After five drafts, Jon Spaihts’ Alien prequel was handed over to writer Damon Lindelof. “I really liked Jon’s script,” Lindelof said. “I thought there were some very cool and original ideas in it that I thought were potentially dangerous, and I like danger—I don’t respond to ‘safe’, creatively. I said to myself, ‘Oh, this is sort of unexpected, but it’s not unexpected just to be shocking. It’s cool.’ I read it and enjoyed it, but I just felt like that draft was very married to Alien: 35 pages in, we’re already dealing with eggs and facehuggers and chestbursters and xenomorphs and acid blood…” Lindelof decided that the series needed a shake-up, and to do so would require the loss of its most recognisable elements.
“When I came in,” Damon Lindelof told The Hollywood Reporter in July 2012, “there was a script that had been written by Jon Spaihts, who I share screenplay credit with, that I thought was quite good, but it was a dyed-in-the-wool Alien prequel.” Lindelof also told movies.com that, “when I came in on Prometheus, my work was very intense and stretched out over the course of seven or eight months, but I was working off this really good script that Jon Spaihts had written. So I was never looking at a blank page saying, ‘oh god, what do we do here?’ The foundation and much of the building was there and I’m working with Ridley Scott, who knows exactly what he wants to shoot. So I feel like the work on Prometheus was a little more like a ‘for hire’ job. The plans were already there and I was hired as a private contractor to come in and sort of execute them.”
Spaihts had written five drafts of the prequel and Ridley Scott was looking for another take on the material. “The job that [Spaihts] was given was writing a clear-cut Alien prequel,” Lindelof continued, “and by the time I came in, it felt like everybody involved wanted to make a shift away from making it so profoundly about that stuff – the chest-bursting, the eggs, the acid for blood. So the majority of the ideas that I brought were about trying to infuse the movie with the sense of, ‘It’s a movie about creation.'” Lindelof characterised himself as “an Alien superfan,” and he added that this fandom “covers Alien and Aliens, not that the other movies were terrible, I would just say I am a superfan of those two movies.”
He went on to tell filmschoolrejects.com that, “Essentially, for me, the core of the Alien franchise was a movie about creation, the idea that here are these eggs lying out in the galaxy somewhere holding these things that could get attached to your face, and in the combination with humans it would birth an indestructible killing machine. That’s a powerful franchise idea. Now, taking a step back, we’re saying, ‘Let’s re-explore this concept through the concept of creation. Let’s put mankind’s creators, mankind, and the beings mankind created all in the same room together, and have them screw and see what comes out.’ That would be an interesting movie, both thematically and in terms of thrills, etc.”
Spaihts’ script was also with suffused with questions of creation, and is built upon a quest to find the gods, but the third act becomes less about these things and becomes more of a traditional creature-feature. Lindelof was tasked with pushing the monsters to the side somewhat, and making the finale more true to the script’s beginnings. “This movie was going to say, ‘What if creation wasn’t the result of some kind of all-knowing deity?” Lindelof told complex.com. “What if it’s the result of something we can actually go and visit? Are we the result of an experiment, and what’s the purpose of that experiment? Are we deemed a success or a failure?'”
“These were really interesting ideas,” Lindelof continued. “Ridley is certainly not the first person to have them; in fact, he often referenced the work of Erich von Daniken and others, like Stanley Kubrick adapting Arthur C. Clarke’s book to make 2001: A Space Odyssey. But these sort of grander themes tied into a sci-fi retelling of them with the idea of saying, ‘Let’s apply all of that to the Alien universe.’ It’s looking at it from the angle where, in the six films that have been made in the Alien universe, it hasn’t really been looked at through that microscope before.”
“Ridley Scott birthed this universe over two decades ago,” Lindelof said when discussing Prometheus‘ philosophical and ‘big idea’ approach, (frustratingly not acknowledging the melting pot that was Alien: Dan O’Bannon, Ron Shusett, Ron Cobb, David Giler, Walter Hill, and HR Giger were all decisive or influential creative powers). “My job was to sit and listen and to channel, in the same way that a medium does. This was about the ideas that he wanted to convey, and he did not want to come back and do science fiction again unless there was some kind of a philosophical construct to it. That’s why Blade Runner, which didn’t really enjoy commercial success when it first came out, is viewed as a classic, and is still being discussed and dissected: there are these fundamental ideas about humanity, our relationship with technology, the presence of a soul — those are all the things that drive Blade Runner. Ridley was reaching for the fruit on the tree of knowledge in the ideas that he was having about this movie.”
