Composer Marc Streitenfeld had the orchestra play his compositions backwards, and then digitally reversed the compositions for the final film. This made the music sound unusual and unsettling, which he felt was right for the film.
Designer H.R. Giger, who worked on the original design of the Xenomorph from Alien (1979), was brought in to assist in reverse-engineering the design of the Aliens in the film. Giger died of fall-related injuries in 2014, making this the last movie related to the Alien franchise that he worked on.
During production, Ridley Scott kept the use of computer-generated imagery as low as possible, using CGI mainly in space scenes; Scott recalled advice Visual Effects Supervisor Douglas Trumbull gave him on the set of Blade Runner (1982): "If you can do it live, do it live", and also claimed that practical visual effects were more cost-effective than digital visual effects.
Ridley Scott named the film "Prometheus", seeing the name aptly fit the film's themes: "It's the story of creation; the gods and the man who stood against them." In Greek mythology, the Titan Prometheus was an immortal servant of the gods, who stole and gave to mankind the gift of God fire, an immeasurable benefit that changed the human race forever (for better and worse). It made mankind dangerous to the gods.
Ridley Scott suggested that an Engineer was sent to Earth to stop humanity's increasing aggression, but was crucified; the implication being that it was Jesus Christ. He felt though that this would be too obvious a religious allegory for the film.
Ridley Scott decided against featuring Xenomorphs (the titular Alien of the film series) in the film, as "the sequels squeezed him dry, he did very well... and no way am I going back there." Instead, this being an indirect prequel to Alien (1979), he decided to feature a Xenomorph ancestor/parent.
In one of the screenplay drafts for Alien (1979), there was a sex scene between Ripley and Dallas, to show how crew members would engage in casual sex during long space travels, simply to fulfill their needs. Ridley Scott never filmed the scene, but the idea was reused for this film in the exchange between Vickers and Janek.
The androids' names in the Alien films follow an alphabetical pattern: in Alien (1979) it's Ash, in Aliens (1986) and Alien³ (1992) it's Bishop, in Alien: Resurrection (1997) it's Call and in this film it's David.
Charlize Theron was originally cast as Elizabeth Shaw, but had to decline the role due to scheduling conflicts. Later, another change in schedule freed Theron to do the film, thus allowing her to take the role of Meredith Vickers, as Noomi Rapace had already taken the role of Shaw.
Charlize Theron found herself struggling during her action scenes, due to her smoking habit, particularly the segments that required her to run through sand in boots weighing thirty pounds (fourteen kilograms).
Many people believe that the squid-like alien offspring, that attacks the engineer, is a Giant Facehugger. It is in fact, a new type of alien, called a Trilobite. One of three new types named Hammerpede, Trilobite, and Deacon.
Ridley Scott described the Engineers as "tall, elegant dark angels." Concept designers Neville Page and Carlos Huante cite Greco-Roman gods, the works of J.W. Turner (a painter whose trademark was brightness) and William Blake (a painter who employed religious symbolism), the Statue of Liberty, Michaelangelo's David, and Elvis Presley as visual influences for the design of the Engineer.
According to Ridley Scott, the spherical helmets were inspired by a Steve Jobs story where he built an office entirely out of industrial-strength glass: "If I'm in 2083 and I'm going into space, I want something where I have 360 vision. By then, glass will be light and you won't be able to break it with a bullet."
Prior to the film's release, Ridley Scott said that he was open to the possibility of an extended Director's Cut, similar to several of his films, for which he created altered versions. There were also previews of several omitted scenes that would clear up some of the questions raised in the theatrical version. However, just before the DVD and Blu-ray release, Scott indicated that he declined the studio's offer that would allow him to make a longer version, as he considers the theatrical version his preferred cut of the movie. Instead, thirty minutes of deleted scenes were included on the home video release of the film. These include several moments seen in the trailers, but not present in the film - most notably, the mutated Fifield attack scene was intended to be much longer and set at a different point in the film (happening just as Weyland, Ford, and the mercenaries head out for the structure).
To find a method of depicting the Engineer's DNA destruction, the visual effects experts carved vein-like structures from silicone and pumped black ink and oils into them, and then filmed the changes occurring over an extended period of time.
