I’m a big fan of the Alien series. I dig all of the movies in the quadrilogy, even the usually panned Alien Resurrection (c’mon, it’s directed by Jeunet!), so I’ve been super stoked that Ridley Scott is returning to the Alien universe. Last week I saw an advanced screening of Prometheus and then rewatched Alien and Aliens over the weekend. I’m going to discuss the difference in themes and tone in all three without spoiling any plot points of Prometheus.
Bolaji Badejo in the Alien costume.
Alien is one of the greatest sf movies of all time. Every time I rewatch it, that status further solidifies. The first half of the movie is suspenseful even when you know what’s going to happen (does that validate arguments that spoilers don’t ruin a movie?). The tech looks dated but I can believe that a space mining company looking to save money would retrofit some terminals. The room where the captain and Ripley consult with Mother and its blinking lights still has a futuristic sheen and the space ship and suits have the appropriate level of grunge. One detail that my wife noticed was that no one’s wearing makeup. You feel for these people who are tired and just want to get home but are set off-track for some potentially unpaid overtime by their corporate overlords.
The spacesuits in Alien were designed by Moebius.
The slow pans and long setup of Alien remind me of 2001. This viewing I noticed that the effects for the explosion of the Nostromo look very similar to the effects used for Bowman’s trip into the monolith. There are two flat planes of effects that recede towards the horizon. According to this extensive article on 2001’s special effects, the two receding planes were created by a slit scan machine created by Douglas Trumbull. I can’t find any information on how they created the Nostromo explosion.
A still of the Nostromo explosion.
Aliens throws all of this grunginess and seriousness of Alien away. In Alien, Ripley was a competent woman just doing her job with a clear head. She gets thrust into the center of the narrative by seeing the sense in following protocol. But in Aliens, Cameron saddles Ripley with a tragic backstory beyond an understandable case of PTSD. Then he weighs the plot down with brash, bumbling space marines and a little kid that has to be rescued. After the spare horror of Alien, Aliens feels bloated with guns and screaming. Maybe I’m being too harsh on Cameron because of Avatar. The xenomorph nest and queen are excellent, horrific creations. The idea of being cocooned in resin waiting for a facehugger is chilling and expands on the body horror of being used by a parasite.
A still of the alien queen.
Prometheus is also a digression from Alien but, unlike Aliens, I enjoy how it changes the tone and adds to the themes. What can I say, it’s easy to win me over with spectacular, expansive alien vistas. There are also mystic elements, thought-provoking ruminations on creation. Some of the ways these ideas are expressed didn’t quite hold up to my understanding of the science involved but I still appreciate that the movie poses the questions.
HR Giger’s drawing of the space jockey.
The best part of Prometheus, though, is how it expands on the extraterrestial designs in Alien. Also, it continues the tradition of strong female central characters. In particular, I’m pleased to report that Prometheus passes the Bechdel Test.
Noomi Rapace in Prometheus.
I’m going to have a spoiler post on Prometheus next Tuesday.