“At the same time,” he continued, “there is a line where a movie becomes overtly pretentious. We wanted to stay on the right side of it, because once you cross it, there’s no going back. There had to be a version of this movie that presented big ideas, but didn’t really wallow around and spend all it’s time basking in the glory of it’s own intelligence. We wanted to make an entertaining movie at the same time. Hopefully, it’s a hybrid in tone between the original Alien and Blade Runner.”
“It’s what I choose to believe”: Unfortunately (since I was personally built up to expect a philosophical tour de force) it’s a shame that the film’s characters resort to declarative and blanket statements rather than actual arguments to make their philosophical points in the movie; but it must also be said that (in my opinion) Shaw’s religious belief is paper-thin anyway, in that it is never clearly defined – is her crucifix a token of her faith or more of an heirloom? Or both? Is she merely mimicking her father or advancing an argument of her own? Her religious belief is never raised in conversation other than in her “choose to believe” line (always a debate-stopping sort of phrase meant to discourage further discussion) and seems to be more of a flimsy umbilicus between her and her father (a relief-working priest, in this iteration of the script). Spaihts, in his script, also gave the Shaw character a much harder argument in proposing the Prometheus mission to Weyland – she uses evidence of ancient DNA tampering; something that can be verifiable without ever leaving Earth’s orbit. And Weyland does verify it. This is gone in Lindelof’s script, and to plug it up we’re simply told he was a “superstitious man,” which makes him seem all the more foolish. But we walked into the cinema knowing Shaw was right, right? The finer point is that Weyland’s decision-making process, no matter the results, will always be rash, and maybe even stupid, because of the lacklustre premises the decision was made on (cave paintings). Luckily for Peter, Shaw was right about the Engineers creating mankind, so he didn’t end up with egg on his face (just an egg-sized lump and bruise.) Ultimately, I can’t admit to being convinced by Shaw’s evidence or arguments in the movie – and I walked in knowing she was right.
Another key difference between the scripts was the characterisation of the android David. In Spaihts’ version he is an outright antagonist; in the new version he is more ambiguous. “I was really interested in and catalysed by the robot, David,” explained Lindelof. “I felt like he was going to become the central figure of the movie. Because in the genealogical chain of things, there are these beings that may or may not have created us, then there’s us, and then there’s the being that we created in our own image. So we’re on a mission to ask our creators why they made us, and he’s there amongst his creators, and he’s not impressed. Oddly enough, the one nonhuman human on this ship -that’s sort of a prison- exists to question why it is we’re doing this in the first place.”
Lindelof’s script was due to be provided on the Prometheus home release, but ultimately wasn’t included. In November 2012 Jon Spaihts’ script was leaked to the internet, and Lindelof’s quickly followed. The Lindelof script is not seemingly the final shooting draft. Differences from Prometheus as we know it include:
After the Sacrifice Engineer’s death a form of life crawls out of the river. “A hand. Pale and new. Fingers outstretched. Hard to tell if they belong to a human or a salamander, but either way… it is life.”
The archaeological dig site is not in Scotland, and is hinted to be somewhere in the Middle-East (“turbaned workers”) or North Africa. The production originally planned to shoot in Morocco, but the Arab Spring deterred them.
The ship is called the Magellan, as per Spaihts’ script. According to THR, they also “considered the names Paradise and Icarus before opting for Prometheus.”
Peter Weyland is Arthur Weyland.
We get a look at one of Holloway’s cryo-dreams, where the “handsome bastard” is skiing. David, who is watching via his helmet, “seems contemptuous”, and administers a sedative.
The crew’s spacesuits let off alarms to signal infection (in the case of Holloway) and can even amputate infected limbs, as in the case of Milburn, whose arm is severed by his suit when the Hammerpede seizes it.
Ford, it seems, was written with a man in mind.
Chance and Ravel’s betting scenes are not present.
Vickers is not Weyland’s daughter – their exchange before leaving for the pyramid does not occur.
Weyland does not wear a suit to venture to the pyramid, and is instead pushed in a wheelchair.
As we have inferred from the film’s movie trailers, Fifield originally attacked the ship whilst Weyland is making his move towards the pyramid. Fifield kills the ship’s mercenaries but is ultimately crushed under the RT01’s wheels by Shaw.
Weyland is more friendly towards Shaw in this script than he is in the movie. He’s almost misguided, rather than antagonistic and lofty.
The Orrery and Hibernation Chamber inside the Juggernaut are in two different rooms.
