ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And I'm Audie Cornish. Every summer, a new class of movie franchise reboots makes its way to theaters. We're going to introduce you now to the man behind two of the biggest. Damon Lindelof was a producer on the reboot of "Star Trek" back in 2009 that seemed to win over loyal Trekkies. And, this weekend, Lindelof will earn the devotion or wrath of "Alien" fans. He helped write the screenplay for the new film, "Prometheus," an origin story for Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi classic.
"Alien" was essentially a haunted house story set on a spaceship with a young Sigourney Weaver and a now iconic movie monster. Damon Lindelof is best known for writing and co-creating the cult TV show, "Lost."
And the big difference between "Prometheus" and "Alien" is that the new movie, like "Lost," isn't just about thrills. It's about life's big questions.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "PROMETHEUS")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: You think we wasted our time coming here, don't you?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: Your question depends on the understanding what you hope to achieve by coming here.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: What we hoped to achieve was to meet our makers, to get answers, why they even made us in the first place.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: Why do you think your people made me?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: We made you because we could.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?
CORNISH: "Prometheus" screenwriter Damon Lindelof told me that when Ridley Scott hired him to work on the "Prometheus" script, Scott made one thing clear - he wanted to explore uncharted territory.
DAMON LINDELOF: There's something great about all classic science fiction and I think that one of the things that Ridley is interested in is not doing sci-fi the way that it's done before. The thing about the original "Alien" is really about this idea of - what if space exploration was primarily dominated by corporate interests? And so the idea behind "Prometheus" was, if we as human beings in the future got a clue or an indication of our origins and the explanations would be more scientific than spiritual - in this case, that maybe we were seeded or planted here by some sort of extraterrestrial life form - and then we had coordinates, we actually had directions to go and basically meet our makers, what kind of people would go there? And then, of course, what happens when we get there? Because science fiction is really just - it's the cautionary tale writ large. The fundamental law of nature is to not know too much about yourself, so God forbid we fly too close to that flame, we are going to get burned.
CORNISH: Recently, I was reading you referring to yourself as Mr. Inevitable Disappointment, which I assume is a reaction to the TV show, "Lost." The fans were obviously very riled up after its finale. What drives you to keep pursuing these stories where you're going to have to run up against fan bases like that or stories where you're going to have leave more questions than answers?
LINDELOF: I'm definitely going to get Mr. Inevitable Disappointment. It won't fit on a vanity plate, but maybe on the back of my bowling shirt. But I do think that, for some reason, I am drawn to stories that completely and totally have an interpretive element to them and I'm just really captivated by that. I understand it's a path to frustration and also, when you ask huge questions like what is the meaning of life or what happens when you die - both questions that "Lost" took on and as does "Prometheus" - it's sort of hubris for me as a writer to try to answer those questions definitively.
Perhaps it would be safer for me to try to answer those questions, but I've found, in my writing when I lean into the answers, the backlash is 10 times more severe than when I don't answer them and I'm beholden to sort of try both.
CORNISH: When did you start this kind of writing? I mean, I don't know if you were the - do you have a journal from when you were 10 with your, like, science fiction stories or comic books or what was it?
LINDELOF: I think that the genesis of this is that when I was a kid, there were these books called the "Encyclopedia Brown Mysteries" and, essentially, it was a boy detective who worked out of his garage and the kids in the neighborhood would come and say, hey, my bike got stolen. My piggy bank got broken into. Will you solve the case, Encyclopedia Brown? And it would be about a five or six page story and there'd be some sort of clue in there that gave away the answer and then you would flip to the back of the book and see if you were right.
And I would read the story and immediately flip to the back of the book even if I hadn't guessed it and my dad saw me doing this and he ripped out the answers on all my Encyclopedia Brown books and so...
LINDELOF: ...I would go to him and I'd say, OK, I solved the case. I think that I know what it is now. And he'd go, oh, I threw those away. So the idea that I sort of had to be comfortable with what my own best guess as to who broke the piggy bank was became something that was enormously more exciting to me than I could - I guess I could have walked into any book store and just pulled another copy off the shelf, but that was less interesting to me than basically sitting with my own theory.
CORNISH: What's interesting is you sound like the kind of person who would be a "Lost" fan. I mean, skipping to the end of Encyclopedia Brown, no wonder you knew how to drive them crazy.
LINDELOF: No, definitely. And I often wonder what I would have felt about the ending of "Lost" had I not been involved in its writing. I do think that a big part of this kind of storytelling and one of the potential pitfalls, although I choose not to view it that way, is that your theory becomes so powerful in your own mind that anything that the storyteller serves up that is different than your theory is basically going to suck.
And I am just as guilty of that in other filmmaker storytelling than I would be, potentially, in "Lost." So I like to think that I would have loved the "Lost" ending because it's right up my alley, but I have fallen victim to the two lofty expectations.
CORNISH: What is it like for you then to come to things like "Star Trek" or "Alien" that essentially had their whole world and whole mythology? I mean, how do you even work your way into that?
LINDELOF: It's very tricky and there are huge fans of this stuff, in the case of "Trek" for over four decades, who are enormously protective of it and the idea that their baby is basically now in the custody of us. You do everything you can not to drop the baby but when you play it too safe, that can blow up in your face, too, because everyone is expecting you to do something new with it. And those are the polls that you're constantly moving in between.
Obviously, in the case of "Prometheus" - well, it's Ridley, so he did the original "Alien." And, for me, the job was helping him actualize and realize his vision and pinching myself constantly, leaving my body and saying, Sir Ridley Scott is talking to me right now. Don't say anything stupid. Try not to get fired - was the interior monologue that is going on in my head even now.
CORNISH: And I'm sure using the Sir also didn't help.
LINDELOF: Yes, exactly. I was like, am I going to be too nerdy asking him if he has a sword because he's a knight, you know.
CORNISH: He is a knight.
LINDELOF: They get them. They get - you get a sword, right? If you're knighted, they let you keep that thing.
CORNISH: You described yourself as a fan of the "Alien" movies. What's your message to the fan boys and girls out there like yourself who are going to turn out to see it?
LINDELOF: I guess my message would be, try not to bring too much of what you want "Prometheus" to be into the theater. Your sense of what it's going to be could potentially override you just sort of sitting back and watching it. And I do feel that, at the very least - and taking full responsibility for my own role in the writing of the film - that just, it's one of the most visually spectacular things that I've seen recently. It can be experienced as just something that washes over you if it's possible for you to turn your brain off. I just hope people dig it.
CORNISH: Damon Lindelof, thank you so much for talking with us.
LINDELOF: Thank you so much for having me, Audie.
CORNISH: Damon Lindelof, he's a writer on the new movie in the "Alien" franchise, "Prometheus."
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "PROMETHEUS")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: Wait a minute. There's movement. It's some kind of life, organic life.