Ridley Scott stated that he was filming "the most aggressive film he could" by not caring about MPAA ratings, having support for such bold movement from 20th Century Fox CEO Tom Rothman, who addressed Alien (1979) fans by saying that he was "very aware of their concern", and that "they can take it that the film will not be compromised either way. So if that means that the film is R, then it'll be an R. If it's PG-13, then it'll be a PG-13, but it will not be compromised." Scott shot the film with both adult-only R and more accessible PG-13 film ratings in mind, allowing the more adult content to be cut if necessary without harming the overall presentation, given the case it was asked to be cut down. Eventually, the film was rated "R for Sci-Fi violence including some intense images, and brief language", and it was released without any demanded cuts.
The three-triangle logo of the Weyland corporation (while visually similar to that of the actual Weinstein Group) is actually derived from a pattern appearing on the wall in the background of an early Ron Cobb production painting of the "Space Jockey" for the original Alien (1979) film. The logo can be seen as part of David's fingerprint.
Ann Scibelli created the sound of glistening ice forming on the stone cylinders by applying Pop Rocks (carbonated candy) to materials like wet metal and stone and then spraying the materials with water to produce the "popping, cracking" sound.
According to Ridley Scott, the film's plot was inspired by Erich von Däniken's writings about ancient astronauts: "Both NASA and the Vatican agree that it is almost mathematically impossible that we can be where we are today, without there being a little help along the way. That's what we're looking at: we are talking about gods and engineers, engineers of space. Were the Aliens designed as a form of biological warfare, or biology that would go in and clean up a planet?"
An innovative viral campaign was used to promote the film, consisting of several videos depicting the near future world from the film. The first was a fake TED Talk given by Peter Weyland (played by Guy Pearce), dated 2023. Later, two different versions of a commercial promoting the David 8 android (played by Michael Fassbender) were released. These viral videos were designed by Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof themselves, and were directed by Scott's son, Luke Scott.
Costume Designer Janty Yates gave the characters unique clothes that would represent their nature: - Vickers is dressed in an ice-silver silk mohair suit, which signifies her icy nature. - David's outfit was given finer lines to produce a more linear appearance and emphasize his robotic nature. - Holloway is dressed in hoods, fisherman pants, and flip-flops to look casual and relaxed. and Janek wears a canvas-greased jacket to represent his long career at the helm of a ship.
In 2002, James Cameron discussed ideas for a fifth Alien film with Ridley Scott, with the intention that Cameron would produce the film with Scott directing, and Sigourney Weaver returning to star in the lead role of Ripley. However, upon discovering that 20th Century Fox were developing the crossover film AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004), Cameron ceased all work on the project, believing that the crossover would "kill the validity of the franchise." Though Cameron went on to state that he would never again work with the Alien franchise, Scott eventually ended up reworking their idea into this film.
When Prometheus approaches the landing zone, straight marks on the ground can be seen which are very similar to the Nazca lines located in the Nazca Desert in southern Peru. The Nazca lines are considered by few rogue scientists/archaeologists to be runways of an ancient airfield used by extraterrestrials. This idea was popularized by Swiss author, Erich von Däniken, and is generally regarded as pseudo-science. One of the more prevailing and accepted theories posits that the lines were part of the religious practices of the local people. Other theories place astronomical, cosmological or topographical significance to them.
In the sequence where a holographic Peter Weyland addresses the crew of the Prometheus, the musical underscore heard quotes the original theme to Alien (1979) written by Jerry Goldsmith but never used in the 1979 film.
Was originally conceived as a prequel to Ridley Scott's Alien (1979), but Scott announced his decision to turn it into an original film with Noomi Rapace (who was already set to star) still in the cast as one of five main characters. Some time later it was confirmed that while the movie would take place in the same universe as Alien and greatly reference that movie, it would mostly be an original movie and not a direct prequel.
The film was originally envisioned to be a straight-up prequel to Alien, via a script written by Jon Spaihts (who was in-demand at the time due to his previous script being on the unofficial Hollywood "black list" of best screenplays) called "Alien: Engineers". Ridley Scott then contacted Damon Lindelof for advice on the script, and was told to rein in many of the parts that made it an identifiable Alien film (including the fact that it was originally set on LV-426, the site of the Derelict Ship from the first two films) and make it an original creation. This, coupled with Spaihts supposedly constraining Scott's vision, led to Lindelof being hired to re-write the screenplay. It took another four drafts (and more than a year of pre-production time) to get the script to a point where everyone was happy with it, and even then, the cast and crew (as evidenced by their remarks in the Blu-ray materials) seemed convinced that they were shooting a prequel that led into the original film.
The first shot of the cave paintings at the beginning of the film, which showed a horse in motion, originate from the Chauvet Cave in the South of France, which was the subject of the Werner Herzog documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), also shot in 3-D.
