Ridley Scott's Prometheus opened in U.S. theaters this weekend (read our review) and has already been open in Europe for more than a week, following its world premiere in London. We had the opportunity to attend the premiere and press event for the film, where we were able to sit down with director Ridley Scott in a roundtable discussion to talk about his latest film, past movies and upcoming projects.
We've already shared some of the content from the interview in our piece on the connection between Prometheus and Alien. The following represents the remainder of our conversation with Scott, in which we touch upon what inspired him to pursue this project as well as the upcoming Blade Runner sequel, his fascination with A.I. and what may be ahead in a sequel to Prometheus.
Warning: There are some spoilers in this interview.
Question: How are you doing today, sir? Congratulations.
Ridley Scott: "Thank you. Look at this technology (points to the Iphone that is recording his audio). Jesus Christ. 40 years ago when Kirk said 'Beam me up, Scotty' we used to think that was fucking ridiculous, remember? Seriously, that’s been 40 years and then when he says the 'disintegration' of his matter into the 'reintegration; of his matter in the next space, that right there is light speed. So they touched on light speed. I’ve talked to NASA about this and they’ve said that’s light speed. So when asked 'Can you do it?; They said 'Yeah. Have you got seven glasses of water?' I go 'Not the seven glasses of water trick, please.' There were all scientists in the room and he started to explain to me the relativity and the speed of light. 'Can you do it?' 'Yeah.' He said the only barrier is 'us.' He said, I can mathematically explain how, but we haven’t gotten there with that."
I’m curious, when you did Alienand Blade Runner back in the seventies you obviously had technology for those audiences, it was ahead of its time. You make a movie like Prometheus now and you are dealing with a society that is so technology-based, how do you go about creating this world where there are still new things?
"In the thirty years since 'Alien' there was no technology. It was all live action shooting, even the models had dolly grips pushing the big model and I could see them walking and yell 'Cut. Back up.' There were lots of smoke and wind machines and that was it. There were no digital tracks and all of that shit and then the star fields where a guy with a toothbrush on a black background and you would get a universe. I said, 'Wow, it’s beautiful. Can you give me a red one?' He said 'Yeah,' takes that toothbrush and goes 'bam.' Then I photograph it. The beginning of 'Alien' was flat art work, I just panned across it. I just panned across it and Jerry Goldsmith's music put the rest to right."
Can you talk about approaching how you wanted the technology to look in this movie? Because it’s unclear when it is relative to Alien, but this is more advanced technology that they are using.
"Yeah, but I couldn’t help that, because I didn’t know, did I? For all intents and purposes this is very loosely a prequel, very. The very simple question was 'Who the hell was in that ship? Who is sitting in that seat?' and 'Why that cargo?' and 'Where was he going?' no one asked the question, so I thought 'Duh.' It’s a 'duh,' isn’t it? And then you say 'But how did that ship evolve in the first Alien?' Then I would say 'Actually he’s one of the group that had gone off and his cargo had gotten out of control,' because he was heading somewhere else and it got out of control and actually he had died in the process and that would be the story there. That ship happened to be a brother to the ship that you see that comes out of the ground at the end. They are roughly of the same period give or take a couple hundred years, right? Other than that, there’s no real link except it explains I think who may have had these capabilities, which are dreadful weapons way beyond anything we could possibly conceive, bacteriological drums of shit that you can drop on a planet and the planet… Do you know anything about bacteria? If you take a teaspoon and drop it in the biggest reservoir in London, which also scares the shit out of me, and amazes me that there are not huge guards around it… That’s the way to do it. You don’t do Nine-Eleven, you just get a teaspoon of bacteria, drop it in, and eight days later the water is clean and then suddenly on the eighth day the water goes dense and cloudy, but by then it’s been sent to every home and several million people have drunk it, you’ve got bubonic. It’s that simple. That’s how scary it is, so these evolutions of these guys who have developing galloping DNA. Your mind doesn’t allow you to accept that that may be feasible, that’s the deal."
