The internet has essentially exploded since Prometheus opened, with in-depth discussion of it’s themes and exploration of life’s great questions. A friend of mine wrote this piece and posted it on Facebook, and I think that it offers an interesting perspective on the film, from the point of view of a massive fan of the series’ original two films. It also addresses the vexed ‘prequel’ question which I think has flown under the radar. This guest blog comes to you thanks to Steve Crilly who wrote it, and was kind enough to let me publish it.
This isn’t really a review. My ‘review’ of Prometheus could very well be summed up in one sentence: “I wish they hadn’t bothered”. Nor is it an in-depth analysis in the vein of several literally novella-length theses that I have seen on the film’s themes. I don’t want to do that because I don’t think Prometheus merits the treatment.
For the benefit of anyone who is yet to see the film, this will be extremely spoiler-heavy.
My main issue with Prometheus stems from the fact that it is a prequel, despite attempts to distance it from the Alien series. It’s very definitely a direct prequel in two senses. First, it directly precedes Alien. Second, it’s an obvious tee-up for Prometheus II, which I really hope is never filmed but which I suspect is inevitable. Most of my issues with Prometheus stem from the fact that it is a prequel in the former sense, but the latter is relevant too, if only because it means that they might make more of this crap.
Alien has the probably unique distinction of being one of my favourite films in not one but two genres: science fiction and horror. A lot of what makes it great actually stems from limitations on what filmmakers could do in 1979, and how those problems were overcome. Consider the penultimate scene when Ripley finally banishes the Alien into space and char grills it with the shuttle’s engines. The following things look dated and kind of stupid: (1) the painted space background, (2) the ship model, (3) the Alien itself in full view, which is gangly, awkward, and, in that shot, obviously a doll on a string.
The ways in which Ridley Scott got around the limits imposed by his budget and the era make the film iconic. He kept the action mostly inside, in dark and claustrophobic corridors and halls full of painstakingly painted, instantly recognisable HR Giger artwork. He shot the film so that the action is brutal and finished in an instant. Above all, he only showed snatches of the Alien – second-long flashes of teeth, spines and slime – and let viewers’ imaginations fill in the blanks. By adopting these measures, he produced something visually stunning, innovative, and deeply unnerving.
2012 isn’t 1979. With the full array of CGI available to them, filmmakers don’t have to be inventive as they once did. So, instead of a largely hidden alien that strikes from the shadows, we get a giant tentacle rape monster attacking a huge, pale super-human. This immediately follows a spaceship collision that had me looking for Michael Bay’s name in the credits. The disturbing rape and unnatural pregnancy motifs from the originals – not exactly subtle, mind, when people are ‘impregnated’ by oral penetration and phallic aliens burst from their chests – could not be more literally rendered in Prometheus. Anyone who’s seen it knows which scene I’m talking about.
The reason that I can’t forgive Prometheus is it that whatever its pretentions to philosophy, it turns Alien into a failed summer blockbuster (cf Aliens, which turned it into a great summer blockbuster). The question it naturally raises is whether Alien would have been any good if it had been filmed for the first time in 2012. Ultimately it doesn’t matter. However it came about, Alien is a great film (though not without its flaws). But Prometheus isn’t like Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection, or those other two of which we shall not speak. This isn’t a set of rookie writers and directors shambling along to mortgage the franchise’s remaining dignity for a few million dollars. Ridley Scott directed Alien. He had a huge budget and full creative control of Prometheus. And he fucked up.
It’s not just the lack of subtlety that irks me about the film. It’s that it makes no goddamn sense. Elizabeth Shaw turns into an action heroine immediately after undergoing major surgery without anaesthesia. There’s no hint of her sterility until about six second before it becomes a plot point. Guy Pearce is totally superfluous, because Shaw’s love interest fills the zealot role and needn’t have died when he does. I don’t mind characters being around as alien fodder, (see: every character in the first two films except Ripley, Newt, the only guy in Aliens who wasn’t a total cock, the robots, and that cat) but I don’t see what the fuck Charlize Theron’s character is doing there except as a contrast to people who aren’t total knobs. I’m sure that Idris Elba can lift a flamethrower, and she doesn’t even get eaten for Christ’s sake. I have no idea why the geologist comes back as a zombie. I just don’t see why that is a thing. For that matter, does the black goop dissolve people, zombify them, spontaneously create snake monsters, or all of the above?
And so on. Basically, this wasn’t a worthy addition to the Alien canon. Worse, moving away from the events of the Sigourney Weaver films, now there’s a real chance that in a few years’ time I will find myself in a dark cinema, subjecting myself to Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender’s head going off on a buddy movie road trip to meet and possibly kill humanity’s makers. I will see the Prometheus sequel if it happens, but I am also going to bring a bottle of gin.
– by Steve Crilly
Prometheus (2012) has exploded across cinema screens all over the world over the last couple of weeks, signalling Ridley Scott’s return to the sci-fi genre, and the franchise that made him famous. If you have been to the cinema over the past few months, you have no doubt seen a preview or two, but if not, this is what it is all about:
Scott seems to be in a nostalgic mood given the news that he is also hard at work on a new Blade Runner (1982) sequel/prequel/reboot or whatever it is going to be. Having seen the marketing and read a fair bit about the new entry, I thought I needed to get some homework done before catching Scott’s new film. And what better way to do so than checking out the first two films in the franchise, which are on the 1001. One more digression first though, speaking of the marketing for the film, the powers that be behind the film have tapped into the TED talk zeitgeist and produced this:
Alien (1979) is, up until this point in time, the only film in the series directed by Scott himself. Despite its iconic status, before watching it I knew very little about the plot or direction the film would take, which is a great place to be starting from. I did know (from the horribly spoiler-ridden DVD case) that only one character survived the events of the film, and I had seen a still of the infamous ‘chest burster’ scene, but as to how we would get to those points I was clueless.
