If I could pick just one word to describe Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s highly-anticipated quasi-prequel to his 1979 sci-fi classic Alien, it would be this: gooey. To be honest, you’d be a little disappointed if it were anything else. Those who’ll be waiting in line to see it this weekend should not only expect gelatinous space-worms bursting out of the throats and/or torsos of their screaming astronaut victims (and in 3-D, no less); they’re likely looking for it. I recently called Scott, the granddaddy of cinematic alien slime, while he was in London for the movie’s UK premiere. We talked about the evils of religion, Star Wars, why he’ll never be a space tourist, and his plans for a Moses biopic.
Eric Spitznagel: I got kind of an Old Testament vibe from Prometheus.
Ridley Scott: Great. Then I’ve done my job.
So that was intentional?
Oh, yes. I’m really intrigued by those eternal questions of creation and belief and faith. I don’t care who you are, it’s what we all think about. It’s in the back of all our minds.
In the Old Testament, God is kind of an asshole.
Yeah, he was pretty hard on us, wasn’t he?
Humanity’s creators in Prometheus aren’t much better. The “Engineers,” as they’re called, are really prickish and hostile. Are they a metaphor for your feelings about God?
Yeah. Do you believe in a supreme deity who’s sadistic and cruel and maybe hates us?
Well, that’s not me. That’s Paradise Lost.
You think Milton got it right?
I don’t think so literally, but it seems analogous sometimes. The only guy in Paradise Lost having a good time is that son-of-a-bitch dark angel.
My favorite part of Prometheus is when a battered and bloody Noomi Rapace reaches for her crucifix necklace, and the decapitated robot head says to her, “Even after all this, you still believe.” In that scene, are you Noomi or the robot head?
That’s hard to say. [Long pause] I do despair. That’s a heavy word, but picking up a newspaper every day, how can you not despair at what’s happening in the world, and how we’re represented as human beings? The disappointments and corruption are dismaying at every level. And the biggest source of evil is of course religion.
Can you think of a good one? A just and kind and tolerant religion?
Not off the top of my head, no.
Everyone is tearing each other apart in the name of their personal god. And the irony is, by definition, they’re probably worshipping the same god.
You know what would be awesome? You need to make a film adaptation of a Bible story.
Maybe the Virgin birth? No movie’s ever told that story with enough gloopy, viscous afterbirth.
No, I’ve got something else in the works. I’m already doing it. It’s called Moses.
Seriously, seriously. It’s going to happen.
With all apologies to Charlton Heston, that sounds like it’s going to be the most amazing film about Moses ever made.
It is. I probably shouldn’t have let that slip out. I’m not supposed to say anything.
Who am I going to tell?
It’s definitely in the cards, though. What’s interesting to me about Moses isn’t the big stuff that everybody knows. It’s things like his relationship with Ramses [II, the pharaoh]. I honestly wasn’t paying attention in school when I was told the story of Moses. Some of the details of his life are extraordinary.
Do you believe in aliens? Is there life outside our planet?
Yes, absolutely. Without any question.
You’re that convinced?
I’m that convinced. And that’s not just me letting my imagination run wild and all that bullshit. Just stare up at the stars at night, and you’ll have those corny thoughts like we all do. How can you look at the galaxy and not feel insignificant? How on earth can we be it? It doesn’t make sense.
But believing in aliens isn’t all that different from believing in a divine creator. It’s not like there’s evidence. It’s still about faith, right?
It doesn’t matter how much faith you have or don’t have. I just don’t buy the idea that we’re alone. There’s got to be some form of life out there.
Well, there doesn’t have to be. It’d be nice.
We’ll find out soon. That probe that’s landing on Mars this summer… What’s it called?
Yeah. [Laughs] Great name, by the way. They’re going to get in there and look at the ice particles, correct?
I really don’t know much about it.
I think that’s what it is. They’re already speculating that they might find life. Or an early stage of life, like dormant particles. I wouldn’t call it bacteria, but a life form.
We’re getting closer to space tourism becoming a reality. Have you bought a ticket yet on the Virgin Galactic?
Good God no. No, no. Not a chance.
You have no interest in being an astronaut?
Nothing could interest me less. I’d much rather have a martini and go to a nice restaurant.
You could do a lot more than that with the money. Tickets on the Virgin Galactic are $200,000.
Really? That’s fucking absurd. I’m just not their target audience for this. The idea of flying in general does not appeal to me. I can barely understand why people want to fly at all, other than that it’s occasionally necessary.
You wouldn’t be in London right now if it wasn’t for air travel.
And I’m not delusional. I know it’s a good thing. But I don’t understand flying as a recreational activity. I understand glider-flying. I understand doing a loop-the-loop in a biplane. But I don’t understand getting in a plane with no real destination and just sailing around in the air for two hours and then landing. That’s insanity to me.
In Alien and now Prometheus, you make space travel seem like a nightmare. If your movies are to be believed, it involves long stretches of boredom and sadness, punctuated with moments of extreme violence and terror. Do you think that’s what it’s really like?
Totally. [Laughs] You’re actually a sentimentalist. If you’re doing any serious space travel, going any respectable distance, you have to be put into a coma for the journey.
You mean cryogenics?
That’s right. I don’t know if the technology is even close to being practical yet, but I know I don’t want any part of it. I think going into space would be like going deep into the ocean, like 5,000 meters down. When you go down that far, it’s just awfully black. There’s not much there except mud and some particles. I imagine space would be a similar thing. The only difference is you’re hoping to bump into some sort of intelligent extraterritorial being.
And then you have the question of, are they the good kind of E.T., or the bastard kind?
Do they want to be our friends, or burrow through our intestines?
I don’t know. But if they’re out there, they’re definitely superior to us.
Why are you so sure?
Well, by definition — the distance they must have traveled to get to us — they’re obviously way ahead of us in terms of intelligence.
Were you at all reluctant to revisit Alien with a prequel? There are so many ways it could’ve backfired.
It was challenging, but it’s also a very happy thing to do, because people love the series so much. It’s nice to reawaken that old enthusiasm in an audience. It’s kind of what we do as filmmakers. It’s why people read books about characters or situations they’re already familiar with. It’s why there were six Star Wars films.
But right there, the Star Wars prequels — that’s a pretty convincing cautionary tale for how a prequel can blow up in your face. George Lucas probably should’ve left well enough alone.
Well, all I can say is that, of all the movies, my favorite was the first one. The original Star Wars.
Not Empire Strikes Back?
No, no, no. Star Wars was head and shoulders above everything else.
I’m speechless. I don’t think I’ve ever talked to anybody who believed that.
It really is true. It’s the best in the series by far.
For what reason? The story? The simplicity of the special effects?
All of it. It had some nice characters, and it was very tangible. The story was very clear and concise, and the special effects were modest. I think they still hold up. They’re not show-off-y.
Lucas went a little overboard with the special effects in the prequels. How do you find that balance between having fun with movie effects and not giving your audience a headache?
You just need a good story. Usually, when special effects get in the way, it’s because the story isn’t strong enough. If you don’t start with a strong screenplay, it’s easy to fall back on special effects, thinking it’s going to carry you. But it never works. It’s just tiresome.
Is there any way you’d consider remaking the Star Wars prequels?
Why would I do that?
I don’t know. So they’d be good?
[Long pause] I don’t think so. The first Star Wars is fine. If you’re looking for that kind of thing, just watch it again.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on Esquire.com.)