Because I routinely make terrible decisions about how to spend my ever-dwindling supply of time on Earth, I paid $24.99 (50% of MSRP) for the four-disc, 3D Blu-Ray edition of Prometheus, a film I’d harbored huge hopes for but ultimately found disappointing. A Ridley Scott film, in other words.
I don’t have the gear or the inclination to watch a 3D movie at home, but the deluxe set that includes the 3D version of Prometheus (along with the plain-Jane 2D in three different formats, because what price piece of mind?) is the only way to get The Furious Gods, a three-hour, 40 minute (!) making-of documentary by Charles de Lauzirika, a nonfiction filmmaker whose insightful, well-edited making-ofs for similarly lavish reissues of Scott’s only two great films — all together now, Alien and Blade Runner — have already claimed many irreplaceable hours of my life.
I’ve yet to make it all the way through the documentary. It’s long, sure, but actually it’s longer, because I’ve been watching in “enhanced mode,” meaning that when an icon appears at the top of the screen I can press a button on my remote and watch an “enhancement pod” — a video footnote, basically — containing even more nerdily trivial information about whatever specific aspect of the film’s conception and production is being discussed at that moment.
When Scott talks about casting original Dragon Tattoo Girl Noomi Rapace in the movie, you can watch her screen test. When production designer Arthur Max reflects on the creation of the movie’s titular spacecraft (which was still called the Magellan for a long time, did you know, even after the Untitled Alien Prequel acquired the name Prometheus), you can click through dozens of drawings and schematics of the ship, which I think that all of us regardless of our political differences can agree is fucking rad. You can even watch an enhancement pod about the film’s many rejected titles. Alien: Tomb of the Gods, anyone?
These “enhancement pods” make an already formidable rabbit hole much deeper. The set’s packaging boasts of “more than seven hours” of ancillary content, including about half an hour of deleted scenes. Scott declined to reinsert these scenes into the film. He seems adamant that the Prometheus released in cinemas last summer, however slapdash and unfinished it may have felt to me and to many others, is the director’s cut.
I haven’t made it through all seven-hours-and-change of DVD extras. I’ve seen enough to demonstrate that Prometheus‘Powerloader-sized story problems — the kind of gaps in logic, character motivation, etc., that often bespeak crass studio interference with the filmmakers’ artistic vision — came straight from Sir Ridley himself.
Everyone knows that in the world of feature filmmaking, directors trump writers. Want to be taken seriously, screenwriters? TV has never been better. Even so, the way Prometheus’ design team speaks of Sir Ridley with such reverence and religiosity becomes hard to take after an hour or so, give or take five or ten “enhancement pods.” Then again, designers absolutely should revere Ridley Scott. Who ever made their work look better?
Furthermore, everyone knows that film is collaborative. Alien is a perfect example of a film that started modestly and acquired greatness in layers. It was a schlocky space-horror script that got an improving rewrite by producers David Giler and Walter Hill. Then Scott, who had previously directed only one feature film, shot the hell out of it. It was a B-movie given the A-treatment. That’s standard now, but it was still unusual in 1979, a mere four years after Jaws and two after Star Wars.
Scott explains, as he did in interviews promoting the film last summer, that Prometheus evolved from his desire to answer a question none of Alien‘s three direct sequels had touched: Who was the “space jockey”– the humanoid but presumably extraterrestrial giant seen slumped over dead in his chair in the horseshoe-shaped spacecraft in Alien, way back in 1979?
It’s a great question. Unfortunately, he seems to have outsourced his actual thinking, tossing his tangle of interesting visual ideas to pair of scribes charged with spot-welding them into a story that makes some kind of sense.
Yes, I understand that it’s science fiction.
Yes, I know that many great films have been made in exactly this way. You take a compelling premise (if you’re a wordy type) or image (if you’re a visual person, like Scott is) and then dream up a story to contain it. Maybe it will even be a poetic, stirring expression of a grand theme. But it’s probably best not to think of it that way as you’re writing.
Jon Spaihts, the first screenwriter on the project, talks about how he violated a cardinal rule of working in Hollywood by agreeing to write a memo for Scott summarizing a brainstorming session they’d had before he’d actually signed a contract. Spaihts was an unproduced screenwriter at that time, so you can understand how he’d be reluctant to defy a summons from a director of Scott’s notoriety. In The Furious Gods, Spaihts comes off as a much more insightful guy than does Damon Lindelof, the LOST writer/producer Fox brought in to rewrite Spaihts. (Lindelof has an executive producer credit on the movie.)
Visual effects art director Steven Messing remembers the reaction to Scott’s decree that the Space Jockey — whom you may recall had a facial feature not unlike an elephant’s trunk — was actually human-looking, part of a superior race we come to know as The Engineers. The trunk was not a part of his face, but actually an organic helmet, undermining what nerds had assumed for for 30 years.
“We all pretty much hated it,” Messing says. “Ridley was very confident about this.”
In once scene, we see a creature designer named Ivan working at his computer with a book called Life Before Birth on his desk beside the monitor.
The DVD menu describes one enhancement pod as “A serious discussion about animal genitalia and its influence on the film’s creature design.”
The discussion throughout of “the xenomorph” and “the ultramorph” — both referring to the oblong-headed, double-jawed creature that appears in Prometheus‘s final scene, a recognizable ancestor of the H.R. Giger-designed alien we remember from the other movies — make it obvious that its inclusion was not a last-minute, studio-enforced add. Which is what I still think it feels like. It’s a really dumb, unsatisfying way to end the movie, one that seems even hokier for the way it clashes with all the stony-faced, Star Trek: The Motion Picture-style pretension that’s come before.
In a segment called “Weyland’s Wet Dream,” we see concept art for a dream sequence that was never filmed. It depicts a young, hale Peter Weyland (who appears in the film as a hundred-ish-year-old man) relaxing on a giant yacht at sea, surrounded by beautiful women. Weyland was played by Guy Pearce in heavy age makeup, but in these paintings, the character looks like Spartacus-era Kirk Douglas. That cleft chin is a dead giveaway.
The chapter about casting, called “The Human Manifest,” includes some very funny takes from Michael Fassbender, the unsettlingly handsome Irish actor whose eerie performance as the android David is by far the best thing in the movie. When Vickers — the icy corporate type overseeing the mission, played by Charlize Theron — asks David, “How long?”, which we understand to mean How long was I unconscious in my hibernation capsule?, Fassbender replies, in David-voce, “About 16 inches, fully erect. It varies.” Ha! Would it have killed Scott to leave this in the movie?
Meanwhile, a different actor in the movie who commands just as much lust from my lady friends as Fassbender does — Idris Elba, Stringer Bell from The Wire — is wearing sunglasses for all of his interviews in the documentary. These are shot indoors, of course, inside the largest soundstage in Europe, at Pinewood Studios in the not-particularly-sunny country of Great Britain. What a clown, that guy.