It’s pretty much a given that if you’re a visitor at this site, you’re aware that there’s a film called Prometheus on the horizon. It’s likely that you’re also aware that this film is Ridley Scott’s return to the Sci-Fi genre and, more importantly, his return to the Alien universe. In that, it is rivalled only by The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and, possibly, the US Presidential elections for important events marked on the 2012 calendar
It’s the Alien part that has most fans frothing at the mouth, waiting for June the first to hurry up and get here. Yes, Sir Ridley has made more than a few contributions to cinema (not least Blade Runner) but few have dug themselves so firmly into popular culture as Alien has. Alien is, in this writer’s opinion, a film that is close to perfection. It’s script, production design, photography, performances, and special effects come together to form a film that has power even today.
As such, and because he hasn’t exactly tried to hide the relationship between Alien and Prometheus (they’re both set in the same universe, Prometheus supposedly acts as a prequel to Alien and the trailers have gone so far as to mimic the style of the original Alien movie’s trailers) the pressure on Scott to deliver something that equals Alien is, quite frankly, enormous.
Make no mistake, by so openly declaring Prometheus as a return of to the Alien universe, Scott has almost certainly opened his film up to comparison with the original 1979 space chiller. And because I am a die-hard fan of that film as well as being someone who is both knowledgeable of film and generous with my opinion, I thought I’d offer my ideas on what I’d like to see in this new film; elements that could satisfy mine, and the global community’s geekish expectations.
Maybe Sir Ridley himself will see this, take what I have written to heart and, time allowing, rush back to his edit suite and make changes based on the advice I have so kindly offered here.
That’s a bit doubtful, though. Still, I can dream.
Regardless, here is my list of elements/ aspects/ stuff that I think Prometheus should contain if it is to measure up to Alien. It will also double as a kind of fan’s love letter to the original 1979 film. *
*In as much as one can write a love letter to a film that has a scene where a penis with teeth rips its way out of a man’s chest
Alien, as has often been noted is a B-grade film with an A-grade approach. This is never more apparent than when one looks at the casting. It would have been easy enough to choose whatever hammy thesps the budget would allow for, but by casting actors who are capable of than more than what’s generally expected of the Sci-Fi/ Horror genre, Alien punches well above its weight. The film wouldn’t be what it is otherwise. Pay attention, and you’ll see that for what must be 65 percent of the film, the monster isn’t even on screen. It’s threat is ever present, but you’re watching the characters. For that to work, you need good actors.
Scott looks to have done good on Prometheus‘ casting, with Idris Elba, Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender all being excellent actors. If Rid is attempting a similar A-grade approach to B-grade cinema as he did with Alien, he’s off to a good start with that cast.
The Look and The Tone
One of the most impressive qualities about the original Alien is the fantastically lived in feel that the film has about itself. Without it being mentioned, you get a real sense of a world with a past. A lot of that comes from the grimy, used up look of the Nostromo. Scott is on record as saying that the “look” of a film is often a character in itself and this ethos shows in the film’s production design.
You don’t have to tell us that this ship has a bit of mileage on it. Similarly, you don’t have to tell us that this is the intergalactic equivalent of an oil tanker and that this kind of work is just blue-collar, low level stuff. We can see it for ourselves.
That sense of past comes through with the characters as well. It’s pretty clear that space is not a new thing to this crew. It is not filled with wonder or an exhilarating sense of discovery. If anything, judging by their bored, “here we go again” approach to their tasks, space is just the next step in whatever drudgery The Man can dish out to keep us busy. The Nostromo is not a spaceship boldly going where no man has gone before; it’s just another day at the salt-mines.
While that might not be fully in keeping with what we know of Prometheus thus far (the Prometheus crew is clearly of greater importance than the one in Alien and it is actually on a voyage of discovery) that lived in feel would certainly add a welcome weight to proceedings.
That Alien Feeling
Alien is a film that lives up to its title not only through the presence of the titular alien but also because there is a significant aspect of it that feels, well, alien. It sets the tone with its opening shots, slowly panning over an unknown world; music that, arguably, isn’t actually music so much as thumps, clangs and ominous synth chords heard from a distance. Then there are those shapes that start out as inexplicable lines and slowly form into the film’s title card.
