With the release of Prometheus less than a month away, the mainstream press is now starting to talk about the film we’ve all been following for a few years.
First up is a light but pleasant enough piece on the Independant’s website featuring a slideshow of the series so far. Enjoy.
Next is a more substantial piece from the Times by Jonathan Dean, which an entertaining from someone who doesn’t appear to be a MASSIVE fan of the franchise, but that emotional distance does allow for a nicely balanced, level headed article. I think it’s well worth a read. So here it is! You’re welcome
“The Titan Returns” by Jonathan Dean
Seven minutes. That’s all. Less time than it takes to pop to the shop, buy an egg and boil it. Yet according to Ridley Scott, only the last seven minutes of his new film, Prometheus, provide a direct link to Alien.
“There is a little bit of it right at the end that gives you a connection. That’s about it,” he said last month, but nobody is buying a word of it. He’s being disingenuous. On Twitter, everyone can hear you scream, and, last Sunday, after Channel 4 hosted a premiere of Prometheus’s latest trailer, the buzz on the official #areyouseeingthis feed suggested two things.
One: people haven’t been this collectively enthusiastic about a film since Uggie did a funny run in The Artist. Two: everyone knows it’s a prequel to Alien.
Somebody called @RichardKiess tweeted: “IT LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE ALIEN”; @RyanLeston type-gasped, “Wow… just wow. I haven’t felt this excited since the first Alien film”; @J4MUG summed up the mood of millions with a succinct “New Alien film looks amazing!!”
They’ve all got a point. From the sparse set design and the bass-heavy drone music, from the font the titles are written in and the ragtag crew of blue-collars and dreamers, landing on a planet to search for the unknown, to the way someone has something horrid attached to their face, Prometheus is Alien rebooted for an audience who weren’t born when the original came out. It also feels like an invitation to those over-50s who long ago lost interest in visiting the cinema between May and September, such has been the emphasis on sweaty teens on popcorn-stained seats, enjoying cardboard cut-out superheroes and comedies about sex.
Do you remember 1979? A visit to the local fleapit cost about £1.20, and nobody sat in the next seat tweeting excitedly about trailers. Back then, horror and sci-fi were in a golden age. The decade had produced Carrie, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Halloween, while, partly thanks to the first Star Wars film, two years earlier, improving special effects were making the great out-there more realistic and recognisable.
And, crucially, while such advances were being made, a student screenwriter called Dan O’Bannon was suffering from inflammatory bowel disease. Every trip to the lavatory was agony. He was depressed. He imagined something inside him was eating him away — and it was a cinch for him to come up with the creature that would leap out of John Hurt’s chest, paving the way for Scott’s Alien and years of diminishing sequels.
Scott and O’Bannon had nothing to do with any of the follow-ups, in which Sigourney Weaver’s iconic heroine, Ellen Ripley, and the mesmerising beast created by HR Giger — memorably described in Shock Value, Jason Zinoman’s book on 1970s Hollywood, as “reptilian, human and machine, a cross between a dinosaur and a snail” — are the only constants.
After Alien, there was James Cameron’s fun action-adventure, Aliens; David Fincher’s miserable Alien3, perhaps the only blockbuster set in a penal colony for rapists; and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien: Resurrection, ghastly. The sequels moved further and further away from the vision of Scott, O’Bannon and his co-writer, Ronald Shusett.
Their film, especially by today’s standards, is preposterously slow, slower than contemporary Turkish art-house. The crew talk about wages for half an hour, then head to the planet LV-426; something attaches itself to Hurt; they have another lengthy conversation; everyone but Ripley and her cat dies.
That this slight film spawned computer games, cartoons, comic books and the Alien vs Predator movies is strange, but with Scott, there is a feeling the franchise can be put back on course.
Pity poor Prometheus, he was only trying to help. In Greek myth, the Titan stole fire from Zeus to pass on to man, only to be punished by having his liver ripped out by an eagle, then the organ grow back to be ripped out again daily, for ever. It’s hard to put a positive spin on that, and, as such, it’s a strange myth to name a summer blockbuster after, like having Butlin’s name its creches Sodom and Gomorrah.
Yet as a statement for a crew searching for the origins of man, with plans to return to earth with whatever they find, it is entirely appropriate. Set 37 years before the events of the original Alien, the film has Noomi Rapace channelling Ripley as the archaeologist Dr Elizabeth Shaw, who finds a star map on the Isle of Skye that she believes proves there was extra-terrestrial life on earth before mankind. Weyland Industries (which later becomes the first film’s Weyland-Yutani) takes her word for it and funds a voyage to find the planet she believes the map points to. On board are Michael Fassbender, as an android, David; Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers, from the company; and a crew led by Idris Elba, tugging on a cigar in a way nobody has done in a big-budget film since the early 1990s.
Prometheus is the name of the ship. Scott, Fassbender, Rapace and Theron were in London a few weeks ago to show off 13 minutes of footage to a multiplex full of bloggers hand-picked to write enthusiastically about what they had seen. Cuddly and sycophantic — “Stop calling me Sir Ridley! Bloody embarrassing” — it was the sort of event where journalists might as well high-five studio execs on their way out, but so convincing was this presentation, so well thought out seemed the story, it was hard not to be wide-eyed. Scott and Rapace said Shaw has a scene that “could be called the equivalent” of Hurt’s grisly end. Even the 3D looked absorbing.
