Blu-Ray, 20th Century Fox
The Art of Prometheus
A quick flip through, and scanning of, Titan’s recently published book Prometheus: The Art of the Film reveals Ridley Scott is a great lover of design. Leaving aside, for the moment, his amazing visions of the future in his earlier science-fiction films, consider, for a moment, the aesthetics, design cohesion, and appearance of Rome in Gladiator, the middle-ages in Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood, the worlds of the Armed Forces in Black Hawk Down and GI Jane (on the latter – we are speaking only of design here!), and the urban claustrophobia of Hannibal and American Gangster. The man has an interest in, and a love for, every detail in all of his films. While this likely causes more than its fair share of consternation and frustration amongst his collaborators, the end result is always a thing worthy of attention. Even if the designs are loosely based on actual historicity or reality, there is an internal cohesion and relevance that makes his filmic worlds at once believable within their own frames of reference and also beautiful and wondrous. The book, like the film that it describes and illuminates, is a thing of beauty.
His first foray into big-budget motion pictures was his now seminal science-fiction horror film, Alien. Before this he had only made one smaller film, the critically acclaimed Napoleonic-era film The Duellists, and scores of commercials. Genre was not an area that originally interested him, but as fans and critics testify, he was clearly a natural master at it. Before Alien only two major releases set in space (2001 and Star Wars – both huge influences for Scott on Alien) had received any widespread acclaim or success, and they all three can be considered the Holy Trinity of science-fiction films* (to which we can also tack on Scott’s Blade Runner, though much of its creation and inspiration came from Scott’s experiences making Alien) from which all others truly gain their inspiration. The success of all three, and Scott certainly recognized this when he got down to work on Alien, is due in no small part to the look and feel of the films. Their designs are crucial to their believability as the audiences are experiencing totally unknown worlds that necessitate internal consistency.
Alien leaves us with a few questions, some of them answered in later parts of the franchise (what laid the eggs, why do they take the form they do, etc.), the biggest of which are**: 1. Where do the xenomorphs come from? and 2. Who is that skeletal creature, affectionally known to fans and filmmakers as the Space Jockey, in the central chamber of the Giger-designed horseshoe-meets-genitalia space-craft? The Space Jockey, it turns out, was the inspiration for Scott’s third, and latest, foray into science-fiction films, Prometheus. He started with a simple premise: who or what is that creature and let us suppose that it is a suit and not a skeleton. A Giger design, and this is repeated a few times throughout the book, fuelled the creation of what is not so much a prequel to Alien as it is a piece in a shared universe, and it threw Scott head-first into the science-fiction genre again for the first time in almost thirty years.
The design and feel of Prometheus is very much in line with that of Alien and Blade Runner (and there’s a hint on the Blu-Ray that the megalomaniac, multi-billionaire character Peter Weyland was an old colleague of Tyrell, the creator of the Replicants in Blade Runner) – there exists a fundamental base reality that is engrossing and believable. From the design of the creatures – the Engineers, the Deacon, the Hammerpede, the Trilobite – to that of the Prometheus and the Juggernaut, the lifepod, the space-suits, and the massive Engineer-built pyramid and ampule chamber, there is a wonderful balance and cohesion to all of the film’s elements. The film, in its own space and that shared by related films, is real to its viewers. There are blends of ancient and modern – even amongst the Engineers themselves. The first thing we see in the film, the birth of mankind, is at once highly ritualized and positively bizarre when you consider the Engineer’s utterly alien appearance and all-but instantaneous dissolution resulting from its ingestion of a biological agent.
While Prometheus answers questions from Alien, it leaves many of its own. Without offering any spoilers, per se, suffice it to say that its name is apt. Prometheus, a Titan and not god himself, stole the power of the gods, fire, and gave it to man. He deified himself with his gifts, and I highly doubt it was done with any true sense of altruism. Prometheus brought man technology and the ability to alter, shape, craft, and destroy man’s environment; he did it because he could.
*Though, strictly speaking, only one, 2001, is a proper science-fiction film. Star Wars is a space opera, essentially sword and sorcery in space, and Alien is a no-holds barred horror film.
**And one I’ve always wondered about: What do the xenomorphs eat?