In your sci-fi projects you've taken a keen interest in A.I. and robots. And we know that one of the questions that the Blade Runner sequel your developing will address is why humans would be compelled to create it. What is that fascinating?
"I don’t know. I think it evolved out of the box in 'Blade Runner' because Roy Batty was evolved. He wasn’t an engine. If I cut him open, there wasn’t metal. The idea of a replicant came from a student who was at Carmel who was reading her dad’s script who was actually helping on 'Blade Runner' and said 'You shouldn’t call them robots, you should call them replicants.' She said, 'I deal with replicants and replications every day,' but he’s grown and then within twenty years you get the first bill not passed in the Senate where they applied for replication of animals, sheep and goats and cattle and animals and they turned it down, but if you can do that, then you can do human beings. If you go deeper into it and say 'Yeah, but if you are going to grow a human being, does he start that big and I’ve got to see him through everything?' I don’t want to answer the question, because of course he does. Ash in 'Alien' had nothing to do with Roy Batty, because Roy Batty is more humanoid, whereas Ash was more metal. And Ash’s logic was on every space ship. The idea is if I have a space ship worth god knows how much money and I’ve got to have a company man onboard and that company man is going to be a god damn secret, and the secret is he is going to be a perfect looking robot. So that was the Ash thing.
Now I’m doing this and I thought it was an interesting acknowledgement, the marvelous idea of Ash, which I think is a pretty good idea. It was a one-off for that to be a surprise, that 'Ash is a god damn robot' and we gave all the clues early by having stiff joints and doing his thing. I just wanted to have the same idea that the corporation would have a robot onboard every ship, so that when you are asleep in hyper-sleep for three or four years going at 250,000 knots an hour, you will have a guy wandering around like a house keeper. He’s a housekeeper and he’s got full access to everything. He can look at all of the films. He can go into the library… he can do whatever he wants, and that’s David."
The creator-creation dynamic is playing out threefold in the film. It’s parent-child, god-man, and then man and AI and kind of delving into facing your creator - and it doesn’t pan out very well for any of them. Do you think that that’s the fundamental appeal of this kind of myth in the sci-fi realm? It’s that cautionary tale about over reaching your bounds.
"Totally. Very good. Yeah, we go too far, but then you can’t simply go too far, because by going too far are we living better today, despite all of the problems that exist, than the fifties? Yes, of course we are. Then the eighteen fifties? No comparison. The nineteen hundred? No comparison in every shape and form, but are we heading towards a much larger problem? Definitely."
What was behind your decision not to rely on CG in this film?
"We had the right budget, but I didn’t have all the money in the world and I kind of wanted to do it on budget, that’s what I do, and also I kind of like to build sets if I can. If you can build sets and you know exactly how much you need, it’s much cheaper than saying 'I don’t know what I’m going to do in this scene, but I just want a load of green screen out there and we will try and put something there later…' That’s fucking expensive. That’s how these films go millions of dollars over budget, because they’ve got no target."
This is more a return than a departure, because this movie has had the most attention, as well as the most secrecy involved at the same time. A lot of people are excited and interested in it, because of the film’s connections, and people are also curious about the secrecy surrounding it. Can you talk about directing a movie like that? It’s very different from your other movies, your more recent movies.
"It was just increased security. Everyone’s got a script with their name printed right across the middle of it, so if that goes out I know it comes from you and you’re in trouble. That was it and because I’m still very much into advertising, I’ve always wanted to evolve this kind of viral advertising, which would be ads talking about everything but the film. The film isn’t mentioned, so you’ve got Peter Weyland saying 'Hi, I’m Peter Weyland and I’m the god you know and I own the world' and I have the Weyland Corporation where he mentions Prometheus, but you don’t know what the hell it is and then David later says 'Hello. I’m David. I work for Weyland Corporation,' then at the end he puts his fingerprint on and he’s got a 'W; in his fingerprint. Then we have one thing with Noomi applying for a job to Peter Weyland and that’s the best form of advertising, because people are going 'What’s that?' As soon as you’ve got 'What’s that?' you’ve just done the job."
