After a thirty year gap since Ridley Scott’s science fiction masterpiece Blade Runner was released (1982), the director has unveiled a number of teaser stills and information regarding his return to the genre with 2012’s Prometheus, one of my most hotly anticipated upcoming films beating out even The Dark Knight Returns, Django Unchained, and The Hobbit, cinephiles be damned. This year’s Comic-Con in San Diego witnessed writer Damon Lindelof (Lost, Cowboys & Aliens) and actress Charlize Theron serving in a press conference panel for a barrage of questions regarding the new film. Meanwhile, the director and his new muse Noomi Rapace gave a live video feed to the jam-packed Hall H while on location at . And after months of utter secrecy revolving around the film, audiences at Comic-Con were treated to a number of brand new stills and even a bit of footage from Scott’s new movie.
To a non-attendee of the SDCC, I can only analyze the given footage based on descriptions from first-person primary sources lest I have to deal with horrific video quality from amateur shots at the convention. Based on the information on the web, the video consists of eerie, atmospheric shots of astronauts scouring the dark corridors of a spacecraft and stumbling upon ancient extraterrestrial ruins. A blond Michael “Fassy” Fassbender is seen examining mysterious goo, Charlize Theron does naked push-ups à la Sigourney Weaver in the original Alien, flamethrowers are used, xenomorph-esque eggs are seen, and the title “Prometheus” fades in with that satisfyingly familiar font. But despite the striking similarity with a number of visual cues from the original 1979 Alien – stasis chambers, dark spaceship corridors styled after the Nostromo, stormy extraterrestrial terrain – Ridley Scott explains, “There is the DNA of the original Alien, but that’s as far as it goes…” As if attempting to downplay the stylistic and thematic imprint from the original movie, Scott toils to retain a sense of sci-fi obscurity to build anticipation for his film. Prometheus is not a direct prequel to the events that unfold in the 1979 masterpiece but a standalone film that takes place within the universe of the aforementioned film complete with its iconic mythology, creatures, and the everlastingly sinister and remote Weyland-Yutani Corporation. Ridley Scott promises that “we’ve gone in a completely different direction,” exploring different themes and sci-fi concepts while seeking to explain a significant unresolved question introduced in the beginning of the original Alien film.
The topic in question will most likely examine the mystery of the so-called “space jockey” seen in the first Alien, a colossal fossilized creature left behind in a derelict ship never to be explored again in the central mythos. The casting of Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers, a suit who is supposedly tied to the Weyland-Yutani Corporation points at a possible examination into the elusive, intergalactic megacorporation. And when asked about the potential for the presence of robots/androids in Prometheus, the director has promised two. Ridley Scott has always been a skillful manipulator of appearances, maintaining a level of ambiguity throughout Blade Runner and Alien as to true identities of the characters involved. Replicants, androids, robots, and so on have continuously been employed throughout Scott’s sci-fi stints. Fassbender is a confirmed android in the upcoming film; that’s no secret. But who’s the other one?
Based on my troublesome experience comprehending Ridley Scott’s heavily British-accented mumbling and occasional f-bomb witnessed in the video feed from the SDCC, the fundamental conclusion that the director reaches is that he aims to “scare the living shit” out of audiences with Prometheus. Unlike director James Cameron’s (Terminator 2, Avatar) straightforward action-adventure takeover of the sequel to Alien, delicately entitled Aliens (see what he did there), Scott’s original relies on a darkly atmospheric tone and slow pacing to maintain a horror film feeling throughout. I honestly enjoyed the slow buildup and suspense of Alien over Cameron’s clear-cut action intensity, and the prospect for returning to the sci-fi horror roots is a welcome homecoming for loyal fans of Scott’s 1979 work. After years of tarnishing the franchise’s name with blatantly offensive entries like the detestable Alien Resurrection and the exploitative B-movie crossovers Alien vs. Predator and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, Prometheus looks like a satisfying return to form. On another note, I’m not afraid to admit that I actually enjoyed David Fincher’s contribution with Alien 3, but that’s another argument to expand on in another time.
