When Prometheus: The Art of the Film arrived on my doorstep Friday afternoon, it took all of my willpower not to immediately crack open the hefty hardback. But since I wasn’t seeing the film until Saturday, I resisted the temptation. Good thing I did, because the gorgeously produced The Art of the Film not only fills in many of the blanks that have frustrated moviegoers, it’s a seriously in-depth exploration that has the potential to spoil the movie entirely.
This afternoon I sat down with Prometheus: The Art of the Film for a simulated Q&A over coffee and crullers, and the book indulged many secrets. But be warned, our fake discussion was candid in nature, and some very serious spoilers follow the break.
Have some of those major questions answered below!
[Editor's Note: Information provided by director Ridley Scott, production designer Arthur Max, creature and special effects supervisor Neal Scanlan, and screenwriter Damon Lindelof.]
Q: So what’s up with that albino humanoid alien committing suicide in the prologue? Is he poisoning the planet’s water or something?
A: According to the Prometheus: The Art of the Film, the albino humanoids are known as “Engineers”, a superior race approximately 2-3 million years ahead of humans, that have learned how to seed planets with their own DNA. In the prologue, a sole Engineer is depicted seeding the planet Earth many, many, many years ago. His spacecraft departs moments later.
Q: What’s going on with all the cave drawings? If the Engineers are so bent on destroying us, why don’t they just wipe us out during one of their visits to our planet?
A: Arthur Max explains that “…the Engineers, playing the role of God in the universe, have visited Earth many times over millennia and given mankind genetic upgrades both physical and intellectual.”
Q: I don’t understand the importance of the big-ass human head sculptures in the pyramid. Explain that shit.
A: The giant head sculptures were constructed by the Engineers as a way to celebrate their place as God in the universe. A sort of self-effigy, if you will. Why is this celebratory head sculpture placed in a room with hundreds of ampules of black goo? It remains (purposely?) unexplained.
Q: Oh yeah, the black goo in the ampules. Where’d that shit come from?
A: The Engineers developed it as a biochemical weapon intended to wipe out all of planet Earth, but the creatures somehow turned on them. It’s not mentioned why the Engineers are so bent on eradicating Earthlings, but there are hints that they felt a complete planetary reset was in order.
Q: There’s a zombie in this movie. Why is there a fucking zombie in this movie?
A: The original concept of the zombie-esque “Babyhead” creature was “more alien than human”, but they liked the “strong performance” of actor Sean Harris, ultimately deciding to use less make-up since “the general feeling was it would be much better to hold on to the actor’s features, hold on to all the things that he would bring to the show.”
Q: The Prometheus is flying missions almost 30 years before we were first introduced to the Nostromo from Alien. Why is the technology so much more advanced?
A: While the Nostromo was a commercial towing vessel, a tug used primarily for grunt labor, the Prometheus is the company flagship. Hence the heavy-duty upgrades.
Q: What’s up with the arch-shaped display in the pyramid? Was that an altar?
A: Yes, it was an altar, with the depiction of an adult Giger-like alien at the center, apparently crucified. This indicates that the creatures from Alien have been around for centuries, and not first introduced in the final moments of Prometheus as some have speculated. The book is strangely coy in regard to the carving: “[The crew members] look at it and speculate briefly about it. But it’s not very clear what it is.”
The Art of the Film also reveals that some of the imagery in Prometheus was adapted from “archival work” leftover from the original Alien. For the curious, most of this imagery can be found in The Book of Alien, a slim movie tie-in first published in 1979. Arthur Max explains, “We went through [sketches and drawings from the original Alien] and Ridley was very excited to see all this stuff because he hadn‘t seen it in a long time. A lot of stuff he wanted to was included in this archive but hadn‘t made into the original film. He said, ‘Well, maybe we can base something on this,’ and there were drawings from all those original designers we took.”
(A few weeks ago, Titan Books, the U.K-based publisher releasing Prometheus: The Art of the Film, republished both The Book of Alien and the 1995 Aliens movie tie-in, Colonial Marines Technical Manual. Any self-respecting fan of the franchise should have all three on their bookshelf.)