One of the most common themes a reader will walk away with is that Ridley Scott is a man who has a specific vision and is not easily pleased with “close enough.”
The most divisive and scrupulously analyzed film so far in 2012 is Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, the quasi-prequel to his own landmark science-fiction work Alien (1979). While most fans of Scott’s original film were hoping for a clear cut explanation to some (or all) of the many questions raised in Alien, Prometheus actually raised more questions than it answered. Since its release in early June, websites of all kinds have been dissecting the plot of the film and the possible meanings and implications.
Scott and screenwriter Damon Lindelof have, for the most part, stayed tight-lipped about the many complexities of the script, letting audiences quarrel amongst themselves about what really happens in the film. Prometheus: The Art of the Film does not explain the plot’s secrets or Scott’s central meaning (that would be unfair to the director and the audience). It does, however, give an incredibly in-depth peek behind the curtain of how one of Hollywood’s most iconic directors approached his return to the sci-fi genre after more than 20 years.
Written by Mark Salisbury, the book is full of behind-the-scenes photos, original storyboards and proposed artwork. One of the most common themes a reader will walk away with is that Ridley Scott is a man who has a specific vision and is not easily pleased with “close enough.” Scott himself opens the book with a foreword and an explanation of what drove him to return to the universe he created 30 years ago. What is most interesting to learn (at least to an Alien fan and/or cinephile) is how Scott wanted Prometheus to stand alone from Alien, but still share some of the same DNA. This is done in a variety of ways. First, like his earlier film, Prometheus relies significantly on practical sets and special effects. If a room or cave or vehicle could be built, that is what Scott wanted to use instead of CGI, something that wasn’t cheaply available in 1979.
Many of the behind-the-scenes photographs feature the 360 degree sets that Scott commissioned. While most film sets only have two or three walls and rarely include a ceiling, Scott wanted sets that were as realistic as possible so that he could have coverage in any direction he wanted. This also helped the actors step into the world of the film. One of the most impressive products is the external body of the Prometheus ship itself that features prominently in several scenes. While Scott could easily have shot the scenes in front of a green screen, his choice to use actual sets gives those scenes special resonance.
Salisbury must have spent hours and hours with production and costume designers in order to get the detailed information he includes. He talks about the “trigger image” that will occasionally set Scott off when he is coming up with a new idea and that image informs how the designers will approach a concept or lay out blueprints. Arthur Max, the production designer, gives some of the most interesting insight into Prometheus’ development. Alien’s famous creature designs and futuristic style is owed in large part to artist H.R. Giger. According to Max, it would have been easy to simply capitalize on the existing framework, but Scott wanted to create something new that only felt familiar. That is exactly the result in the film.
The book also traces the evolution of many aspects of the film, including how vehicles were designed (by a former Volkswagon engineer, no less) and how the planet on which the crew lands came into focus. Salisbury gives detailed accounts of what worked and what didn’t, but still includes both the scrapped artwork and the final images. The reader also gets a fascinating look into the genesis and design of the alien race known as “the Engineers,” so called because, as we find out, they are responsible for seeding life on Earth.
Any fan of Prometheus will love The Art of the Film because of the incredible amount of information shared in its pages. Few Hollywood productions are willing to share so much with its audience so any true movie lover would be wise to grab a copy and check out what filmmaking really looks like. | Matthew Newlin