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Blow by blow on London's footage screening

Thompson On Hollywood/Indiewire

April 2012

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Tuesday morning in London, Twentieth Century Fox held the world’s first screening of 3-D footage from “Prometheus,” treating an early-morning crowd to three scenes and thirteen minutes followed by a Q&A session with director Ridley Scott (“Please stop calling me Sir Ridley”) and stars Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron. Fox is definitely keeping its powder dry for now: the footage didn’t contain any action, nor did it reveal much more beyond what we already know from the all-hell-breaking-loose trailer. Nonetheless, from an aesthetic, spectacle and performance perspective, it made an excellent appetizer for the cinematic experience Scott has in store.

First up was a scene where two research scientists (Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green) in the year 2089 discover some ancient cave paintings in the Isle of Skye, Scotland,that sit beside a peculiar etching of what looks to be an extra-terrestrial pointing to six celestial bodies in space. “It’s an invitation,” reasons Rapace’s earnest, bright-eyed Elizabeth Shaw. Not an invitation anyone who’s seen an “Alien” movie would accept but she’s convinced of its benevolence... 

The next, most substantial sequence was set four years later on board the scientific exploration vessel Prometheus. Following two and a half years in stasis chambers, the ship’s 17 crew members are awakened by Michael Fassbender’s blond robot David. First out of her chamber is Theron’s Meredith Vickers, who launches into a few push-ups before casually asking David, “Were there any casualties?” Okay, we get it – she’s an ice maiden, evidence confirmed by the fact that she’s the Weyland Corporation suit heading up the mission. Also on board is Rapace, who is shown puking her guts out after emerging from her long outer-space nap. 

Assembling the crew together, some of whom look so dodgy you wonder how they ever passed the rigorous job interview to get on board, Theron initiates a holographic presentation by big cheese Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, coated in some very iffy-looking old-age prosthetics), who explains he’s dead by now. He hands the floor over to Rapace and Marshall-Green, who explain to a grumpy-looking crew their interpretation of the alien symbols and how they pointed to the very planet they’ve just pulled up beside. The final sequence showed the ship’s laid-back, bad-ass pilot (Idris Elba) guiding the Prometheus into a safe landing on said planet’s surface.

During the Q&A, Scott explained that “Prometheus” was born out of the questions that have been plaguing “Alien” lovers for decades: Who’s the big guy in the chair, why was he there, what was his cargo and where was he heading? (“I don’t know how he ever came to be called the Space Jockey,” Scott chuckled.) While developing the script, however, Scott found that the story “adjusted itself into much larger questions so that it barely contains ‘Alien’ DNA now.” Only in the final seven minutes of “Prometheus,” he revealed, will the two films link together. 

Rapace gave a brief background précis on Elizabeth Shaw: she was raised in Africa by a father who was also a priest, thus making her a scientist “who possesses the great gift of believing.” Of course, that faith in God comes to be severely tested on the Prometheus mission, with Elizabeth forced to become “a fighter, a survivor and a warrior…I’m not sure she believes by the end.” When Theron was later asked whether she felt pressure to live up to Sigourney Weaver’s iconic Ripley, she swiftly batted the question over to Rapace – “That’s more Noomi’s character” – with the Swedish actress admitting, “It’s not Ripley but she is in the same family.” 

As for Theron, she was initially worried that Meredith might come off as a one-note corporate bitch who’s “just there for the purpose of making everyone’s life hell.” But the actress added that the enigmatic Meredith is on board the Prometheus “for very personal reasons, of which I cannot speak.” 

Rapace’s performance looks promising but judging from today’s clips, it’s Fassbender who appears in serious danger of walking away with the movie. From the way he strolls around the ship in sandals with an arch robotic gait, to his display of childlike enthusiasm during the exposition presentation, to his referring to Theron’s Meredith as “Ma’rm” as if he’s addressing royalty, the actor conveys an unanticipated levity. Even Scott said he didn’t expect Fassbender to bring so much wit to David (who, the director adds, is “a nod to Ash”). “I thought you really walked like that,” he joked to the actor, who for his part listed one of his inspirations as Olympic diver Greg Louganis. “I loved watching him during the Olympics,” says Fassbender. “He had such a weird walk, it really made me laugh.” 

Scott explained that, before they’d even greenlit the film, he convinced Fox to splash out a significant sum to allow his production designer Arthur Max and five top-notch industrial designers to nail down “Prometheus”’ design over a period of months. “One of the problems with sci-fi is that everything has already been used up – suits, corridors, ships,” he said. “But if you start with the characters, you can come up with the evolution for different looks.” He also expressed frustration at the MPAA’s seemingly random approach to ratings, saying he wanted Prometheus to get a rating “that allows it to make as much money as possible. I know the importance of that. When a big film fails, it’s disastrous for all of us.” But he also blasted some of the “films this year that have got PG-13 ratings – it’s absolutely fucking ludicrous. So MPAA, get your house in order.” 

“Prometheus” marked Scott’s first 3-D shoot and, unsurprisingly, he deemed the technology “dead simple to use – it wasn’t a problem. Anyone who says it is just doesn’t know what they’re doing.” He also teased that “Prometheus” contains a sequence he calls “the equivalent to [“Alien”’s chest-burster] scene.” Rather than being a group scene, however, it will only feature Rapace’s character. The rest stays a surprise for now. 

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