One thing that Alien is, is wholly atmospheric. Right from the opening credits sequence with a great song in the background and very slow reveal of the word Alien which sets the tone for the entire film. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the entire production is the set design, and this is another element of the film which really helps to build the atmosphere. The interior of the ship looks amazingly realistic, like a spaceship should or could actually look. There is no glossy, Star Wars sheen here. For the first 5 minutes of the film, the audience does not see anything or anyone. The ship looks empty, abandoned and shut down, and this tension is heightened by the soundtrack, which intrudes itself in on these proceedings, almost like an extra character.
The plot concerns the small crew of the Conradian named space tug ship Nostromo, and their interactions with the titular beast that starts knocking them off one by one. They are in some sort of hibernation on the long trip back to Earth when the ship automatically wakes them up to investigate an unknown transmission. They find themselves landing on an unknown planet with winds whipping around them at great speed adding an extra dimension to their apprehension. Once they are inside the huge structure they find on this planet, the set design again comes to the fore, with towering structures and huge eggs. When the creatures eventually turn up on the scene, they too are designed with believable care. It is at this point that horror elements begin to be mixed into the sci-fi ones seen up until this point. A strange, slimy something explodes out of an egg and attaches itself to John Hurt’s face. The entire thing is a classic set-up. The ship is marooned in an unknown planet and bad shit starts to happen. Could just as easily be a haunted house or a rocky outcrop in the ocean. And you know that shit is getting real once the alien gets into the air vents.
At the height of the horror sequences, the film creeped me out as much as not more than anything I else I have seen. Like many of the best aspects of the film, the success of these owes to the incredible design, in this case the incredibly crafted creature design. And no discussion of the film would be complete without mention of the iconic ‘chest burster’ scene. I won’t go into too much spoiler laden detailing (although referring to it as the ‘chest burster’ scene is a bit of a hint). However what I will say is that John Hurt delivers a wonderful performance through this kinetic, gory interlude. Unfortunately the effects of the creature that does the bursting, have aged quite badly. The larger alien is also a little tame and dated, and the next couple of kills are also a little underwhelming. This is an issue because the film does essentially become a wander from kill to kill as the crew members are picked off… until one remains. As the iconic, remaining heroine Ridley, Sigourney Weaver gives an assured, really enjoyable turn.
This is the best looking sci-fi film I have ever come across, and is quite possible the most atmospheric as well. This is not an absolute favourite of mine, some of the iconic hype is lost on me, but it is really good. But you can see why it has that status, the design and originality leap off at you.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
The second film in the franchise saw directing duties handed from Scott, to the rather assured hands of James Cameron. The result was Aliens (1986), a sequel many hold up as a beacon of the possibility of sequels outstripping the original. For me, it is a very close run thing. I think Aliens succeeds best as a space-set action film, rather than the melding of horror and sci-fi genres delivered by the first film.
The film essentially occurs directly after the events of Alien. By directly, I mean once Ripley awakens from 57 years of hypersleep, at which point no one believes her story of what took place. Immediately Ripley is a much more fully formed character, the trauma evident in her from both her ordeal, and reception from those who she tells her story to. However, despite the prevailing scepticisms, before too long Ripley is back in action as contact is lost with the settlers on the original Alien planet. It was here that things for me took a bit of a turn for the annoying. The start is very slow for one thing. More than that though is the crew of blokes that Ripley is sent back with. They are a squadron of marines, trading in the typical, horrific masculine bullshit culture of the military. Perhaps this is too well conveyed, because I found all these characters frustrating, aggro and unpleasant to watch led by Bill Paxton in one of the more annoying performances ever.
For me, basically the whole first half of the film is a bit of a write off. The first film’s incredible design is there, the ship and its surrounds wonderfully realised. Everything is bigger too, in typical sequel fashion. The crew is much larger, and as you can guess from the plural title, there are rather more aliens for Ripley and co to combat. This last fact actually works against the film. Because more are killed throughout the film, they do not seem that big a threat, whereas one seemingly un-killable alien loomed large over the first film. I just could not get over the real focus on militarism, which I did not think added anything to the film, and detracted plenty. Although perhaps to dismiss the whole first half is exaggerating a little. The initial drop into the planet aboard the spaceship is a really good moment, built up expertly well and leaving the viewer unsure of what they will find when they finally reach the surface. Unfortunately once there, the marines are greeted with empty rooms. Empty room after empty room in a really drawn out, unnecessarily long sequence.
However, the second half of Aliens really shifts into gear, providing the best moments of these two films in a fantastic action focused romp. The creature design is again brilliant, with a few rather gross lashings this time around. The film is in such a rush of bombardment and action, that it is easy to not mind too much the inclusion of that most twee of touches in these kind of films, the young child castaway. Even the burgeoning romance between Ripley and one of the marines is not as horrible as it sounds. Again in this latter part of the film, the depth of Ripley’s character is a big bonus as the more fully formed lead rages against wrongs and eventually turns into a gun-toting badarse. Thematically as well things are more fully formed here I think, with some rocking Asimov robotics concerns.
This is a relatively different film to the first, which is always a nice place to find yourself in with a sequel. I think this is on par with the first, so not an out and out classic in my mind, but still very good. And the last half hour is really excellent and a hell of a ride.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs