The internet received a treat yesterday. Jon Spaihts original screenplay for what became Prometheus crash landed online and was immediately devoured by fans. The veracity of the script has yet to be assertained but does seem pretty legimate from what its author described in an interview with Empire magazine. The script is titled Alien: Engineers.
The marketing campaign for Ridley Scott’s return to science-fiction was unprecedented stuff of which we’d never quite seen before – and that’s saying something for Hollywood. Yet a promised return to the world of Alien, and a prequel of sorts, was manna from heaven for movie fans. So they lapped it up. The film, when the world finally saw it, split opinion. It was either ‘not Alien enough’ or picked apart for plot holes which misses the point spectacularly as if characters doing dumb things was the first obstacle in a film about aliens and space travel to isolated parts of the galaxy.
I’m pretty darn sure many whiny fanboys who have digested Spaihts screenplay will declare it better than Prometheus. Which is pure folly on several counts. Firstly, it went unproduced because it skirted Alien far too much and despite having many similarities with Prometheus, spends far too much time – via several avenues – screaming “This is an Alien prequel, folks!” We get chestbursting action, xenomorphs lurking in the air vents and surprising people, and a general retread of major tropes. What the story does is provide us with the beginnings of an evolution and this is something for fans to enjoy and not lament.
And would Sir Ridley Scott have been excited about where Spaihts’s story boldy goes? No, because he’d done it all before and got the t-shirt. He also delivered one of the most-loved sci-fi horror films in screen history. Alien: Engineers is a movie for a lesser talent to wallow in. Scott was interested in going back to the series but Spaihts original script would need work. Scott wanted to explore the origins of what has been fondly, albeit bizarrely, named ‘The Space Jockey’. As he liked to say, “The big guy in the chair”. Spaihts pitch and screenplay was a springboard only. Enter Damon Lindelof…
In Alien: Engineers, Holloway is an older man, aged 48 and Elizabeth Shaw is named Watts. Their relationship is slightly different and less romantic. There’s no nucky-fucky and no passing of alien DNA. The script pretty much follows the trajectory of what would become Prometheus – whose legend is even mentioned as a reference – but once the cosmic shit hits the fan, Alien: Engineers gets bogged down in replicating the thrills of Alien.
Other characters like Captain Janek (Idris Elba) remain pretty much intact. He even gets his little squeeze box to play. Charlize Theron’s character is named Lydia Vickers and does pretty much conform to her screen version though there’s no Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back revelation and Peter Weyland only appears at the beginning. Interestingly, the no-nonsense tone of the trillionaire obsessive recalls Ridley Scott when he speaks, so one does wonder if Spaihts, as some sort of in-joke, based Weyland on the director?
Once the good ship Magellen (what a lame name for a spaceship) the scientists in both films discover chambers and hidden secrets but in the cargo hold is not weapons of mass creation but a variety of eggs. One is described as being very much like an octopus and in another chamber, when David attaches the facehugger to Watts’s face, very much the traditional kind. He also says one of the worst lines ever typed: “Let sleeping gods lie”. Yeah, okay.
From page to re-write to screen it is clear Damon Lindelof, a man fanboys love to hate because they accused him for ruining Lost’s last episode without failing to realise it was always doomed because the writing team never knew the ending when they started, has changed character names, a lot of dialogue (which is just as clunky in both), brought in humour and shed it of Alien’s clothes whilst giving us a glimpse of the xenomorph, now in a bas relief. Plus we get the xenomorph-like creature at the end, to shut certain fans up presumably.
Having the read Spaihts’s script, it is both intriguing and then very run-of-the-mill because it conforms to type – and we’ve had three Alien sequels to have our chestbursting and xenomorph fill. To be fair to the writer, he does a lot of the ground work for what would become Prometheus and the final film is stronger for ridding itself of Alien baggage. So Lindelof made it better and not worse. Face the facts.
Have a read of the screenplay here.