Was originally conceived as a prequel to Ridley Scott's Alien, 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.
Director 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 a servant of the gods, who stole and gave to mankind the gift of fire, an immeasurable benefit that changed the human race forever (for better AND worse).
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, he decided to feature a Xenomorph ancestor/parent.
During production, Ridley Scott kept the use of computer-generated imagery as low as possible, using CGI mainly in space scenes; Scott recalled advice VFXpert Douglas Trumbull gave him on the set of Blade Runner: "If you can do it live, do it live", and also claimed that practical VFX was more cost-effective than digital VFX.
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 2028. 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.
Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski convinced Ridley Scott that it would be possible to shoot the film in 3D with the same ease and efficiency of typical filming. 3D company 3ality Technica provided some of the rigs and equipment to facilitate 3D filming, and trained the film's crew in their proper operation. Since 3D 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 3D equipment was based on post-Avatar technology.
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 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.
In May 7th, 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 (twist) at the end."
Ridley Scott approached SOAS, University of London, in 2011 to find experts who could help create a new language for the film. Anil Biltoo from SOAS' Language Centre worked to create the language, as well as the alien script, which can be seen throughout. Anil Biltoo can be seen briefly in a scene with Michael Fassbender. Other SOAS staff members appear briefly and are credited, including Wambui Kunya, Sonam Dugdak, Shin Okajima, Kay Rienjang, Zed Sevcikova and Reynir Eggertsson.
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 fire to human beings. Prometheus was punished for this by being bound to a rock in Hades (the Greek underworld), 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). 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 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, also shot in 3D.
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".
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 film. the logo can be seen as part of David's fingerprint.
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.
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, Still & Nash and composer of "Love the One You're With", that Janek sings often times.
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 one of the screenplay drafts for Alien, 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.
In 2002, Aliens director 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, 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, Ridley Scott eventually ended up reworking their idea into this film, _Prometheus (I) (2012)_.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
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.
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.
David idolizes British World War 1 hero T.E. Lawrence. In World War 1, the British Army, including Lawrence, used a machine gun called the Vickers. Also, Peter Weyland, who quotes Lawrence of Arabia, is the creator/synthetic father of David, but also the biological father of Meredith Vickers.
Shaw's final message at the end of the film closely mirrors that of Ripley's final log entry at the end of Alien. 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)".