Ridley Scott initially wanted Max von Sydow for the role of Peter Weyland. However, Scott and Damon Lindelof conceived of a scene in which David the android (Michael Fassbender) would interface with Weyland while in hypersleep, and that Weyland's dream would reflect his looks as a younger man since he is obsessed with immortality. Though the scene was cut from the script and never filmed, Guy Pearce had already been cast in the role and thus underwent extensive make-up to appear elderly. Fortunately, Pearce was also allowed to appear as the younger Peter Weyland giving a TED Talk in one of the promotional clips of the movie. A longer version of this clip is available as a bonus feature on the home theater edition.
As mentioned in the film, the original Prometheus was a character from Greek mythology. He was a Titan (an immortal older god), who gave the gift of gods fire to human beings. Prometheus was punished for this by being bound to a rock on Kaukasus, where each day an eagle, the emblem of Zeus, was sent to feed on his liver, only to have it grow back to be eaten again the next day. In some stories, Prometheus is freed at last by the hero Heracles (Hercules) as one of his Twelve Tasks. Among the ancient Greeks, Prometheus was venerated as a deity. Prometheus may derive from the Greek for "forethinker", or the Proto-Indo-European for "thief", Prometheus also tricked the gods, which is of relevance to this film.
The scene where Vickers refuses to allow the infected crew member on board is almost exactly like the scene in Alien (1979), of which this is a prequel, where Ripley refuses to allow the crew to bring the infected Kane on-board. Including some of the same dialogue.
Early drafts of the script had a scene, on a colony on Mars, where Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) had his office. Though concept art was completed, the scene was removed for pacing reasons, and never filmed.
For the scene of the Prometheus' descent to the alien moon LV-223, Visual Effects Art Director Steven Messing referenced NASA imagery, and aerial photographs of locations in Iceland and Wadi Rum. Messing painted over these images, and combined them with 3-D set extensions, to create a realistic altered landscape.
When Shaw is discussing her finds around the world in the conference, the words "Eilean a' Cheo" can be seen in the background. This means "The Island of Mist" in Scottish Gaelic, and is a nickname for the Isle of Skye, properly called "An t-Eilean Sgitheanach."
When Janek talks with Vickers, he mentions that his accordion was property of Stephen Stills. Stills is a singer, former member of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and composer of "Love the One You're With", that Janek sings often times.
The clip David watches showing a man extinguishing a lit match with his fingertips and saying, "The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.", features Peter O'Toole and comes from Lawrence of Arabia (1962).
Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski convinced Ridley Scott that it would be possible to shoot the film in 3-D, with the same ease and efficiency of typical filming. 3-D company 3ality Technica provided some of the rigs and equipment, to facilitate 3-D filming, and trained the film's crew in their proper operation. Since 3-D films need high lighting levels on-set, the traditional dark shadowy atmosphere of the Alien films was added in post-production through grading processes, while the 3-D equipment was based on post-Avatar (2009) technology.
It took the CEO of the company, Tom Rothman, to name the film Prometheus, because the filmmakers couldn't decide on what title to use (with their previous suggestion being "Paradise"). "Alien: Paradise" was then suggested as the title of the sequel, before it was re-titled to Alien: Covenant (2017).
One of the viral videos has various names cycling through over the image of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, including, for a split second, Lisbeth. This was the name of Noomi Rapace's character in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011).
Ironically, back in 1979, Ridley Scott fought bitterly with the 20th Century Fox executives over including the space jockey in Alien (1979). The irony is that this very character forms the nucleus of the plot to Prometheus (2012) and its subsequent sequels.
Principle photography took 82 days and involved the use of eight sound stages at Pinewood Studios outside London. Two weeks of filming took place in Iceland and three months of further interior shooting occurred in Alicante, Spain.
Rafe Spall later appeared in The World's End (2013) which made reference to the Alien franchise. It also features humans revealed to be androids, one of which was Martin Freeman, who shares the role of Bilbo Baggins with Ian Holm from the original Alien (1979).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
For the scene where Vickers sets an infected Holloway on fire, Charlize Theron wielded a real flamethrower emitting real fire. She was excited to perform the scene when reading the script, but began to have second thoughts upon realizing she'd actually be setting a stuntman on fire. She ultimately agreed to perform the stunt, but the shot of her appearing shocked while setting him on fire was her natural reaction. The shot was kept in the film, because the filmmakers thought that the break in character was a good reaction for the normally icy, emotionless, Vickers.
