Ridley Scott is the definitive science fiction populist, never meandering into over-technical schlock like Star Trek: Nemesis or self-important grimness like the last third of what-could-have-been-great Sunshine. When he debuted Alien for moviegoers in 1979, his movie would inevitably be compared to the other sci-fi flicks that marked the era, like the meditation on existence that was Blade Runner and the fantastical Star Wars franchise, both of which did well enough at the box office — actually, that’s an understatement where Star Wars is concerned — and spelled certain greatness for a cinema landscape just waiting to be filled with snarling, other-worldly creatures and rocket fuel.
There was no precedent, though, for Alien, which is no more and no less than an effectively chilling thriller with a futuristic and dismally cold backdrop (all good things, mind you). Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley evinces equal measures lonely paranoia and unrelenting persistence, and her performance is largely what makes the movie so jarring. Just the face she makes as she steadily creeps through a corridor expecting a beast to lunge out at her is enough to scare the pants off Henry Rollins.
Then Scott handed the reins over to James Cameron, who rolled out the grander and more mech-powered Aliens, which not only proved to be just as scary as its predecessor but more science-y. This balancing act was seriously called into question, though, once the series sent Alien 3 to the screen (directed by the bombshell director who would go on to make Fight Club, Se7en and The Social Network and leading contender in my informal “Most Competent Director” bracket, David Fincher). Though the film kept up with the consistently ludicrous profits of the previous two movies, it was near-universally lambasted for being out of sync with the story and spirit of the first two movies. But the song remained the same: a bad sequel doesn’t necessarily make a bad movie. So it comes as little surprise that Scott, who seemed fed up with the series after giving up the director’s chair on the later installments, is returning to the Alien mythos for the prequel,Prometheus.
For glasses-wearing, stained-shirt film buffs (me), this is Superman’s crash landing on Earth, Capt. Willard’s return to Vietnam, the enigmatic “Rosebud.” In other words: This is big. But it also means: No one quite knows what to make of it, and we won’t know until we’re bloated from popcorn, the lights come up and the audience files out of the theater following the film’s midnight release on June 8 this year.
AMC gives a typically vague description of the plot:
With PROMETHEUS, [Ridley Scott] creates a groundbreaking mythology, in which a team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a thrilling journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race.
There are a few early hints to ponder, though knowing the nature of science fiction, these could very well be unintentional red herrings, bearing no semblance to the finished product. For starters, there’s the full theatrical trailer, showcasing Michael Fassbender (Shame), Charlize Theron (Young Adult) and Noomi Rapace (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) just to name a few. But the more interesting promo comes in the form of a speculative “TED 2023” video in which the CEO of the movie’s fictional Weyland Corp., Peter Weyland (played by Guy Pearce), gives a brief speech on the budding “Prometheus project.”
There is much to be feared, too, with a prequel to Alien, just as the
disasters prequels to the original Star Wars trilogy (whose existence I refuse to acknowledge except here in this article) did more than enough to irritate fanboys and nearly ruined the magic of the franchise. (Wait! The Force lives in little cell bodies that inhabit our blood, and it’s not the coolest concept in science fiction like we all thought it was?)
Is Hollywood’s obsession with exhuming old movies and trying to revitalize them for profit possibly getting the better of Ridley Scott? Maybe. But I have always been and will remain (even with the history of prequels in mind) an optimist when it comes to movies — even in the face of rumors that no actual aliens will make an appearance in Prometheus— and the case is especially strong here considering the fact that Scott is not George Lucas. He’s a dynamic director who can actually be bothered to get out of his chair. But until then, I will eagerly wait.
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Kyle Dunn / Editor in Chief
This article was originally published online at cltampa.com on Monday, March 26, 2012