I previously interviewed Ian Nathan, executive editor of Empire, about his hardcover book Alien Vault: The Definitive Story Behind the Film, which contains in-depth information about the creative process behind Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic sci-fi film Alien. As the “prequel” to that movie, Prometheus, also directed by Scott, opens in theaters, I touched base with Nathan about the new film, as well as his upcoming books and writing projects.
I appreciated your insights on Alien during our earlier discussion about Alien Vault: The Definitive Story Behind the Film. Your book greatly enhanced my experience viewing Prometheus. Describe your personal experience watching Prometheus. What new touchstones and/or passions came from your viewing experience?
It’s funny, I’m probably the worst person in the world to ask about watching Prometheus. As much as Ridley Scott implored us to let go of Alien before watching it, I couldn’t help but bring everything I knew about Alien and its conception to bear on the new film. Thus, it was really hard for me. There was so much to let go of and new things to take hold of. I’m not sure, having only seen it once as of now, I’m in a place to fully appreciate it yet. I have to admit, I struggled with the comparison with the original… it seemed a much more cluttered and complicated film, a far less compelling one to me.
But to err on the positive, I am really intrigued about the new biology — just how the Engineers method of “creation” works. I’ve spent too long already working out the chains from ampule gloop to worms to snake things to octopus baby to giant space octopus (proto-facehugger?) to proto-Alien, and exactly where the Engineers fit into all this. This then feeds into yet more considerations – what is this place they have been “invited” to, this strange mound (surely derived from early Alien ideas for a pyramid/temple type location)? A military installation? A lab? And what had gone wrong 2000 years ago? Did they catch a dose of their own handiwork? Who exactly is meant to workshop at the big head? I am sure your readers are alive with theories.
Also Michael Fassbender’s David was a joy, I loved the ambiguity of his motives, he seemed to me a more Machiavellian variation on Ash. And I thrilled to the Alien franchise touchstones dotted throughout (basketball, David(8), the android’s D-starting name following (A)sh, (B)ishop and (C)all. That felt proper.
There is much to fathom still, and I hope the sequel will be a bit more forthcoming.
What visuals did you remember the most from Prometheus?
I loved the 3D Engineer hologram of the universe, and the Engineer “memory message”; I loved the head chamber – really Gigerish; the opening shots of the unarmored Engineer was extraordinary.
From your perspective, how does the film’s ending/parallel story expand future writing possibilities relating to the Alien universe. How does this new film provide intrigue and interest for fans familiar to the Alien franchise as well as new, unfamiliar fans?
Wow, these are tough questions. Obviously, the “bait and switch” ending — that we thought we knew it was headed to LV-426 and it turned out not to be at all — both infuriates in its lack of completeness and excites in its potential for following a more exotic path toward an intersection with Alien. Building up a massive mythos for Engineers is pregnant with possibility — just how many creatures have they concocted? What does their homeworld look like (Giger-esque I would hope)? What do they want with us? Alien fans can drink deep on these possibilities — that Shaw can take on a Ripley like guise, never to make it home. For the non-fan, it’s harder. I really can’t see it as a fully stand-alone work – quite apart from plot links, the feel and natures of the movie are redolent of Alien, and the structure loosely follows suit: a mixed and irritable crew of space travellers lands on a planet far from home, wake something up, which — in an admittedly more round-about manner — starts to kill them. No offence Mr. Scott, but this is an Alien movie. And up he springs with a big grin at the end.
How are you progressing on your future book/writing projects, including your possible series continuation (i.e. Aliens Vault, Aliens3 Vault, etc.), and a Coen brothers project, which you mentioned in our earlier interview?
My Coen Brothers book is finished and out on September 1 (with Phaidon), it is a very different beast to the Alien book – more an overview of an entire career. I am very pleased with it. We’ve talked about continuing the series on Alien, and I am keen, it will all depend on the ongoing success of Prometheus – in real terms how much hunger there is for more books on the subject.
In our previous interview, you described Alien Vault: The Definitive Story Behind the Film as a “biography of Alien”. Do you see yourself writing similar biographies on Alien and Prometheus director Sir Ridley Scott in the future (especially if his future Blade Runner-related project moves forward…I also agree he sorely deserves a Best Director Academy Award)?
I would dearly love to do a biography of Sir Ridley, again it depends on a lot of things: the success of Prometheus, the appetite of the market, his ongoing plans. But the Blade Runner sequel in the works, it might be a good time. As I said about the idea of adding further Alien Vaults and even a Prometheus Vault is down to the fans. Certainly, Prometheus needs a little time to work its way into the culture — I like to leave it a while before I return to films, but I will and I am intrigued to watch it unencumbered by expectation.