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Screenwriter Jon Spaihts On The Prometheus That Never Was
The movie's original writer discusses kitten-like facehuggers and more

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With Prometheus out on Blu-ray, Empire spoke to the man behind the original script for Ridley Scott's sci-fi epic, Jon Spaihts. In a fascinating interview he talked about how he originally envisaged the prequel-cum-franchise reboot. Read on to find out more about the evolution of the xenomorphs - crab-like aliens, anyone? - Scott's creepy crawly collection and David forcibly attaching a facehugger onto Shaw's fizzog.

Screenwriter Jon Spaihts On The Prometheus That Never Was

Great expectations
Screenwriters largely labour in silent anonymity. No-one's heard of the project you're working on, and many of those projects vanish into the void the moment you're done. By the time they do make it to market, you've moved on. But with Prometheus there was an avid, eager and pestering crowd, trying to find out about the project from the first moment it was announced that I would write it. This was the first time I've ever written something where there was an audience waiting for it.

I was conscious of my laptop having a substantial news value if I were to leave it in a coffee shop.
There were so many people with opinions about how it should go. So many people who wanted to know what would happen. I was conscious of my laptop having a substantial news value if I were to leave it in a coffee shop. The leak would have been rather disastrous. I felt like a Cold War spy walking around with my briefcase handcuffed to my wrist.

I don't believe my draft has been released into the world. There was talk for a while about my final draft being included in the Blu-ray release of the film. But I've recently heard that there are legal complications around that and it may not be happening. So I talk a bit on the Blu-ray about the creative process, but I'm not sure the draft is on there.

I had gone into Scott Free for a general meeting, because they'd liked a script of mine. Late in the meeting, the head of the company brought up the notion of an Alien prequel and asked if I had any thoughts on it. I hadn't prepared for that and hadn't developed a story, but I found in the moment that I had a lot of opinions about it. I thought there was only one way you could go. So I started riffing in the room and held forth for 30 to 35 minutes on what the shape of the story should be and what kind of things we could do that hadn't happened before.

The medpod scene
The medpod sequence is one of the reasons I got the job in the first place. It's one of my favourite scenes and it's visually realised in an extraordinary way.

One of the things I realised was that we hadn't seen anyone survive a classic Alien chest bursting. And I was really intrigued by the notion that a character might be infected by the parasite and know that it was coming, know they had a timeframe of a few hours, and that we would have set up previously a nearly omnipotent medical device, designed to extend life for explorers in foreign places. Our heroine would have a short time to get to the machine and extract the thing inside her. It was a very gory sequence and it plays out very much like the sequence in the film. The main difference is in choreography. At the end of the sequence as I first conceived it, the heroine manages to get the creature extracted from her and it is expelled from the pod and she's sealed inside, whereas in the final film it goes the other way.

Then she lapses in and out of consciousness for a number of hours as the machine puts her back together. As she comes back to consciousness, she sees the thing growing in the cabin outside and even killing people. So by the time she emerges from the pod eight hours later, the thing is abroad in the ship and big enough to be a huge danger. That was the original conception of the medpod scene.

In the final film, obviously, that monster has been de-Alien-ised and become something a little more new and hybridised. And it's trapped inside the medpod while she rolls out, and it grows into something dangerous that's pushed to the end of the film.

As for how she recovers from her surgery so fast - well, it was more of a protracted process in my original notion. My script underwent a number of major evolutions as we were working on it, and then Damon came in and made further changes still. But that sequence and its place in the story was one of the anchors.

Screenwriter Jon Spaihts On The Prometheus That Never Was

The ever-changing xenomorphs
I wrote five different drafts of the script, working with Ridley very closely over about nine months. And even as we were working, we were constantly toying with the closeness of the monsters in the film to the original xenomorph. You can see an interesting balance, even looking at the movies in the Alien franchise, between homage and evolution. In every film you'll see that the design of the Alien shifts - the shape of the carapace, the shape of the body - and some of that is to with new technology available to realise the monsters, but a lot of is just a director's desire to do something new.

Ridley and I were looking for ways to make the xenomorphs new.
And so he was always pushing for some way in which that Alien biology could have evolved. We tried different paths in that way. We imagined that there might be eight different variations on the xenomorphs - eight different kinds of Alien eggs you might stumble across, eight kinds of slightly different xenomorph creatures that could hatch from them. And maybe even a rapid process of evolution, still ongoing, in these Alien laboratories where these xenomorphs were developed. So Ridley and I were looking for ways to make the xenomorphs new.

