Comic-Con Interview: Damon Lindelof Talks ‘Prometheus’, Ridley Scott, and Not Understanding Women

By  · Published on August 1st, 2011

It was pretty clear from the Prometheus Comic-Con footage that there are more ties to Alien than the film makers are letting on. Whether or not it deals with the Xenomorphs is still up in the air, but the look of the film clearly fits into that universe. Bleak, beautiful, and epic were all adjectives that came to mind while watching the brief footage. This is a pure sci-fi horror film. While it may be PG-13, and I’m betting it will be, that may not matter all that much.

As writer Damon Lindelof says below, this is a film that relies heavily on atmosphere.

The story also deals with the obvious: playing God. The title alone gives you a big hint as to what the film is about. The tale of Prometheus tells the story of man stealing fire from the Gods. Here, it’s about man searching for answers to questions they probably should not be looking for.

Here’s what writer Damon Lindelof had to say about fusing his own sensibilities with Ridley’s, making a hopeful horror movie, and writing distinct women:

Was there a lot of discussion about what to show and what not to show here at ComicCon?

I think that the primary discussion was if you want to bring down something that’s a teaser. There simply wasn’t enough footage that Ridley was comfortable with. The other thing is the canvas in which he’s painting this movie is this 3D canvas, and visually, he really wants to evoke a mood, and there’s a real rhythm. He’s a perfectionist, which is what makes him Ridley Scott. The decision was to intercut footage with Ridley talking about the movie for the first time ‐ and that took 20 seconds of footage or 25 shots that people just saw intercut with Ridley talking about the movie ‐ and maybe people would feel they got an appetizer, and not an entrée.

What’s interesting to me about the film is that you and Ridley are very different sci-fi storytellers. I see you as a hopeful guy, while I think of Ridley as being this cynical old man. How did those two sensibilities blend together?

That’s a very insightful question. I will say this: on the surface, I may come across as hopeful, and he may come across as cynical; I think there’s great cynicism in me and there’s great hope in Ridley. In that Venn Diagram, as you describe it in our colliding, we found a common ground. I do feel that I’m drawn to stories like The X-Files, where there is a believer and a cynic. I was more than happy to play the role of the believer to Ridley’s cynic. At the same time, he’s now entering a chapter in his storytelling life… as noirish and as dark as Blade Runner is, when you really think about what Roy Batty says before he dies, it’s sort of beautiful and poetic.

It was a real delight to activate the poetic side of Ridley, because he really wanted to make a movie that was about something. As pretentious as it may sound, that’s what draws me to film making. A movie like Cowboys & Aliens or Star Trek can be construed as popcorn entertainment, but hopefully, what ultimately comes across is that there are deeper themes at play, and that’s why Kirk and Spock have become iconic characters; this idea of pure logic versus emotional instinct. How can those two guys be friends? It’s such a powerful idea that you just try to design a story around that idea. Prometheus is a movie designed around an idea that both Ridley and I were very interested in.

Based on the title, I’m guessing that idea is playing God, right?


How did you approach that, morally? Do you condemn the idea of trying to make a discover or create something great, or did you write it as a grey area?

I think that whenever you talk about playing God this old 1950’s movie construct comes into play, where it’s, “We should make gigantic vegetables!” The next thing you know you have gigantic ants. I think you raise an interesting point of, “What’s wrong with wanting giant vegetables? You get to feed the world.” This movie delves more into the area of: Are their questions we’re not meant to know the answers to?

More importantly ‐ and this speaks very personally to my own journey, especially as it dealt with Lost, which was ending right about the time I met Ridley ‐ was: What happens if you get the answer to your question, and you don’t like that answer? Then what? The idea that this movie explores that idea, to me, is super interesting. Ultimately, I do feel like the message of Prometheus is a hopeful one. The film isn’t a cautionary tale; it’s a commentary on what makes us human.

You mentioned the PG-13 rating to Ridley during the panel. Based on what I saw, this is going to be a very atmospheric horror movie. Would you say that’s right?

I think that’s right. I think a PG-13 movie can be very, very scary, but it just has to be more clever about how it’s scary. This movie is not going to be gory. It’s going to be a psychological underpinning of how something very, very bad is about to happen. I don’t know what that bad thing is, I’m very nervous about it, and I know that it’s coming. That’s very cool.

How was it writing atmosphere for Scott, especially knowing what type of horror he goes for? Did you write thinking about how he would shoot it?

On this movie, I did a lot of listening. When I’m producing something or doing something from the ground up, whether I’m collaborating with other people or doing it on my own, it’s really about generating my own vision. In this case, it’s Ridley Scott. I felt like it was my job to listen and ask him a lot of questions; just like your asking me now to get a sense of the guy, and more importantly, the story he wants to tell. After a series of conversations, I tried channeling what Ridley wants versus graphing my own voice.

Obviously, I speak my own language. There are stories that make sense to me and get me excited, but at the end of the day, I really wanted to be a part of a Ridley Scott movie, as opposed to the Damon Lindelof and Ridley Scott team up. That’s the way I perceived the whole evolution of it. Ridley has said very kind and gracious things about our collaborative process, but at the end of the day, it’s Ridley’s movie in every shape and form, and that’s how I feel about it.

My last question: How did you approach the female characters? Is it like Alien where Ripley was strong but also feminine, or are they more butch and almost interchangeable with guys?

Well, I don’t understand women very well.

Welcome to Comic-Con.

[Laughs] Yeah, exactly. I love women, and I’m intrigued by them. I spend a lot of time with my wife, who is one. I think a lot of male writers only understand women as the damsel in distress or the hardass. If I’m going to use those constructs, because those are the ones familiar with me and the storytelling lexicon, then let’s try to understand why someone would be a damsel in distress or what made them a hardass. When you ask those questions, you start creating much more nuanced characters who are no longer recognizable as a damsel in distress or a hardass.

I feel that the two primary women characters in this movie ‐ Elizabeth Shaw, who is played by Noomi Rapace, and Meredith Vickers, who is played by Charlize Theron — are very interesting characters. If we did our jobs right, and I know the actors certainly did their jobs right, you’ll come away from it understanding why they behaved the way that they behaved and that neither one of them fall into those archetypes. Although, on occasion, they are in distress and, on occasion, they are forced to be hardasses.

Prometheus opens in theaters on June 8th, 2012.

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Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.