The only worry, apart from over expectation, is what certificate the film will be awarded. For anything remotely as shocking as what happened in the original Alien, the backers, Fox, will have to settle for at least a 15 rating. Made for $200m, this is the studio’s only big summer film apart from Ice Age: Continental Drift. The higher the rating, the fewer bums on seats. It seems pretty inevitable that Prometheus will wind up as a 12A, the rating that broadened the audience and made such a success of The Dark Knight and The Hunger Games. If that is the case, Zinoman is adamant that the new film will disappoint the horror fans of old.
But perhaps the aim of Scott and his writing team, John Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, is different. Playing devil’s advocate here, perhaps we don’t need more violence? Ever since the bloody heyday of the 1970s, cinemagoers really have seen it all — horror being a genre tarnished by the disturbing, dull torture-porn films of Eli Roth and the never-ending Saws. Nothing more can shock us now, and the most successful frighteners of recent years — The Project, Paranormal Activity — have been the ones without gore splattering indiscriminately across the screen.
Instead, it’s better to concentrate on the science fiction, the reason Alien was made in the first place. It was only green-lit thanks to the success of Star Wars, and it is the genre Scott has influenced more than any other, from his work with O’Bannon in 1979 to 1982’s Blade Runner, the rainy cityscapes of which have been seen in countless dystopias since.
The Prometheus trailer is only 175 seconds long, but for the curious — or the sceptical, banging their heads over why there is so much goodwill towards a film nobody has actually seen — YouTube holds a wealth of further material, hinting at more than just a setup for shocks. First, there’s a fake lecture at TED — the internet organisation that records lectures about “ideas worth spreading” — by Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), of Weyland Industries, talking about the Prometheus of myth, saying the fire he gave man was “our first piece of technology” and now it’s time to find more.
Then there is the fake advert for Fassbender’s David-8 android. A wonderful piece of acting that, as daft as this sounds, is up there with his award-winning performance as a sex addict in Shame, the video is a glimpse into the not too distant future — Prometheus takes place in 2085 — where robot servants are pushed on advert breaks for help around the home, or doing for your company what humans find “distressing… or unethical”. At one point, a tear falls down David’s robot cheek; he sniffs some flowers; he plays chess against another model of David. Creepy, thought-provoking and probably no more than a PG, it seeks to explore where our technology obsession will lead us. Prometheus feels like an anti-greed parable, anti-bankers, perhaps — Karl Marx called the Titan “the greatest saint and martyr of the philosopher’s calendar” — and, as such, the Alien prequel is plugging into our concerns just as the chest-bursting scene did in the original.
Back then, the abortion debate was becoming increasingly politicised, and the image of an alien bursting out of a stomach was a striking metaphor. You don’t get this with Battleship. “He’s the one android among humans, and the humans like having a robot around that looks like them, that can figure out everything faster than they can and is physically stronger than them — there’s something a little bit off putting about that,” Fassbender said about David, citing David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth and, oddly, the Olympic diver Greg Louganis as inspirations for his character’s movement. “Is that the future? David’s asking his own questions. He has been programmed like a human being, so will his programming start to form its own personality outside the system that was programmed? Or the idea of human beings — are we all programmed anyway as well? Is someone creating us? Are we programmed to go into a certain job, to make a certain decision at 32 that will lead to something that happens at 35? Is everything preprogrammed for us in life? Do we have free choice?” These are existentialist issues normally dealt with by David Lynch or Christopher Nolan (in Memento).
Horror purists from 30 years ago may have enjoyed the ambiguity, the mystery of untidy endings, but these are different times and, frankly, any loose ends are tied up by a blog the day after a film is released. Audiences nowadays demand answers, not questions upon questions — and all this can be done in the framework of a family-friendly film. There will be blood, but it may be off screen.
“I watched the three subsequent Aliens being made, which were all jolly good in some form or other… but I thought the franchise was fundamentally used up,” Scott said last month. “One of the problems with science fiction, which is probably why I haven’t done one for many, many years, is that everything is used up. Every type of spacesuit, every type of spacecraft. The corridors are similar and the planets are similar. So what you try to do is lean more heavily on the story and the characters to give you lift-off — bad pun! Then you suddenly start to come up with evolutions of different looks, so that, as a total package, the film feels quite different.”
Those last seven minutes, then. What will they be? Will Giger’s creation rear its phallic head? Will Theron — my hunch — reveal herself to be an android like David? Scott said that the story tries to explain what happened to the so-called “space jockey” — that big-boned 9ft creature in the chair in Alien, with his chest caved in — and that if all is successful, Prometheus lends itself to a whole new franchise. Prometheuss, perhaps?
Everything from buzz to box office can still go horribly wrong, of course, and cynics are already arguing that prepublication has given too much away. Just look at what happened to that other prequel to a much-loved franchise, Terminator Salvation, in 2009. It, too, had a director-led presentation of footage in London that enthralled more than concerned, showed hints of intelligence and, headed by Christian Bale, had a decent cast. Then the film was panned and planned sequels were shelved.
The man behind Terminator Salvation, though, was McG, the Charlie’s Angels hack. Ridley Scott is the Oscar-winning pioneer whose films’ DNA runs through the space shocks of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, the lo-fi planet colonising of Moon and many more. Alien’s legacy may have been burnt by overexposure, but for now let’s stay with people such as @SophieWise1, who tweeted last Sunday: “My excitement just reached a whole new level!” We are about to be entertained. Prometheus opens on June 1.
Prometheus is directed by Ridley Scott, from a screenplay by Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts. The film stars Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Sean Harris, Rafe Spall, Logan Marshall-Green, Patrick Wilson and Kate Dickie, and is due for release on June 8th 2012 in the USA, and June 1st 2012 in the UK.