As the half-way point of 2012 approaches and we begin to look back at the most diverting cinematic offerings of the year to date, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus might not end up atop everyone’s list, but there’s no mistaking the film’s stunning production design and artistic fortitude. Apt it is then that Mark Salisbury – a former editor of Empire magazine – has put together this insightful art-book, delving into the design and conception of one of the year’s most anticipated and divisive films.
Prometheus: The Art of the Film is presented in hardback format, with glossy pages giving it a robust coffee-table look. The opening pre-text pages contain some wonderful adornments that are unquestionably native to Scott’s universe, albeit not actually seen in any of the Alien films. These concept drawings expand the aesthetic in impressive, subtle ways – one image of an Engineer manhandling a Xenomorph-like creature of indistinguishable origin is especially diverting.
A forward by Ridley Scott himself declares his goals with the film – chiefly to offer an alternative conception theory of the human race – and notes that the art is a building block of realising this. Many of his so-called “Ridley-grams” are reproduced throughout, and even though the words are scrawled with all the clarity of a doctor’s note, the storyboards themselves are drawn with a strong eye and evoke much of the finished product.
Reading Scott’s text in light of Prometheus’ release is of course a little ironic, given all the pre-release mystique regarding its status as a prequel. Clearly written with the post-viewing audience in mind – given its surplus of plot spoilers – Ridley clears a few of the narrative cobwebs, and even provides a few exciting images that didn’t quite make it into the final film.
It is in hearing from the film’s artists, however, that the real art of the Prometheus shows through, with lavish, full-page (and occasionally double-page) spreads of imposing locales, specifically the dreaded Ampule Chamber. Production designer Arthur Max, who has evidently done a splendid job on the film, notes the difficulties of making something distinct nowadays.
Fortunately for them, there were a lot of ideas that, for numerous reasons, couldn’t make it into Alien, and some of these – chiefly the Medpod, which came from a real research product designed to treat battlefield wounds – are reproduced in Scott’s new film. At the same time, Max notes the struggle of not hewing too close to H.R. Giger’s iconic imagery, especially for a film that doesn’t want to be known as an Alien prequel.
From here, Salisbury’s book proceeds through the film in fairly chronological order, displaying stunning images of the opening Dawn of Time sequence, with commentary from Max and others, detailing how they navigated “the prequel problem” of featuring superior technology despite being set prior to Alien. Helpfully, the Nostromo’s stature as a flimsy mining vessel – as well as the primary setting for Alien – allows Prometheus to logically expand, featuring a top-tier deep-space exploration vehicle, without seeming contradictory. Needless to say, the logistics of the ship, and detail put into blocking it out for action sequences, is staggering.
The costume department meanwhile also aimed to avoid comparisons to Alien, opting for something functional but a little futuristic for the crew’s spacesuits; did you know, the orange tubing contains coolant? Gadgets used by the crew are given a closer look also, such as the “pups”, the probes which provide audiovisual mapping of the Pyramid.
In terms of locales, the Ampule Chamber receives the majority of the production crew’s attention, as they confront that fan-baiting mural of what appears to be a Xenomorph on the chamber wall. Referring to it as possessing the DNA of a Giger creature as an “homage” to his work, Max remains vague and circumspect, an understandable product of wanting to preserve the mystery for any sequel’s sake, one expects. As added trivia, we learn that the giant head in the chamber is partly modelled on Elvis Presley!
The latter part of the book is by far the most interesting, as it focuses on the alien creatures encountered throughout the film. Scott was keen to focus on as many practical effects as possible; the Cobra-like “Hammerpede”, for example, was part-physical (manipulated by Scott himself) and part-CGI, while Scott kept the cast out-of-the-know wherever possible, to create authentic terror when unexpected things happened on set.
The God-like entities known as the Engineers are also elaborated upon slightly, with references to a docking port at the Pyramid suggesting a giant fleet of Engineer ships. Best, however, are the conceptual and production images of the giant squid-like creature – called the Trilobite – which appears at the film’s climax, as well as the proto-Xenomorph – referred to as “the Deacon” – including a stunning image of it walking out onto the surface of the planet after its birth.
A few spelling and grammatical errors aside, this is a great companion to Scott’s film that offers some nice little insights, along with a wealth of stunning artistic material. For those wanting to know more about Prometheus, from either a story or production level, this will prove a highly satisfying read.
Prometheus: The Art of the Film (by Mark Salisbury) is available now from Titan Books.