“We weren’t going to do the facehugger,” states Prometheus concept artist Neville Page in The Furious Gods, “and we weren’t going to do any kind of metaphor to the first film, but at the same time this Trilobite creature became like the uber-metaphor of the facehugger in a way, because it’s very tentacular, it’s in the same way somewhat sexual, and honestly, when I was done with the ‘face’ of it -if it even has one- it has the most vulvas that I’ve ever put into a design … It was a celebration of vulvas, really, which seemed appropriate.”
Page continues: “The fact that it had seven tentacles, that was a struggle for me for quite a while, because we didn’t just want to do an octopus, and there was a few images in the very beginning where it looked just like an octopus. But in the end, it was all about one pose that I did to give it a sense of one locomotion, and make it look like there was power and strength in these tentacles to actually lift it off the ground.”
“The creatures were all supposed to be albino,” creature artist Carlos Huante told AVPGalaxy. “They were supposed to look simple, beautiful and ghostly; like a Beluga whale in dark Arctic water.” The skin tone of the Trilobite creature itself was based on the flaky, pale hue that overcomes deceased creatures encased in formaldehyde. “There’s something about formaldehyde that turns everything pale,” said designer Neal Scanlan. “It’s very insipid. So the colour is lost, and this milky sort of creature, crammed in a jar, left a lasting impression on everybody, including Ridley.”
“There was a giant squid in yellow formaldehyde in a huge glass jar which I showed Ridley photographs of, and he said, ‘that’s it, that’s the quality I want to this creature.'”
Arthur Max, Prometheus, The Art of the Film, 2012.
The final design for the trilobite does not physically evoke its namesake, but at one point it seems the production was looking closer at nature. “We designed this thing called the Trilobite,” said Ridley Scott, “just by going and looking at deep sea things.” One piece of concept art is labelled “Unfolding Dicranurus Trilobite,” and features a barbed, spined version of the creature with two ram-like horns atop its ‘head’. This design is an exact match for a genus of trilobite whose name, Dicranurus, means “twin head-tail”, which lived roughly 2.8 million years ago. Later designs quickly became more like the final muscular squid we see in the movie.
In Damon Lindelof’s early drafts of the script, the Trilobite was called the Troglybyte. Carlos Huante said of its design, “I never really had a chance to go at the Troglodyte [sic] properly. I thought it should be an abstract of a man, three shoulder girdles stacked. The facehugger was an abstract of human hands. The Trog, in my mind, should have not been a ‘creature’ which is what it ended up becoming. The first movie was made up of elements that were not easy to categorize. The Aliens weren’t creature-y if you understand what I mean. They were ‘other’. Giger isn’t a creature designer, he’s an artist.”
The creature’s birth takes place in the med-pod, where it is extracted from Elizabeth Shaw after her impregnation by an infected Holloway. Originally, in Jon Spaihts’ script, Shaw was impregnated by a facehugger via David, who coaxes the creature on to her. Spaihts explained to Empire magazine: “David ties her up and deliberately exposes her to a facehugger. He caresses an egg open and out comes a facehugger. “David doesn’t smell like a person -his breath isn’t moist- so he can handle the thing [facehugger] like a kitten. It doesn’t want him; it’s not interested. But then he exposes it to her and it goes for her like a shot. He toys with her for a bit and then lets it take her. That, in my draft, was how Shaw was implanted with the parasite that she had to remove with the medpod sequence.”
“One of the things I realised was that we hadn’t seen anyone survive a classic Alien chest bursting. And I was really intrigued by the notion that a character might be infected by the parasite and know that it was coming, know they had a time-frame of a few hours, and that we would have set up previously a nearly omnipotent medical device, designed to extend life for explorers in foreign places. Our heroine would have a short time to get to the machine and extract the thing inside her.”
In Spaihts’ draft there is no subsequent Trilobite creature – an Alien foetus is removed and expelled from the medpod, whilst Shaw recuperates inside. When she awakens, she can only watch as the adult Alien slaughters the Prometheus crew on the other side of the device. Of course, in Prometheus as we know it, this is nullified – Shaw is infected by Holloway, informed she is pregnant by David, and rushes to have the thing removed. The medpod retrieves the baby Trilobite from her body and Shaw leaves the beast within the machine.
The surgical removal and escape of a tentacled monster harkens back, perhaps serendipitously, to one source of the chestburster idea itself. “There were comic books [that inspired Alien] too,” Alien writer Dan O’Bannon wrote in his essay Something Perfectly Disgusting. “EC’s Weird Science and its companion publication, Weird Fantasy. I recall one fondly, about seeds from outer space which fell onto the deck of a Navy destroyer, and an incautious sailor ate one. A horrible, tentacled monster hatched out of him.”
The Trilobite’s short lived battle with the Engineer also references one of Ridley Scott’s comic book influences – the Dan O’Bannon scripted/Moebius penned The Long Tomorrow, which also provided a major influence on Scott’s own Blade Runner.
In the strip, futuristic gumshoe Pete Club is attacked by a shape-shifting ‘Arcturian spy’ who morphs into a gelatinous, amorphous creature mid-coitus. He fights the creature off and aims his gun. “That’s it for your little Arcturian love games,” quips Club, before destroying the shape-shifter. The Engineer in Prometheus does not prove so triumphant. He is overpowered, impregnated, and births the Ultramorph/Deacon creature.
The Trilobite, essentially, serves only as a prelude to a greater beast – the Deacon, an ‘Ultramorph’ whose figure is enshrined and seemingly worshipped within the Engineer temple complex. It seems to hint that Engineer/Trilobite cross-pollination has occurred before, though, within the temple itself, are icons of alien hands wrapped around an Alien egg. Whether or not the Trilobite is a unique creation stemming from human infection, or a re-occurring cousin of some other facehugger-like creature, is presently unclear.