We did a bunch of things that are still represented in the final film. We toyed with the notion that the xenomorphs might have a soft carapace like a soft-shelled crab, and be flexible and able to squeeze through cracks; that they might be pale rather than black; that they might retain inside some gelatinous cowl some resemblance of the human being in whom they'd incubated. We played with a lot of ghoulish notions like that.

Different head shapes - we toyed with a peaked head shape that you actually see in the creature that hatches from the Engineer at the end of Prometheus. And Ridley is a great and ghoulish collector of horrible natural oddities, real parasites and predators from the natural world. He had a tremendous file of photography of real, ghastly creatures from around the world - they're chilling, some of them! He would tell these tales with relish, of wasps that would drill into the backs of beetles and plant larvae, or become mind-control creatures. Terrible things happen, especially the smaller you get. As you get into the insect world or the microbial world, savage atrocities are perpetrated by one creature on another. And Ridley was thrilled with all of them. They inspired a lot of the designs and a lot of the ideas we tried.

Screenwriter Jon Spaihts On The Prometheus That Never Was

Finding a new menace
The creature did change in some pretty dramatic ways from draft to draft. But the most dramatic change was the removal of the xenomorph from the film. That was a shift that happened at the same time as I stepped off the film. A lot of that push came from the studio very high up; they were interested in doing something original and not one more franchise film. That really came to a head at the studio - the major push to focus on the new mythology of Prometheus and dial the Aliens as far back as we could came down from the studio.

So one of Damon's major jobs when he came onboard was to replace the menaces of the xenomorphs with other things. Largely the other menaces in the film were present in my drafts as well - there was a black mutagenic compound that could change people in unpredictable way, Fyfield did morph into a monster and become a real danger in his own right, and of course the Engineers, the Space Jockeys, proved to be terribly dangerous creatures. In my draft, as well, we did resurrect one and he tore off David's head. Much of the mayhem of the final film was present in the drafts I wrote, but the xenomorphs were the major change, as well as the stockpiling of this black liquid as opposed to Alien eggs.

I did have facehuggers in my original draft. David, as he began to get fascinated by the science of the Engineers, doesn't deliberately contaminate Holloway with a drop of black liquid. Instead, Holloway hubristically removes his helmet in the chamber, is knocked unconscious, facehugged and wakes up not knowing what had been done to him, and stumbles back into the ship. In my draft, he returns to his cabin, is embraced by Shaw, who is delighted to see him having feared that he had died, and the two of them make love. And it's while they're making love that he bursts and dies. So that lovemaking sequence echoed my original lovemaking sequence where he explodes! It was messy.

Subsequently, David, fascinated by these creatures, begins delaying the mission and going off the reservation on his own, essentially because he thinks he really belongs with the Engineers. They're smart enough and sophisticated enough, great enough, to be his peers. He's harboring a deep-seated contempt for his human makers. So at one point Shaw goes to stop him and David ties her up and deliberately exposes her to a facehugger. He caresses an egg open and out comes a facehugger. David doesn't smell like a person - his breath isn't moist - so he can handle the thing like a kitten. It doesn't want him; it's not interested. But then he exposes it to her and it goes for her like a shot. He toys with her for a bit and then lets it take her. That, in my draft, was how Shaw was implanted with the parasite that she had to remove with the medpod sequence.

Screenwriter Jon Spaihts On The Prometheus That Never Was

David and Shaw
In my draft David was a little more bloody-handed and the scene with his betrayal was a little more baroque.

In my draft David was a little more bloody-handed.
I left the two of them on the surface of that planetoid. It was plain that David and Shaw were going to have to work together and deal with one another if they were to survive. That one shot of the ship taking off in the finished film really focuses you on a particular outcome, whereas my ending was much more open as to what was going to happen next. But it was very much about this shattered android and this scarred woman being left with no-one but each other to carry on with.

I did have a plan for multiple films and the conversations I had with Ridley was about a new franchise, from the beginning. We talked about a possible trilogy, or a duology, but more often as a trilogy. And I did have pretty broad notions as to how we were going to get from this world to the original Alien - the baton pass, closing the circle, if you will. So yes, I did have plans for two other films. I came up with an even more twisted sequence than the Medpod, but I cannot tell you what happens...

My vision of the trilogy would have involved the arrival of the Yutani Company and a couple of other major plays around the Engineers themselves: the revelation of an additional grand Engineer design, and the possibility of seeking an Engineer homeworld. That shot of the ship flying at the end offers a lot of creative ways to play with this. But it feels like it brackets you into the search for the Engineer homeworld and home civilisation. That's an interesting challenge.

Interview by Nick de Semlyen

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