[Warning: This article discusses MAJOR SPOILERS for Prometheus]
Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien universe with the prequel Prometheus ended up being quite the divisive film (read our review). Praised in some quarters and vilified in many others, its reception (particularly in Internet circles) has tended to overshadow the movie itself.
Amid the slowly dying furor over the movie’s perceived flaws, many have wondered aloud (and in print) about Prometheus‘s odd and uneven script. Last week, a script purporting to be the first, continuity-heavy draft of the film appeared on the Web. In response to the draft’s release, the man responsible has admitted that the script is genuine and that this version was originally titled Alien: Engineers.
In an extensive pair of articles posted on Collider, the author of Prometheus‘s first draft, John Spaihts (The Darkest Hour), spoke on the leaked script and the changes made to his screenplay by Lost veteran Damon Lindelof. Spaihts admits that this preliminary version of the story would have been much more explicitly tied into the larger Alien universe – complete with appearances from the iconic face-huggers, chest bursters, and full-grown xenomorphs of the previous films. Despite these direct appearances of more familiar plot elements, the first draft of what was then known as Alien: Engineers still contained some of the more infamous Prometheus elements (such as David’s treachery, the Engineers’ brutality, and the squirm-inducing auto-surgery scene).
Perhaps the most interesting comments made by Spaihts regard the shift between his and Lindelof’s versions of the script. It sounds as if Lindelof streamlined the story quite a bit, cutting out scenes and character beats that may have made some of the movie’s more head-scratching moments clearer. Some scenes – such as the Prometheus ramming the Engineer ship during the finale – were added at Ridley Scott’s request. And, of course, the vast majority of the direct references to the previous Alien films were excised completely. According to Spaihts, the decision to remove the xenomorphs and their murderous progeny from Prometheus came largely from producers, who wanted to see the eventual movie stand on its own rather than as a part of the somewhat-moribund Alien franchise.
Obviously, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to figure out whether the original Alien: Engineers script would have made for a better film than Prometheus. That version certainly seems to have taken more time and care to set up the various big emotional moments that often fell flat in the final product. At the same time, some of the movie’s questionable elements – unexplained mutagenic compounds, inexplicable character turns, and underdeveloped subplots – are holdovers from Spaihts’ screenplay. As such, we cannot point fingers solely at Damon Lindelof and producers for the weirdness of the final product.
One thing is certain: As we have argued on Screen Rant, a stronger sense of continuity with the other films in the Alien series could have made Prometheus more cohesive and emotionally resonant. By stripping out Spaihts’ adherence to the timeline and mythology of the Alien films, Lindelof and company removed many potential emotional handholds for the audience. Whether this made Prometheus a stronger standalone product or the weakest link in a franchise is up to the individual – and in the light of this curious first draft, is more or less unanswerable.
Prometheus is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.