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"There is no suspense in inevitability": Damon Lindelof Talks Prometheus

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Industry | June 29, 2011 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Industry | June 29, 2011 |

When we first heard about Prometheus, it was in the garb of an Alien remake. Then it became a prequel. Then it became a prequel split into two movies. Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace, Gemma Atherton, and Michael Fassbender have all be attached at one point or another. Then it became a non-Alien movie but still science fiction. That was rumored after Damon Lindelof came in and rewrote the script. At some point it morphed into an Alien movie, but with no direct connection to the previous films. At this point the movie has crossed a threshold such that no rumor is any more believable than any other. Personally, I’ve got money on Prometheus ending up being a grafting of Rogers and Hammerstein stylings onto a snuff film framework. At least that would be original.

Damon Lindelof sat down and did an extensive interview with The Kevin Pollak Chat Show. Two and a half hours. That’s not an interview, that’s therapy. I don’t know what the Kevin Pollak Chat Show is, and my Internet is being slow enough at the moment that I don’t feel like spending ten minutes googling it just to find out that it is a show that involves a guy named Kevin Pollak chatting with people. There are a couple of choice bits from the interview worth taking a look at:

It started as an Alien prequel. That is what everybody wanted it to be. Obviously, Ridley Scott has not made a science fiction movie in 25 years, since Blade Runner, so the idea that he’s returning to this genre is huge. But there is a real issue which is — what is the state of the Alien franchise at this point in our lives? There has been Alien vs. Predator and all these things, and its been completely and totally diluted. I’ve always felt that really good prequels should be original movies. And the sequels to those prequels should not be the movie which already exists because, with all due respect to anyone who makes a prequel, but why would you ruin the greatest twist in the history of cinema, “Luke, I am your father”, by showing me three movies which basically spoil that surprise. You can do movies which take place before Star Wars, but I don’t need to see the story of the Skywalker clan. Show me something else which I can’t guess the possible outcome of. There is no suspense in inevitability. So a true prequel should essentially proceed the events of the original film, but be about something entirely different, feature different characters , have an entirely different theme, although it takes place in that same world. That was my fundamental feeling about what this movie wanted to be.

While I agree in spirit with the notion that a prequel shouldn’t just do the same thing as the original and end where the original begins, I’m going to have to completely disagree on the specifics. The Star Wars prequels were terrible because they were terrible movies, not because we already knew the ending. Endings are highly overrated, and really, just about every story has an inevitability to it, except for movies that rely on twist-endings. A story’s job is to make you feel that the ending isn’t inevitable, but it doesn’t do that by hiding the ending, it does it by making the path to that ending so damned compelling that you want to see every step of it. The great tragedy of the Star Wars prequels was not that everybody already knew Anakin became Vader, it’s that they wasted the greatest possible set up for a story. See this great hero? He becomes Space Hitler. That set-up, that compelling road for a character to follow, is not invalidated because we know where the road goes. To paraphrase Stephen King, Lindelof is mistaking the spurt at the end for the entire point of sex.

Lindelof goes on to say:

But I also do feel that this movie is the movie I would want to see as a fanboy, take place in that Alien universe, which precedes the events of the original Alien, but is not necessarily burdened by all the tropes of that franchise with Facehuggers and Chestbursters, and all that stuff that I love… but its sorta like, we’ve seen it before, can we do something different this time?

See, the problem here is that I get what he’s saying, but there’s too much that he’s not saying at all. I understand ripping out the old and making something truly original within the same universe. Hell, that’s essentially what Cameron did with Aliens. But what I really want Lindelof to tell me here is how they’re making it different, and what exactly he sees as the essential truths of this series that they are distilling the baggage down to. There is huge potential for tapping into the Lovecraftian notion of science fiction that reveals a universe dark and malevolent, that our little tools and ape minds are simply not capable of dealing with. But Lindelof is dancing around that, just making the promises of difference without showing us the thought process. Yes he doesn’t want to spoil something in progress, yes we will end up seeing what he’s talking about when the film gets made. But he did sit down and give a 150 minute interview on the subject, so he opened the can of worms himself.

And then Sir Ridley Scott and I, and Michael Ellenberg, sat in a conference room for four hours a day, three days a week, and sort of went over it, again and again and again until I understood exactly what he wanted to do and I wrote it. It took me two weeks to write it, not a lot of time — the time consuming part was the collaboration because he thinks, and I know this sounds like I’m brown-noising but, Ridley Scott is a true genius and he thinks in visual terms far beyond the comprehension of mortals like us but also understands story and mood and tone.

It’s really true. It doesn’t count as brown-nosing once you’ve wedged your entire head up there.

(source: SlashFilm)

Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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