Fox Flips for Damon Lindelof’s Alien Prequel Script, Wants Natalie Portman to Star

Vulture just got word: Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof turned in his new draft of the screenplay for Ridley Scott's Alien prequel on Saturday, and 20th Century Fox execs are very pleased with it indeed! We’re told all involved parties have been made to sign nondisclosure agreements about the plot, but our spies have been able to glean several interesting nuggets about the project, which is set roughly 35 years before Scott’s dystopic classic. Here's what we know ...

One reason Fox execs are so thrilled with Lindelof’s Alien draft is that not only is it creatively engaging, but it adds no expensive "set pieces" — production-speak for elaborate, effects-heavy action sequences that add millions to the cost of a film — to the movie. 20th Century Fox and Scott have been wrangling over the director’s proposed budget. One insider familiar with the situation puts Scott’s suggested budget at between $150 million and $160 million; Fox obviously, would like that number to shrink. Still, this is some good news for Fox, which has almost nothing resembling a blockbuster in the hopper for the summer of 2012, and could certainly stand to reinvigorate a wildly popular multi-part sci-fi franchise.

A parade of actresses have met with Scott (who's being represented in these negotiations by his longtime WME agent George Freeman) to discuss the lead role — that of a female Colonial Marine general — but only two have engendered substantial enthusiasm from both Fox brass and Scott Free, the director’s Fox-based production company: Vulture can report exclusively that at the top of the list is Natalie Portman. (She recently detached herself from the adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies at Lionsgate Films out of concern that she was now too old to play the part of Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet. Portman turns 30 next June; Bennet is only 20 in both Austen and Grahame-Smith’s versions of Pride.) Right behind Portman is the already-reported Noomi Rapace, star of the Swedish The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Don’t take Scott’s recent interview with The Independent — in which he claims that the Alien prequel would be “really tough, really nasty” — to mean this is automatically going to be an R picture: We’re told another reason Fox execs are pleased with Lindelof’s rewrite of original screenwriter Jon Spaihts’ script is that it's still aimed at a more accessible PG-13 rating. "The thinking," explains one insider, "is that if the original Alien were released today, minus the F-bombs, you could still get a PG-13. Alien is a very Jaws-ian movie: There’s no sex, and while there’s lots of violence, most of it is off-camera. Maybe you’d have to cut away from certain scenes two seconds earlier, but it could be done."

The prequel still lacks a proper name. Untitled Alien Prequel hardly comes trippingly off the tongue, but while several titles are being bandied about, none have unanimous support of Fox and Scott.

It’s not in any way a reboot of Alien or the Aliens franchise; it’s really meant to be viewed as Scott’s second Alien movie. What's more, no Predator creatures appear anywhere within the film. Despite Fox’s efforts to mate the two sci-fi icons (sci-ficons?), Scott’s camp sees the two franchises as hailing from distinct genres that will not co-mingle, synergy be damned. “The later Aliens movies were action movies, but the original Alien was a horror-suspense film," explains one spy. "This returns the franchise to its roots."

Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images