And there’s nothing more alien than the derelict space craft that the crew discovers. With its bony ridges, bizarre curves, and the room with a long dead body of some unknown being (now known as the Space Jockey), HR Giger’s designs do a damn good job of easing the audience into foreign, unknown territory before the film scares the living daylights out of us.
Thankfully, Scott decided to get Giger to lend his talents to Prometheus, so clearly, he understands the value of Giger’s undeniably disturbing work and how integral that work was to Alien’s success.
Thus far, the points I’ve mentioned in this article appear to have been adhered to (apparently, this Scott guy knows a thing or two about making movie shows). It’s on the matter of pacing that I’m worried.
There’re many things that make Alien a great film and its pacing is not the least of them. I’m not deluding myself. I understand that Prometheus is being released in a climate where most audience members have the attention spans of infant chimpanzees (ie. not very much). I understand that most mainstream films run at a speed that’s meant to satisfy impatient audience members. In light of that, it’s doubtful that Prometheus will have anything near Alien’s measured pacing.
But it would still be a pleasure (albeit, a terrifying one) to see Scott employing tactics similar to those he employed in the 1979 film.
Alien, you see, is basically an exercise in seeing how much you can torture an audience with threat and expectation before you pull the trigger. Even bearing impatient audiences in mind, I don’t see any reason Scott couldn’t play the tension game with us. Audiences already know that they’re in for a movie involving some scary business. That’s what the trailers have advertised, that’s what they bought their tickets for. So let them wait. It’s just what Alien does and it’s what made that film so utterly terrifying.
We know that there’s a monster and that it’s intent on killing these people. What we don’t know is where it is or how long we have to wait till it leaps out. So until the monster shows up, all you can do hold is onto your armrests while the director turns the screws.
It would be a mistake for Scott to even attempt something as iconic as a “chestburster” scene for this new film when what made that scene work so well (along with its effects and John Hurt’s performance) was the lull in violence that precedes it.
It’s something that I look forward to experiencing in this new film and I hope that Sir Ridley remembers that, as with Alien, the silence is as important as the violence.
Gross, Slimy, Scary Monsters That Like To Kill People
I’ll admit, when it was announced that Alien 5 had evolved into something called Prometheus and that Ridley Scott would in fact not be revisiting the alien creature with this new film, I was disappointed. I wanted to see that creature in a proper film after seeing it fumbled so hopelessly in three awful films (Aliens is an undeniable classic and Alien 3, while not great, certainly isn’t dire. The rest, from Resurrection to the two AVP films are fx-laden twaddle that bore me to snores). The Alien remains to this day, one of the most classic creature designs ever seen in a film and I dearly wished to see a film that helped it overcome years of ignominy.
It’s a creature that captured my imagination from the first moment I saw it (or what little I could see of it). If there’s been a more iconic addition to sci-fi cinema history, I’ve never heard of it. It’s an incredible feat of design, and it’s a design that is over thirty years old; one that remains recognisable to this day. Watching Alien for the first time, we were never really certain of what we were seeing: an oddly phallic head here, drooling jaws there, then clawed hands and a spiny tail. The rest was in the dark and up to our imaginations.
So yes, the Alien remains my all-time favourite movie monster and while I would love to see it used again in a movie and used effectively, I also have to agree with Scott’s reasons for not revisiting the Alien.
It’s used up. It’s a classic design, no doubt, but after being used in five movies, it was no longer alien. It was Alien by name only, not by notion. The Alien has become so recognisable in culture that you’d have to be a pop cultural ignoramus not to know of its life-cycle, what ran through its veins or what it looked like.
Something so widely recognised and understood is going to have a tough time being scary. So here’s my last hope/ bit of advice. Ridley takes advantage of dispensing with the old (still classic) monster and creates something new. In the latest trailer for Prometheus, we’ve seen flashes of some odd tentacle or something ( “or something” being the best guess anyone has at this stage).
Hopefully, this is evidence that Scott and his cohorts have indeed created something new for us, something that we aren’t so familiar with. Something that takes us back to the unknown.
Something truly alien.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Critical Hit as an organisation.
Last Updated: May 11, 2012