I don’t want to spoil anything with your answer, but this film opens a lot of doors that are not answered, and you have. My question is how far have you thought? Or have you talked to Damon (Lindelof) about where the possibility of a sequel will go? Have you already opened those doors in terms of you already know where these answers are and it’s just a matter of making it or are you sort of like 'We will think about that a little bit assuming the movie is a hit. Let’s talk later.'
"It’s a bit of each. You do a bit of each and I’ve opened the doors. I know where it’s going. I know that to keep him alive is essential and to keep her alive is essential and to go where they came from, not where I came from, is essential. That’s a pretty open door and then rather than going to that, I don’t see landing in a place that looks like paradise, that’s not how it’s going to be. There is a plan, yeah."
How important is it for you to be directly involved as a director in that?
"Totally. I develop everything. I do. I learned that a long time ago. It’s never going to land on your desk, you have to come up with what you want to do with the story and I think sometimes it can take two or three years. I want to do a western really badly and I think I’ve got a western this morning, finally after two and a half years of talking and writing and talking and I think I have it, which is kind of interesting. And then the evolution of writing it… Have you written a book? Try writing a book. That’s difficult. Writing a screenplay is like writing a book, it’s that simple. You’ve got a blank page and that’s it, a blank page and then you go from there and everyone has their own method. I know some start here and end here and I’m good with writers. I think I would never try to write. I’ve written two or three screenplays before, but I wouldn’t do it. It takes too long. The time it would take me to write a screenplay it would take me the time to make two films. I would rather make the movies and I’m a better moviemaker than a writer."
With that in mind, you have developed a lot of things over the years. To do more movies in this world it could be quite different, because you were doing a movie almost every year or every two years while switching genres while this movie took a little longer, because it was so evolved. How is that as a filmmaker who likes changing around and working?
"I like to keep working."
To get back to this world and not be able to do other movies, would that be tough to do?
So how do you manage that? Are you going to have to clone yourself?
Question Are you a robot?
"I am a robot."
Getting back to what you were saying, you’ve been attached to a lot of different things, I’m just curious, what do you think is coming up for you? I’ve seen your name on so many things. What’s definite?
"What have you heard?"
Monopoly, Brave New World, the Blade Runner sequel.
"I’m on all of them. (Laughs) They are all happening now. 'Monopoly’s' first pass is written. 'Blade Runner' is in process now. I don’t know what to do with 'Brave New World.' It’s tough. I think 'Brave new World' in a funny kind of way was good in nineteen thirty-eight, because it had a very interesting revolutionary idea. It came shortly before or after George Orwell, roughly the same time. When you re-analyze it, maybe it should stay as a book. I don’t know."
Tripoli was another one.
"'Tripoli' is great. It didn’t happen because of a personal thing. I felt somebody wasn’t well, so I couldn’t do it and I stopped, but 'Tripoli' is great, because it’s about Thomas Jefferson and a guy called William Eaton. William Eaton was a despot who worked on the edge of the political arena in three states. The United States then was three states and Thomas Jefferson spent his entire treasury or 11 million dollars with is approximately a third of the price of half the people I know in Hollywood’s home, he bought from St. Louis to the coast, from Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon needed to cash to go to Moscow. Big mistake. And then William Eaton goes out to the coast, where there’s a pasha of Tripoli who is a mother-fucking despot and gangster who was actually kidnapping and taking American frigates and crews. America only had three war ships, but there were a lot of commercial vehicles in that area. He was taking crews and putting them as slaves and taking them above deck and keeping them for ransom. So William Eaton said 'Enough of this shit.' He went out there personally and started to create his one personal war against the pasha and the pasha was the pretender. His brother was a Muslim. They were all Muslim, but the brother had fled to Egypt and Eaton went to Egypt and personally talked him into coming back. It’s a good story."
Prometheus is now playing in theaters.
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