When Shaw is escaping from the launching Juggernaut the structure is ‘alive’ with Engineer holograms “running frantically as if the last days of Pompeii were upon them”.
Shaw makes it back to the Magellan after the Juggernaut is launched, and she escapes in a pod before Janek crashes into the Engineer ship. Vickers meanwhile escapes in her lifeboat.
Overall, however, the script is nigh-on what we can see on screen. Writing-wise, the script has a penchant for capitalising and underscoring words for no apparent reason, and also for onomatopoeia – there’s nary a paragraph without a SPWWWWWWASH or VWWWHHHRR or a FWWAAASH or even a KWAAAAAF, (there’s also a near-omnipresent flux of Christ! God! and Jesus! exclamations.)
There also does seem to be a preoccupation in the script with the physical desirability of the film’s characters. Shaw is first described as being “dirty, but sexily so,” and later as being “staggeringly perfect”. Holloway is “[as] reckless as he is handsome,” and then re-introduced a few pages later as being “the handsome bastard we saw with Shaw at the dig.” Vickers is “as cold as she is sexy” and is also noted as being “pretty TOUGH SHIT” (capitalisation in the original). Weyland, in his excised dream sequence, is at first credited as ‘Handsome Man’ and one of his female dream escorts is described as being “A STUNNING WOMAN IN AN EQUALLY STUNNING BIKINI … everything about her just oozes SEX” (again, capitalisation in the original). Shaw and Holloway’s love scene is also strangely jejune, described as being “borderline VIOLENT as they PULL EACH OTHER’S CLOTHES OFF,” which is fair enough; very Deckard and Rachael, but then the scrip immediately adds, “GODDAMN IT IS HOT.”
The scenes covering Shaw and Holloway’s love scene, Janek and Vickers flirting, and Fifield and Milburn spending the night inside the Engineer structure are equally cringe-inducing. Whilst Janek “Didn’t quite expect that he’d actually be getting LAID tonight” Fifield smokes marijuana through his suit; something which even in the film felt like a scene borrowed from a teen comedy.
There are touches of subtlety however. Before Vickers addresses the Prometheus crew at the beginning she “comes to a door. Stops. Takes a moment. Reaches to her collar. Undoes the top two buttons. Her mouth curls into a smile. And it’s almost convincing.” It’s a neat little quiet character moment that’s absent from the movie. Later, during the briefing, she “smiles with her mouth, but not her eyes.” Because Vickers is not Weyland’s daughter in this script, the strain between her, Weyland and David is not due to familial tensions but rather the result of Vickers’ insecurity regarding her position of power aboard the ship and within the Company.
“Who the hell is Fifield?”: mutters one of Weyland’s mercenaries when Janek reports that the geologist has somehow returned to the ship. Funnily enough, Lindelof earlier states that there are several crewmembers “whose names we need not know”.
Interestingly, the script also includes Shaw’s pitch to Weyland, which appeared as a piece of viral promotion called ‘Quiet Eye.’ In the script, Shaw records the message for Weyland in her tent at the exotic dig site. Not included is David’s dialogue with the awakened Engineer. Apparently, according to Lindelof twenty pages of android-alien dialogue was written, but the production opted not to include a long discussion between the two, nor to provide any subtitles. “God,” says the script, “what we wouldn’t do to see some subtitles.”
The ending is the same as the film’s, with some minor differences. The second Juggernaut’s take-off is not described, only Shaw “carrying David’s head like a goddamned pineapple as she strides off the damaged bridge of the Juggernaut towards her DESTINY.” Shaw’s monologue is also absent. The Deacon, after its birth, leaves the lifeboat and “stands there now – surveying the planet with the cold, detached air of a hunter.” It wails and the film smashes to black.
Speaking about the film’s ambiguity, or lack of answers, Lindelof said, “When you go and look at a piece of art you’re going to take something away from it that’s entirely different from the person who was just standing in front of that canvas five minutes ago, and I think that’s the kind of story I want to tell. I do have an intention, and I’m not just throwing stuff out there in an arbitrary way and don’t have the answers for those questions. I have answers for all those questions, but I don’t want to force my answers on the viewers, as if they’re the only possible answers. At times, that’s going to blow up in my face, and that’s the price I have to pay. I won’t say I’m glad to pay it, but I will say, I am willing to pay it.”
“What’s fascinating,” he continued, “is you think [the film is] in the sweet spot, some people will think the movie is overly explicit, and some will think the movie was frustratingly in-explicit, and then I’ll go, ‘Well, I guess I did my job right.'”