Here’s more – much more – from our chat with Damon Lindelof. This is where he tries to map out the collaborative process that saw Ridley Scott taking control of Prometheus‘ story, where we talk a lot about David, and where Lindelof critiques the film’s late marketing onslaught.
Those fishing for newslets should pay close attention to Lindelof’s comments on which elements of the David story are being saved “for later.”
I think that coming from a television background, I look at writing as a collaborative process from the story right down to the set pieces and the dialogue… I talked to Ridley about Jon [Spaiht]’s Script and what my recommendations were in terms of how to evolve it and move it forward and find that balance between what, at that time, was most definitely was an alien prequel but which really wanted to be an original movie that had two children. One of those children would grow up to be Alien and the other child, the one that I was more interested in, was going to be the wildcard because people like to go see films that end in unpredictable ways.
So I said, lets take these big grand themes of creation and “Who am I? And who made me? And why hath thou forsaken me?” that are here and sort of push all the Alien stuff, the chest bursting and the face hugging, the Xenomorphs, the acid blood, all that stuff down because we’ve seen that a billion times before. We love it but we have seen enough movies about that. We don’t need to rely on that. And then what happened was, he hired me.
Over the course of a few weeks, 4 times a week, for sometimes four to six hour story sessions, I sat across from the table from him with my pen out, writing down every word that was coming out of his mouth. I would ask him questions and we would sometimes talk about the script directly, and sometimes talk about the thematics, and there was a whole day we spent talking about 2001 and Stanley Kubrick. The result of that was that I ended up with a whole notebook of notation that I had taken and I felt like I understood. I had a real clear sense of the movie that Ridley wanted to make and I went off and I did my draft.
And he read that and he repeated the process all over again. We got closer and closer to the movie that he wanted to make through each conversation. So it was enormously collaborative. And I feel like, it’s not so much a movie I wrote, and I know Jon Spaihts agrees, we were just channeling Ridley’s vision for the movie.
You don’t argue with Ridley Scott about the movie he wants to make. You give him every single angle that you can. I said “When you ask questions that the movie doesn’t definitively answer it’s a double edged sword. Some people will be completely totally creatively engaged by it. Some people are going to be pissed off by it.” That only galvanised him more because if there is one thing Ridley loves doing, it’s pissing people off. Hopefully in the right way.
One of the things we kept coming back to and what Ridley really wanted to do was a creation myth. He was interested in Greco-Roman creation or Aztec creation where there are many gods and these gods basically make man out of themselves… the idea that they sacrifice themselves or take a piece of themselves and create man in their own image. I think that’s very interesting. Can we do that on a sci-fi level? And so the opening scene of the movie is basically this idea of dissolving one’s self, sacrificing one’s self, one’s own protoplasm or genetic material in order to become the birth of a new life form.
That theme caries through [and]is embodied by David, the synthetic human, who we [humans] make in our own image for reasons that don’t entirely make sense. David is sort of picking away at it and saying “You made me to look like you because that makes you more comfortable and that’s why I wear the helmet” but there is something in his tone that says “I’m not entirely sure why you made me look like you. It doesn’t seem like the most practical application of a robot but if it makes you more comfortable for me to look exactly like you, then so be it.” And so this idea of creating one in ones own image becomes a sci-fi construct as opposed to a super-natural construct or a religious construct and I think the movie sort of dabbled in marrying those two ideas.
David obviously was the character that was most fun to write. Robots are fun to write because they are not burdened by the same emotional truths and irrationalities that humans are. You just have to decide who programmed them and what did they program them to do, then you obviously get into the interesting territory of how capable is a robot of original thought based on its fundamental programming – but that’s for later. I looked at David in a couple different ways.
The first is through the prism of him being like a five year old. I have a five year old son. One of the things my son loves to do, is if he loves a movie, is just watch that one movie over and over and over again. I will say, “Hey honey, I know you love Toy Story but there are two more Toy Story films and there is Finding Nemo” and he’ll say “No, I like this!”
We have always seen robots that have read every book and seen every movie. But if David just likes Lawrence of Arabia, what if he just watches Lawrence of Arabia over and over and over again? Then, in the same way I put a case on my Iphone, I want to mod my iPhone so it looks different to your iPhone, if there are 10,000 Michael Fassbenders out there, wouldn’t they want their own, legitimate personality? So this one wants to dye his hair blonde so that he looks like Lawrence. And what does like mean to a robot?
It has just got really tired to me in sci-fi with robots that they want to be human. Pinnochio robots as I call them, like Data from Star Trek. Why in God’s name would a robot want to be human? I thought it would be much more interesting if you had a robot that doesn’t get humans. It’s like, “Why would you even make me look like you? Or why are interested in chasing these things down, when they just spent the entire movie trying to kill you? These things make no sense to me. I’m not interested in experiencing emotions. Emotions seem like a huge pain in the ass.”
More importantly, and ultimately, David’s purpose in the movie was to comment on the folly of the mission as a whole. These humans are seeking out their creators and he is hanging out with his creators so, frankly, he is not impressed. I felt like using him as that sort of voice was an opportunity for dry wit and humour, a lot of which comes from Michael’s brilliant performance. He elevated every word on the page. It was just incredible. I could write an entire movie that is just David, all by himself on all kinds of adventures.
I feel like the first great science fiction story is Frankenstein. People perceive it as gothic horror but Dracula is gothic horror. Frankenstein is Science fiction because Frankenstein is using science. Not supernatural means or mythology and it’s not a monster he creates. He reanimates a dead body with science. And he shouldn’t. There is a natural course of things – we are born, we live, we die – and if you try to subvert that, there is always a consequence. A penalty that needs to be paid.
I think that Alien did’t really explore that idea. It was much more a traditional horror story. We wander into the haunted house and we weren’t seeking it out. We just answered a distress call on the Nostromo, it wasn’t our fault. This time, the concept behind Prometheus is we are really looking for it. We are looking for the haunted house. This entire mission is being motivated by a man who doesn’t want to die in the same way that Frankenstein wants to find an answer to immortality.
I definitely feel like the Prometheus marketing showed too much. That there were times where, “Oh they released another three minute featurette. Or another 5 minute featurette. Now here is the international trailer. And you go like, “I wish they hadn’t shown that” But I am a storyteller, I am not a marketer. At the end of the day, marketing’s job was to get people to go see the movie. They will always err on the side of showing too much. As a storyteller, my job is to protect the secrets of the movie so you can experience the story in the purest form as possible. So I will always err on not giving you enough.
Thanks to Mr. Lindelof for taking the time to sit down and talk to us. Prometheus is in UK cinemas now and will open in the US on Friday June 8th.