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How 'Prometheus' director Ridley Scott reignited the fire of the 'Alien' saga

When visionary director Ridley Scott unleashed the post-modern creature feature Alien onto an unsuspecting world in 1979, little did he know he would also revitalize a genre and spawn a massively profitable pop culture machine.

Director Ridley Scott remixes the DNA of his legendary "Alien" to create a powerful new sci-fi drama, "Prometheus."
Corbis/20th Century Fox

In the 33 years since its debut, Scott's sci-fi horror show has spawned a massive franchise that embodies films and other media hybrids. Only original star Sigourney Weaver, whose starmaking turn as Lt. Ellen Ripley became a film archetype, rivals this most perfect creation (designed by H.R. Giger) in terms fan worship. Hatched within a living host and possessing acid for blood, the Alien reigns supreme as the Boogeyman of our time. It is the embodiment of all that we fear, a menace lurking in dark corners, lying in wait to penetrate our frail humanity in the most violent and bloody ways.

While the initial film series rose to new heights with James Cameron (Aliens), the contributions made by David Fincher (the underrated Alien 3) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (the ghastly Alien: Resurrection) only befuddled or outraged fans altogether. Whatever caused the disconnect from chapter to chapter, it is interesting to note that none of these filmmakers dared to address the origins of this fabled creature. That is, until now. And, it took going back to Scott to make it happen.

One of the most anticipated – and most secretive -- films of the summer, the truth is Scott’s Prometheus (written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof) may not exactly supply fans with the complete answer as to the origins of the Alien. Upon viewing the film, it is apparent such a task would have been a much more limiting prospect as a film experience. For Scott, returning to the science fiction fold would require something more cerebral this time. This time, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker opted to take on the ageless question as to where humanity began. And, like all big questions, sometimes the answer may not be the one you seek.

In this exclusive Personalities Interview for Examiner, find out what was the catalyst for Scott to stoke the fires of fear in the universe with Prometheus, opening citywide this week.

QUESTION: What prompted you to return to science fiction?

RIDLEY SCOTT: Usual reasons. Finding a story. I was really busy doing lots of other things and so I didn’t really address it with any seriousness for a while. But there was this nagging thought that none of the three [Alien] films had addressed the biggest questions in the first film. So, I addressed that question, took it to Fox and said, “You’ve got a whole new start here if you want.” That’s what happened.

QUESTION: The film’s title, Prometheus, telegraphs specific imagery and themes. What did you want to evoke?

SCOTT: Metaphorically, if you screw around with the Gods they will come back and punish you every day. Prometheus had his innards eaten once a day by eagles. When you realize why Prometheus was punished in purgatory, it is that he abused the gift of fire, which actually was our first technology.

QUESTION: Like Alien, we have a crew designed to represent different facets of our humanity. What makes this group different from the Nostromo? How do they give voice to the film’s profound themes on the origins of man?

SCOTT: Prometheus are a much more scientific group. The first Alien was a bit like a tramp ship doing its job in outer space and coming back with minerals and what would be a logical reason to go into space. In this instance, these people are all experts in their own field from etymology to archaeology. There’s a moment when you get into deep space ideas and thinking of the times. It’s entirely arrogant and silly to think that we’re the only ones. I mean, why us? That’s the kind of thing that you apply when you’re starting to write these screenplays. You’re pouring in sometimes nonsense into it because it’s pure imagination. I’ve asked scientists this, “How often are you influenced by the edge of science fiction thinking on the better movies?” They say, “It can happen,” because there’s a different level of imagination that gets applied to fiction and drama as opposed to science and mathematics. Both are as creative. And I think a scientist has to be extremely imaginative.

QUESTION: Michael Fassbender’s performance as the android David is receiving well-deserved acclaim. How was this role essential to the Prometheus narrative?

SCOTT: It was very useful to have an android-replicant-robot humanoid, whatever you want to call him, on board the ship. Rather than hiding him, let him come out fairly quickly because it’s no longer a grand idea. The hidden factor on the ship was Ash (portrayed by Ian Holm) on the original Alien. You have a guard dog in your building and the guard listens and is a very superior form of humanoid that actually has got an IQ bigger than anyone. David’s one of that kind. Because of that we’re able to use quite a lot of humor attached to the fact that we’ve created a being that is so close to us. He’s as human as human, or as in Blade Runner, more human than human. The reason why he’s made that way is to make us feel comfortable. Except, that will also raise other complexities, which occur in the film.

QUESTION: Much has been said about whether Prometheus was designed to be a true prequel and not a parallel franchise. Exactly what is in store for audiences?

SCOTT: It started off with the logic of revitalizing. The creature is done, I think. You need something else and I came up with something else that will open a door and a corridor to the next phase.

Prometheus opens this evening at select theaters throughout Los Angeles. Check out Fandango, MovieTickets and NCM for tickets and theater information on all Personalities movies.

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