Prometheus has a fantastic cast, including aforementioned names such as Noomi Rapace as the leading protagonist, Michael Fassbender, and Charlize Theron. Also onboard are Idris Elba (last seen in this summer’s Thor), Guy Pearce (Scott claims that he’s always wanted to collaborate with the Australian actor), Ben Foster (I raved about him in The Mechanic), Kate Dickie, Logan Marshall-Green, Sean Harris, so on and so on. What’s exciting about the film is Scott’s recruitment of Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, an actress that I’ve had an eye on after her stunning performance in 2009’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels as the hacker/punk Lisbeth Salander. The director’s history with casting and portraying strong, independent-minded female main protagonists is one of the most unmatched qualities in blockbuster cinema (Thelma & Louise, Alien, etc.), and Rapace’s work in playing a brazen female figure in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will undoubtedly resonate a strikingly profound energy akin to Sigourney Weaver’s role in the Alien series.
Actual shooting for the film has taken place in the barren, otherworldly landscape of , a location that Scott claims will occupy the introductory “beginning of time” scenes of the film. As a resolute sponsor of practical effects and physical set design, Ridley Scott has built his film from the ground up, employing massive hand-made sets rather than relying on green screen and digital CGI. Charlize Theron’s surprise at the sheer work put into building actual sets rather than taking the easy (and more expensive) route with CGI effects attests to Scott’s directorial eye for the authentic experience. Both Blade Runner and Alien rely on their refusal to depend so much on digital effects, opting for a more physical, concrete approach to fully immerse both actors and audiences into the environment. Damon Lindelof explains, “if you’re building a ship, he just built the ship,” and the director only employs CGI effects as a means to visualize external space imagery while filming on set for actors to use as a reference point. Of course, the paradoxical nature of Prometheus is Scott’s insistence in an old-school visual approach while filming with some of the most technologically advanced 3D cameras. Rather than opting for post-production conversion into 3D and sacrificing the film’s atmospheric aesthetic for a cheap marketing gimmick, Prometheus is actively designed for 3D effects. Post-Avatar technology will power the means in which the film will be shot, balancing the need for high lighting on set with minor post-production work to darken the picture and create the trademark Alien tone of eeriness.
Seeing legit auteurs like Ridley Scott, James Cameron, and even Martin Scorsese, whose upcoming title Hugo (also known as Hugo Cabret) will be released soon, work with 3D effects is a profound new trend that indicates 3D’s potential for serious cinematic art. In the live video feed, Scott claims, “I’ll never work without 3D again, even for small dialogue scenes…” His assertion here is a visionary outlook that speaks volumes about the filming technique’s potential to open up even the smallest of moments in film. And while I seriously doubt that 2D features will disappear forever, Ridley Scott’s active participation in filming Prometheus using 3D effects is one of the most enlightening notions in recent cinematic news.
Of course, the undying point of tension associated with the upcoming film is 20 Century Fox’s persistence that the film be toned down for a PG-13 rating. As a serious auteur, Ridley Scott has consistently released unabashed R-rated features that would ultimately become cinematic classics: Gladiator, Blade Runner, Alien, etc. In response to the question “Is the PG-13 going to inhibit you from telling the story you want to tell?” Scott responds, “No, not at all. I have a responsibility to my studio, but I always make sure we have both options. You’re crazy not to. Tom and I will both look at it and decide what the best way of going. I’ve fundamentally covered our ass. But there will still be naked push-ups.” Like Blade Runner and its countless releases including the original workprint version, U.S. theatrical version, international cut, 1992 director’s cut, 2007 final cut, and so on, Prometheus has been shot with an R-rated director’s cut in mind just in case Fox really decides to go forth with the PG-13 release. I honestly hope that the studio executives will simply green light the R-rated cut because of Scott’s history with hugely successful R-rated features (again, Gladiator), but a massive blu-ray release would also be quite a welcome surprise as well. Only time will tell, so keep an eye out for Ridley Scott’s upcoming Prometheus, scheduled for release on June 8, 2012.