Will Ridley Scott’s Prometheus save the aliens from themselves?
Most great directors can’t resist the urge to mess with their own cinematic landmarks. Twenty-one years after Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski thought he’d revisit its masterful air of supernatural dread, and came out with the quacking little demon that was The Ninth Gate. Likewise, Francis Ford Coppola eventually hawked up The Godfather: Part III, a blot on the family line. And then there’s George Lucas… oh, what George Lucas did.
And now it’s Ridley Scott’s turn. The man behind the 1979 space-bug tour-de-force Alien is stepping up with Prometheus, a quasi-prequel shrouded in hype and set to open next Friday (June 8).
Believe me, I’m as excited as anyone about Scott’s return to the vacuum-sealed nightmare of space. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Alien more often than any other movie, and every single time I’ve been thrilled, spooked, and filled with admiration for its originality. But the risk attached to Prometheus—tightly, like some sort of slimy, face-hugging thing—is the same as in the cases above. There’s always the chance that it’ll throw cold, weak light back onto its classic predecessor, making the original appear smaller and dumber than it first looked.
Of course, the Alien myth has already endured years of systematic abuse, and not from Scott. It took the anti-genius of James Cameron to identify and erase all that was truly scary about the first movie: the fact, for example, that the monstrous threat hid in shadows and constantly changed shape, not to mention the fact that those being threatened were ordinary people forced to improvise.
Setting his controls on Stupid, Cameron designed his sequel so that the big bugs were well-lit and ran in packs. It pitted them against movie marines equipped with grenade launchers and wisecracks and an adorable child to protect. In short, he dragged the beast out of the brilliant, paranoid ’70s and into the witless, paranoid ’80s, where Reagan and Arnie ruled. At that moment, the depressing gimmick of Alien vs. Predator became inevitable.
So can Scott save his original with Prometheus? Can he use this new film to slice through the layers of suffocating goo that have formed, and free his 33-year-old work from its own dumb legacy? Perhaps. (Yes! Come on!).
But what Prometheus most likely can’t do is enhance the original itself. Arguably the eeriest, most unsettling moment in Alien comes when the ancient shipwreck suddenly appears on a video monitor (“Ash, can you see this?”). The static-broken image is of something towering, silent, purely uncanny because its presence cannot be explained.
Yet, to judge from the trailer, explaining that shipwreck is exactly what Prometheus is set up to do. And so I’m skeptical, if only to keep a lid on expectations and shield me from disappointment.
Then again, there’s no question: that trailer looks pretty kick-ass.