Based on the avalanche of reviews, insightful theories, barely disguised apologias, and raging message board debates that have flooded the web since Prometheus finally opened in the U.S. this weekend, there's not much that the film's admirers and detractors can agree upon -- except perhaps this: the film is gorgeous to behold. So much so that even the most underwhelmed Alien fan may enjoy poring over the lushly illustrated Prometheus: The Art of the Film from Titan Books. Here's why it's a worthy addition to any geek's overburdened bookshelf. [Major Movie Spoilers Below]
No, the text of the book (written by Mark Salisbury) doesn't clear up any of the screenplay's inconsistencies or gaping plot holes, but it does provide an in-depth chronicling of the gestation and development of the movie -- from direct Alien prequel to Chariots of the Gods-inspired tangent -- with plenty of nuggets not already covered in the many, many recent feature articles about Prometheus. The book also serves as a definitive document of director Ridley Scott's motivations: "I think in four films, honestly, the good old Alien has worn out. He's no longer frightening. In one of the films he was trapped inside caskets of glass. Before he was indestructible and was ungraspable. So I think he was used and you've got to move on." Whether or not you agree with his approach (personally, we'd love to see a draft of Jon Spaihts' original screenplay, before Damon Lindelof rewrote it), you couldn't ask for a more straightforward explanation than what's in this book.
For decades, Alien franchise fans have obsessed over the "Space Jockey" glimpsed in the original 1979 film. Now thanks (or no thanks) to Prometheus, we'll have to get used to referring to it as an "Engineer." But The Art of the Film goes even further, revealing the production-crew nicknames for other key elements in the movie, which will no doubt quickly become part of the official (or official unofficial Alien lexicon. Like: "Juggernaut" (the horseshoe-shaped vessel), "Hammerpede" (the snake-like creature inside the Pyramid), "Trilobite" (the Lovecraftian -- though Lovecraft is never referenced in the book -- creature that Shaw is "pregnant) and "the Deacon" (the pointy-headed pre-xenomorph that bursts out of the Engineer at the film's end).
As obviously important as Sir Ridley's mindset is, it's Prometheus production designer Arthur Max who's the real star of The Art of the Film, serving as an articulate, deeply knowledgeable guide to all aspects of the movie's visual evolution. Among his most jaw-dropping tidbits: the look of the Engineers was inspired by Michelangelo's David, Elvis Presley, and the Statue of Liberty, all of which "had foreheads which flowed almost directly into their noses, as classical Greek 4th-century B.C. statues did." (We'll never look at Elvis the same way again.) He also deftly (and diplomatically) details how Prometheus both reflected and moved away from the unique "biomechanoid" style of Swiss artist H.R. Giger, whose aesthetic formed the cornerstone of the franchise: "The fanbase had expectations about where we were going to take this. In the end what evolved was to incorporate some of what he had done, but make it less bio and more mechanoid." And really hard-core sci-fi and comic book lovers will squeal in delight as Max explains how the giant Trilobite from the film's climax was partly inspired by a futuristic creature in "The Long Tomorrow," a short story that also influenced the cityscape of Blade Runner and dozens of other films and which was drawn by the late European comics master Moebius and written by Dan O'Bannon, the original screenwriter of... Alien.
Of course, as can be expected for a book like The Art of the Film, it's the imagery that provides the real enjoyment value, giving readers page after page of amazing concept drawings, behind-the-scenes photography, schematics, models, sculptures, costumes, makeup tests and more about every aspect of Prometheus big and small, from the sleep pods to the MedLab to the land rovers to the Space Jockey's pilot chamber and on and on. There's even concept art from an unfilmed scene taking place on Mars, which Weyland Industries is in the process of terraforming. But perhaps best of all is a full-page shot of an altar inside the Pyramid, at the center of which is an arch-shaped relief of what appears to be a distinctly Giger-esque creature -- crucified. Like the movie's best moments, it's both haunting and awe-inspiring.
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