Ridley Scott’s new film Prometheus seeks answers to a lot of big questions: Why are we here? Who created us? Why do they hate us? How many Alien movies can we make? If this installment (don’t call it a prequel) works, then plenty more — now that the universe is opened to new evolutionary branches of our favorite xenomorphs, who aren’t just face-huggers and chest-bursters — are likely. Those changes (which we won’t reveal here) come courtesy of Lost creator and Prometheus co-scribe Damon Lindelof, who took a script by Jon Spaihts, excised what we might expect to see, and expanded the mythology. Elements from the Alien universe are here: the space jockey, Weyland Industries (pre-Weyland-Yutani Corp.), etc. — but Prometheus wants to steal its fire in a more philosophical way. Lindelof called Vulture from London to geek out about androids, alien rape, and fanboy theories. Caution: mild spoilers ahead.
How’s London treating you?
I can look out my hotel window and see the streets closing down for the 60th Jubilee. I didn’t think celebrating it would be such a big deal, but they’re into it. The flags are all up, and they’re getting ready to celebrate the queen.
But not the alien queen.
I celebrate the alien queen! [Laughs.] No offense to the monarchy. Keep calm and carry on.
You had this viral campaign with Guy Pearce, Noomi Rapace, and Michael Fassbender in character that gave some insight into the movie’s backstory: Peter Weyland’s 2023 TED Talk, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw’s solicitation for the the trip, the David commercial.
I think about viral all the time, and it all boils down to additional content. The ideal is something between two and four minutes, because people have the attention span online long enough to grab their coffee at Starbucks. If it’s over five minutes and you’re watching it at work, you feel indulgent. So the first rule is keep it bite-sized, and the second rule is don’t think about it in terms of it being viral or marketing the movie.
What they did with The Avengers was genius — because at the end of each Marvel film, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, they had an extra scene, which linked the films together — Nick Fury shows up in the first Iron Man movie, Tony Stark shows up in the Hulk movie, Agent Coulson shows up in the second Iron Man movie, and so on. That was viral six years later. You’re finding out about the team, what the MacGuffin is going to be, and it’s all coming together. Genius. So I was thinking about how that method and how those videos would be really effective at character introduction. So you meet David the robot, without spoiling it. One of the things I was thinking of for that were those iPhone commercials. So I talked to [executive producer] Michael Ellenberg, “Can we do a commercial for a robot? If we have commercials for iPhones, wouldn’t they have commercials for robots?”
Plus there’s foreshadowing. You see the tip of his finger, which becomes a plot point later. And there’s his name. Did you mean to evoke the android boy David of AI: Artificial Intelligence or Hal’s conversations with Dave in 2001: A Space Odyssey?
[Laughs.] It was an opportunity to get a couple ideas across, such as the idea of Pinocchio, the robot who wants to be a real boy. Even Roy Batty [from Blade Runner] wants some fundamental humanity, or at least more life. He covets what he does not have. Our David 8 is not interested in being a real boy. In fact, he just comes out and says that he mimics emotions effectively, but he does not have emotion.
Yet he has the best lines of the movie! He has more of a sense of humor than the humans do.
From a writing standpoint, that just elevates the material. And when you have an actor of Michael Fassbender’s caliber, in a role like this? It’s just incredible. I was watching the dailies, going, “Oh my God, this guy!” And it’s just fun to write for robots. It’s so liberating. And to get his point of view — here the humans are, going to meet their creator, and he’s met his, and it wasn’t all that special. And then there’s the question of his motives: Is it just his programming and nothing else? He interprets and extrapolates in some fundamental ways, based on the movies he’s watched, because there’s no one to tell him what to do.
At one point, Idris Elba’s Captain Janek questions whether Charlize Theron’s Meredith Vickers is also an android. She attempts to prove she’s not by having sex with him, or so we assume, since that’s a moment off-screen. But what does that really prove? Because some androids are fully functional and programmed in multiple techniques.
You’re right, it doesn’t prove a thing! [Laughs.] I have to wonder what displays Vickers put on for him to prove that she wasn’t one. That’s probably best left to the imagination, or to the DVD extras.
There’s a lot of rape/pregnancy imagery. Did you and Ridley want to make it more overt, more sexual than in previous Alien movies?
Yes. I think ultimately everything thematically comes back to the idea of creation, like the drop which can start an entire branch of this incestuous perverted family tree. We don’t have to be pretentious about sex, but there are all different kinds and forms of sex, for lack of a better way to look at, and birthing and creating life, from the beings that created us to the beings we create, and the various roles in fertilization, from the bee to the flower to the pollen. Even those of us who can’t generate our own seed. So the entire movie is an exercise in what is the family tree and whose progeny are we. You’re looking at one wild, sick, and twisted extraterrestrial orgy! [Laughs.] That should be out there. We should brand it like that.
Elizabeth Shaw wants to go out and find out why the Engineers created us and then wanted to destroy us. I have a theory based on the prologue that it’s because they created us by accident. They just want to clean up their mistake.
I love the way you think! That’s all I can say. I’ve heard multiple theoretical answers to this, and you’d be surprised at some of the theories out there. Usually all I can do is let people guess. But I love that people are having passionate feelings either way. If you really think I destroyed this movie, for instance, all I can say is, “Hey, man, this is the way Ridley Scott wanted it. I said, ‘Yes, sir. Whatever you want, sir.’ This is his vision.” And I will defend his vision until the day I die. I’m not saying it’s the next Blade Runner, and I certainly didn’t make that, but people are still talking about whether Deckard was a replicant to this day. If it were easy to spell out, you’d have nothing to debate with your geek friends.
What’s your take on Deckard, by the way?
My interpretation before this was that he is not a replicant. But I now have an insight from talking to Ridley that other people do not have, and I cannot share it under penalty of death or serious bodily injury. [Laughs.]
Did you feel like a fanboy working on this? Did it feel like writing fan fiction at any point?
It’s a double-edged sword, to be sure. It’s a dream come true, to love these movies and then to get the call, because I could have shown up with something that I wrote as a 14-year-old. I was absolutely terrified, going, Who am I in this realm? I was so terrified of screwing it up. Here I am, the guy who ruined Lost, and now I’ll be the guy who ruined the Alien franchise. But those are the jobs you have to say yes to. You either ski the Black Diamond and risk being in traction for a month or you do the bunny slope.
You’ve written fan fiction recently for Mad Men. Any others?
You know, I’ve written some for superhero characters, some of which never should get made. I wrote some for Star Trek: The Next Generation back when I was in high school. And I wrote twenty pages of a spec script for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I’d actually like to read that.
It’s terrible! [Laughs.] It made me realize that man, Joss Whedon, is so talented. I took it upon myself to tell a Giles origin story. Oh man, the hubris. “I’m going to take this on!”
Like our pals onboard the Prometheus.
It always comes back to hubris. [Laughs.]