Ridley Scott on ‘Prometheus,' Darwin, God, and ‘Blade Runner'

Ridley Scott directs Noomi Rapace on the set of "Prometheus." In the film, a crew in an exploratory vessel sets down on a mysterious planet, looking for clues to the source of human life. KERRY BROWN / McClatchy Tribune
Ridley Scott directs Noomi Rapace on the set of "Prometheus." In the film, a crew in an exploratory vessel sets down on a mysterious planet, looking for clues to the source of human life. KERRY BROWN / McClatchy Tribune
Posted: June 11, 2012

How do you ask a Knight of the Realm — and a Knight of the Realm with a best picture Academy Award, at that — to move on to the next question?

With great difficulty.

Allotted 15 minutes to chat with Sir Ridley Scott, who is on the phone from London promoting his dazzling and dark — if somewhat nonsensical — sci-fi thriller Prometheus, this interviewer managed to get all of four questions in before the publicist with the charming accent interrupted with a brusque, "I'm going to have to break this off, sorry."

There was a long list of subjects never gotten to, like what Sir Ridley thought of James Cameron's, and David Fincher's, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's respective Alien sequels? And like what about Alien vs. Predator? And that abrupt freeze-frame ending of Thelma & Louise — would he go back and add a few beats? And his best picture Oscar for Gladiator? And Noomi Rapace — his Prometheus heroine — is she awesome or what?

In Prometheus, which Scott fans have been tracking ever since word got out that the director was hatching a movie with Alien DNA, a crew in an exploratory vessel sets down on a mysterious planet, looking for clues to nothing less than the source of all human life.

When Scott, in a long ramble about how filmmaking technology has evolved in the 33 years between Alien and Prometheus, talks about "the big G," he is not talking about Google, even though he sidetracks to sing the praises of the Internet.

One of the grander themes of Prometheus, which opened Friday and also stars Idris Elba (the ship's captain), Michael Fassbender (the ship's humanoid robot), Logan Marshall-Green (Rapace's fellow archaeologist, and lover), and Charlize Theron (the ship's corporate chieftain), is Where did we come from?

Did we evolve from single cells abubble in a primal stew? Or were we created by a bolt of thunder, the hand of a god? Maybe in space, no one can hear you scream, but they can hear you arguing about Darwinism vs. creationism.

"Darwinism seems to be logical," Scott says, launching a long trajectory of a response. "You come from something on all fours, to something that stands upright and gathers fruit from trees, and then realizes that it's a lot more convenient to walk upright, so now you have Homo sapiens.

“Ape-to-man, it makes sense — you can even look at the drawings and the diagrams of why it makes sense. And I don't think that God touched a rock and suddenly there was man. It's not that simple.

“But I'm still a product of my childhood, where I was obliged to be an altar boy and sing in the church choir. … it was forced upon me as a process … but when I managed to wiggle out of it, there were two things left, very strong things which are indelible and will stay with you forever, and that is guilt, and a sense of right and wrong. And one drives the other. …

“So, I can't shake it, dammit, and Mummy's not even there to actually tell me off any more, right? But it's strong, it's powerful. And is it the best confidence trick ever put to mankind, or is it real?

“Because there's enough religions in this world now, and different holy books and denominations, and yet they all tend to worship one god. And therefore you can argue that that one god is The God. And ironically, it creates more problems, and causes more bloodshed, than anything else that we can possibly think of.

“So, you do wonder, is there a grand designer? And does he allow us to fight it out? It's as if he told five or six kids to go into the backyard and beat at each other and see who's left standing."

Prometheus, set in the last decade of the 21st century, throws another theory into the mix: pre-visitation. Maybe we were created by aliens from another solar system?

"It was a popular notion in the late 1950s," Scott, 74, explains. "Erich von Däniken was one of its proponents. … Now that all seems hippieish, Age of Aquarius and a lot of marijuana, but as we advance into the 21st century, science is evolving at a quantum pace. And actually, as it draws back and reveals more, it also reveals once again how little we know."

In Prometheus, before the ship's crew is rousted from three years of hypersleep, Fassbender's robot, David, has the place to himself. He rides around on a bike, shoots hoops, watches old movies. One of those is Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean's epic about the British adventurer and World War I hero T.E. Lawrence.

Why Peter O'Toole and Lawrence of Arabia, we want to know?

"There's a logic to all of it," Scott replies. "If I'm going to be a housekeeper on a ship, but I don't need to sleep — and we're not going to hide the fact of what he does and what he is and how he came about — then he needs to occupy himself. We're told fairly quickly that this is a robot, OK?

“And he is a savant, clearly. He has a 300 IQ, you can hand him a telephone book and ask him to read half of it and he will start reciting it. At the same time, he would go in for forms of human entertainment. He would have read everything in [Prometheus'] digital library, he would have seen everything. Four million digital films that go way back to God knows when. … And the thing he most engages with is a person that looks a little bit like him, like Peter O'Toole.

“So now you've got Lawrence, and he's obsessed with Lawrence, and he dyes his hair and starts to mimic him, and that's how that comes about."

Prometheus also makes reference to Stephen Stills and the song "Love the One You're With," but we were cut off before we could ask what was up with that.

But we did get a confirmation from the British filmmaker that his next project is indeed a sequel of sorts to Blade Runner. No Harrison Ford, and this time the protagonist will be a woman.

Like Prometheus, Blade Runner, too, is very much about artificial intelligence. Replicants, androids, beings that look human but are not.

"I am absolutely fascinated by that," Sir Ridley confirms. "Artificial intelligence has no boundaries. But if you construct boundaries, then it becomes that much more dramatically interesting."

Contact Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.

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