One of the things that distinguishes the original Alien movie is the extent to which it doesn't even attempt to explain the alien phenomena its protagonists encounter. It's almost devoid of pseudoscience talk. If you've seen the original Alien, you've seen the remains of the enigmatic giant—whom the fan community calls the "space jockey"—who has died in the derelict wreck. This character is the great, unopened door of that original film—the great mystery. Who is that? Where did that derelict ship come from? How did that giant die?
And it's in that mystery that the story seed of Prometheus takes root. There is some inevitable kinship between the two stories in terms of xenobiology. But the titular creature of Alien is very much confined to the shadows and is not at all the focus of Prometheus, which is driving in a new direction. With Prometheus, the origin of the menace and forces that our heroes encounter is essentially the central mystery of the tale itself. So the story is very much about people prying into the shadows and trying to shed light on these mysteries.
As with any science fiction film, technology sets the tone by establishing the film's look and to a large extent determining what the film's characters can (and cannot) do. What was your vision for the technology in this film?
That it should look real. One of the things that Ridley Scott has done as a director is pioneer for us a grungy vision of the future. His films Alien and Blade Runner plus the original Star Wars directed by George Lucas taken all together showed us a future in which everything was well used, rusted and battered. And that was a real leap from the gleaming and spotless future of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Prometheus likewise wants to feel like reality. So the vessels, vehicles and tools in the movie are designed to be things that are somewhat familiar to us while also representing an optimistic vision of future technology.
Given that Prometheus is set prior to Alien, how did you devise a set of technologies that would appeal to an audience in 2012 without making Alien's 1979 vision of the future seem outdated?
There's an inevitable trickiness around the chronology just because technology in the real world and technology in filmmaking have come so far in the years since the original Alien. But for me a lot of that is easily rationalized by virtue of the fact that the Nostromo, the original ship in Alien, is an industrial tug. It's a rust bucket that itself might be 150 or 200 years old at the time that we see it. The Prometheus is a state-of-the-art scientific exploratory vessel. So it's only reasonable that it be sleeker and technically vibrant.
Along those lines, how did you invent David, the android in Prometheus? Did you take into account that he would not be as advanced a piece of technology as the robots from the Alien movies?
As with any archetype that's been touched on in previous films, you need both to honor its place in the canon and at the same time find some new insight, some new approach to it. The exciting thing about David is that perhaps there isn't yet a habitual place in society for machines like this at the time Prometheus takes place. In the sequels to Alien it's more normal to have an android on a starship crew as a matter of corporate protocol. But perhaps that's not the case in the new film. Perhaps David doesn't quite know his place in the universe, how humans will interact with androids and what's expected of these robots. And perhaps the human members of the crew are not yet accustomed to working and living with a crew member who is artificially intelligent.