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Exclusive: Ridley Scott talks ‘Prometheus,’ James Cameron’s influence, our origins, the monsters

Movie Talk

Exclusive: Ridley Scott talks ‘Prometheus,’ James Cameron’s influence, our origins, the monsters

(Photo: Fotos International/Getty Images)

If you believe everything you read, you may think Ridley Scott dislikes James Cameron. (Scott recently revealed how "pissed off" he was that Cameron was chosen -- instead of him -- to direct the sequel to his genre-defining "Alien.")

But the two mega directors, both known for audience-and-critic-pleasing cinematic grandeur, are, in fact, friendly. So friendly that after a visit to Cameron's "Avatar" set, Scott was inspired to film "Prometheus" in 3D. (Cameron tipped me off to this fact during our recent interview.)

Scott further explained how he drew inspiration from Cameron during our sit down interview in London just the morning after the "Prometheus" world premiere (opening in the U.S. on Friday). Still beaming from the night before, Scott spoke candidly of "Alien," calling it a "B movie," and explained why he made "Prometheus" vastly different. We also discussed the making of the monsters and his personal beliefs tied to the film's exploration of science and religion.

[Related: 'Prometheus' star Idris Elba reveals Ridley Scott's style (Bonus: exclusive photo!)]

From "Alien," 1979 (Photo: Everett Collection)

Meriah Doty: "Alien" is essentially a horror movie set in space. What would you say to fans who are expecting, perhaps craving that "Alien"-like experience? -- because "Prometheus" is so much more than that.

Ridley Scott: You just said it. I think it's so much more. "Alien" originally was -- I'm very proud of it, of course -- but actually it was kind of a B movie with an A movie treatment... with a wonderful cast and a marvelous eighth passenger. I mean, that was unique. And that was beyond horror -- that was art (but really bigger).

I think the sets were fantastic; Jerry Goldsmith's music was great. So yeah, it was an A movie. But it was very confined: Seven people in an old dark house, and there's a monster in the house. That's what was "B" about it -- with nothing else, which didn't need anything else. Today, for me, I need more. So it has that and much more, much bigger questions.

MD: I recently spoke with James Cameron and he said that you were inspired to shoot in 3D after your visit to the "Avatar" set.

RS: It's true, yeah.

[Photo Gallery: Yahoo! Movies' Top 50 Aliens of All Time]

MD: What was that experience like for you?

RS: I've known him for years. Jim came and did the second one ["Aliens"] and I admire his work. He definitely raised the bar on "Avatar."  So I sat there thinking, "Damn, I got to something about this." So I'd visited him on the set.  Now, he was into a technology, which is almost entirely green room -- with actors running around in tights and little bubbles of markers on them.  He said, "Yeah. You won't have to do this because this technology [is evolving quickly]. This took me four years." And I thought, "I don't have the patience for that."  But we did this in about 80 days and we started real production a year and two months ago, so it's fast. I was able to use the Red [Epic] cameras which are the digital 3D cameras and frankly, the whole process was pretty straightforward. You just got to have an eye.  If you know what you're doing, it's pretty straightforward.

Ridley Scott, left, during the filming of "Prometheus" (Photo: 20th Century Fox)

MD: In the film, you explore the relationship between science and religion.  Why are questions around those topics so important?

RS: I think they're the most important questions. Because as science reveals all -- if there ever will be "all" -- How far will it come close to coming up with a proper prognosis about our creation and where we began, how we began? And was it biological, by accident? I don't think so. Because to come from a dirt ball that's created [more than] four billion years [ago]… To actually have some little creature crawl out in the water called a salamander to where we are sitting here today -- that's a lot of evolution by accident.

MD: The creatures in the film -- and I don't want to give anything away -- are important in new and unexpected ways. In the construction and execution of them, how did you know when you got it right?

[Related: Yahoo! Movies' Summer Movie Guide - 'Prometheus' and more!]

RS: I'm still very much a designer and I love working with Arthur Max — he's my production designer. Arthur said, "We better bring in some digital artists because I don't want any more storyboards, I want digital art" -- that honestly looks like goddamn photograph because we are now into industrial design, where it's literally colored, polished.  It looks like a photograph when it's finished — so a space suit would look like photograph when it's finished. You can cast it -- That will be drawn just like that.

The monsters are more difficult because they are organic. They are organisms, and above all, they have to look real… otherwise, it looks like a dinosaur [and not up-to-date]. It cannot be cliché. It has to be different. So everything you see in there is based on something you can actually find in an enormous library called the internet -- everything. You know who is the greatest designer of all? The Big G. He really knew what he was doing.

I looked into whole chapters of encyclopedias just about octopus and examined the giant squid, which is something like 200 feet long, 150 foot tentacles. At the end is the most beautiful thing -- about this long [motions with hand indicating about six inches] -- was a claw. It's the most spectacular thing you've ever seen -- multi-colors and… it's like a parrot and it's a claw! You think, "How the hell…" You'd never come up with that. If you just look far, you'll find it.

MD: In the making of "Prometheus," what was the most personally satisfying moment for you?

RS: Last night.

MD: Right, the premiere.  Wonderful!  Well, congratulations.

RS: Thanks a lot.

Watch the latest 'Prometheus' trailer: