Following Prometheus
The Sound of Prometheus

I had been excited for Prometheus for some time.  I grew up on Alien and Blade Runner.  I thoroughly enjoyed Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, and some of Ridley’s other subsequent work.  However, I had no idea how excited I would get once that first teaser trailer hit.

The teaser was done so amazingly well.  The images were perfect.  We got lots of little glimpses, but everything remained very enigmatic.  However, what really sucked me in was the sound.  Everything was so spot on, so eerie, and unsettling.  This just amped up the excitement and curiosity factor.

I’ve been wanting to put together an analysis of the teaser sound design for some time. 

Our anticipation, and the little scraps of knowledge we had of Prometheus at the time were put to excellent use.  As fans, we were all waiting for Ridley Scott’s return to sci-fi, and eager to see the first new footage.  So what was done?  16 seconds of the 1 minute nine second teaser showed nothing.  The trailer was driven forward strictly by sound.  This built up the anticipation and suspense that much more.

That first 16 seconds had me rewinding over and over.  I wanted to soak it in.  It made me wonder.  And that I think is what has been so great about the campaign so far.  It has been smart.  It’s kept us curious, and made us think and wonder about what is going on, and why.

In the beginning, we get a low whirring sound, the sound of static, a sound like a radio being tuned.  The sound is steadily building.  Atop this, we get the only little snippets of dialogue.  All designed to tease us, to make us want to listen again, and to make us wonder what the hell is going on.

We get a faint, whispered “You don’t understand.”  It sounds a little creepy, like someone speaking softly in a horror film.  We wonder, understand what?  Who is that line being spoken to, and why is it the first line we hear?

We then get some broken dialogue that sounds like a distress call.  It’s hard to make out, but it sounds like, “Prometheus” being repeated or possibly, “Come in Prometheus.”

Then, much more clearly, in a desperate tone, we get that wonderful, “I was wrong.  We were so wrong.”  We don’t know what’s going on at all, but already, a few seconds in, with no visuals, we’re drawn in.  Before anything is shown, we get a sense of unease, a sense of dread, a sense of confusion.  What the hell is going on!?!?!

This all builds to a transmission chirp, and then silence.  We see the first money shot.  ”From Director Ridley Scott.”  The silence following that initial bit of chaos really highlights the importance of seeing Ridley Scott’s name attached to this.

Then, another little snippet of dialogue.  A crying, mournful voice saying, “I’m so sorry,” a boom, and our first glimpse.  A solitary spaceship floating in space.  It’s almost peaceful.

We then get the gorgeous shot of the tiny Prometheus off in the distance gliding in past a mountain range, and through some clouds.  The tension begins building immediately.  We have a sound that I could best describe as a wavering siren of some sort and the creepy plucking of strings.  Such a beautiful, peaceful scene, with such uneasy music.

Then BAM!  A hard, loud, deep string that perfectly accompanies the flamethrower being fired on screen.  Another great shot, one that takes us back to that Alien setting.

The creepy plucked strings continue dancing underneath and the heavy deep strings come regularly now as we get little glimpses here and there.

It builds in all sorts of clever little ways until we see the crew member get what appears to be acid splashed in his helmet.  The music “screams” right as it happens, and it just fits so well.  Now we get another twist on the music.  

We get low drums, and that “siren” sound keeps creeping in and fading out.  Every once in a while, we get the same “scream” we first heard just seconds earlier.  We get screeching strings.  Things are steadily growing in intensity and perfectly accentuating the chaos on screen.

Then again, near silence.  What little reverberation is left of the music fades away as the title is revealed.  Just a solid black screen displaying PROMETHEUS.

Then, echoing Alien, we get a shot that looks very much like vintage Ripley, and a screamed “Please!”.  We have no idea what is going on here, but it appears someone is in extreme agony.

Even bigger music now, and that “pinging” sound is now added to the mix, further punctuating the proceedings.  The Space Jockey ship is revealed, and it’s crashing!  Holy crap!  The tagline comes up between shots of mayhem as the music swells, and we now get a chorus mixed in.  Everyhting just keeps building, sounding more and more ominous, more and more epic.

Then, a few subtle crashes as debris flies, the strings abruptly distort and cut away, and static.  It’s as if the whole thing is just some weird, chaotic transmission.

The way we are introduced with some spare dialogue, the music that starts small and quickly swells, the use of “space sounds” and “screams” as part of the music, the way the sounds and music so effectively punctuate the on-screen action, and the way it all just cuts off…  Evertyhing about the sound is just done so incredibly well.  It made me want to rewatch it again right away, and then again, and again, and….

The fact that so much of the sound was pulled from the original Alien trailer, and reworked here really upped the cool factor.  I’m glad the core sounds of the teaser made their way into the final trailer, during the footage of everything going to hell.  The music/sounds have that perfect tone of dread.

I can only hope things will work so well in the final film.