During the scene in which the Hammerpede erupts from Millburn's corpse, Ridley Scott did not inform Kate Dickie about what was to occur in the scene, and thus her screaming reaction was real. This trick for authenticity went one step further than what Scott did during the filming of the infamous chestburster scene from Alien (1979), where the cast knew that something would come out of the body, but not that they would be sprayed in blood.
When Elizabeth Shaw is having a C-Section to remove the alien from her body, the alien was wrapped in a condom filled with fake blood so that when it was pulled from her body, the condom could be punctured and explode violently.
In May 7, 2012, Guillermo del Toro declared that his long proposed adaptation for "At the Mountains of Madness" was indefinitely delayed, as he felt Ridley Scott's film was extremely similar to the approach he penned for H.P. Lovecraft's novella, even to the point of having "scenes that would be almost identical. Both movies seem to share identical set pieces, and the exact same big revelation at the end."
Shaw's final message at the end of the film closely mirrors that of Ripley's final log entry at the end of Alien (1979). Both messages include indication of being a "final log entry", description of the fates of the ships' respective crews, and identifying themselves as the "last surviving crew member of the (Nostromo/Prometheus)."
Ridley Scott repeatedly told the crew not to tell the actors certain things or to let them see storyboards to procure more genuine responses, notably in the scene where a snake-like creature bursts from the dead Millburn's mouth; the actors were unaware that that was going to happen, and Kate Dickie's shriek of surprise is quite real.
We first meet the character of David as he is meandering around the ship, while the rest of the crew is in cryosleep. This is to quietly imply to the audience he is in fact an android, without outright saying it just yet. Several years earlier, Lance Henriksen admitted during an interview about the film Aliens (1986) that James Cameron was considering introducing the character of Bishop in a similar way, and wanted to have Bishop working throughout the Sulaco, while the Marines were in cryosleep. This idea was scrapped, and Cameron decided to film the famous knife trick scene instead, as a way to reveal to the audience that Bishop was an android.
The moon's name in the film (LV223) is arguably a reference to the the bible verse Leviticus 22:3 - "Say to them, 'If any man among all your descendants throughout your generations approaches the holy gifts which the sons of Israel dedicate to the LORD, while he has an uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from before Me; I am the LORD.'" (New American Standard Bible). This foreshadows the events of the film, including the fates of the crew.
The film was originally intended to be a true prequel to Alien (1979), and the first draft of Jon Spaihts's original script (titled 'Alien: Engineers') included far more elements from the Alien franchise. For instance, it would have taken place on LV-426, the original planetoid from 'Alien', which contains a mysterious pyramid. It has cannisters which contain Facehuggers, and one of them 'impregnates' Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green). Unaware of what happened, he returns to Prometheus, and an Alien bursts from his chest while he is making love with Shaw (Noomi Rapace). David (Michael Fassbender) is a much more malicious character in this draft, hating his human makers to the point where he even plans to help the Engineers kill them all. Shaw tries to stop him, but David ties her down, and releases a Facehugger upon her, impregnating her with an Alien as well. The creature is surgically removed before it can burst through her chest, but it is ejected from the medical device, and while Shaw recovers over several hours, the creature grows and starts killing people. Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) only appears in the beginning, and doesn't come along. His obsession is not with eternal life, but with a desire to retrieve the Engineers' profitable terraforming technology. Finally, Shaw was to battle with the creature that emerges from the dead Engineer, and the movie was to end on a more ambiguous note, with Shaw and the remains of David being stranded on the planet. The mutagenic black compound which turns Fifield (Sean Harris) into a raging monster, as well as David's demise were all part of Spaihts' original treatment. According to Spaihts, Fox studio executives requested that the recognizable elements were toned down in order to make the film more stand alone and have its own mythology, so major re-writes were done by Damon Lindelof.
David idolizes British World War I hero T.E. Lawrence. In World War I, the British Army, including Lawrence, used a machine gun called the Vickers. Also, Peter Weyland, who quotes Lawrence of Arabia (1962), is the inventor and synthetic father of David, but also the biological father of Meredith Vickers.
There is a scene where characters discuss whether or not they should bring weapons to a scientific expedition. The same happened in AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004), which similarly focused on scientists discovering that extraterrestrial life visited ancient Earth. Both films also contain two separate alien species hostile to the humans; they feature attempts by the protagonists to stop one of the species from reaching Earth, and end with a hybrid creature bursting through the chest of one of the hostile aliens.