Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Alien Vs. Prometheus

"Big things have small beginnings." -David, the film's android with a droplet of alien specimen held upon his fingertip, Prometheus [2012]-

I finished watching the reimagining of Irwin Allen's Lost In Space on film [1998] for the second time recently. At the end of the film, I asked myself, what the hell was that? It was a film positively devoid of intelligence sadly enough and underscored by the positively atrocious casting of the Major Don West character. That's a bleak story for another day. Prometheus [2012], as science fiction revisits go, has much more on its mind.

The stunning, quiet, influential, opening images established the production character of Alien. Well, there I was just 48 hours before my voyage to the cinemas reexamining the immaculate Alien [1979] in preparation for the return of auteur director Ridley Scott and Prometheus, his first science fiction epic since Harrison Ford's turn in Blade Runner [1982]. The wait was finally over. We were but mere hours away from a revelation. The pressure of over three decades pushed my expectations beyond the bounds of human capability really. As much as we might want the man behind those aforementioned films to be a god, isn't that a bit much to expect?

Consider the fact Alien is over thirty years old, over a quarter of a century, and yet witnessing the film in fact proved to look remarkably fresh, still breathtaking in nearly every frame. This is indeed no small feat. When Alien was engineered, it was hardly expected to be heralded as the classic work of genius that it is today.

The always brilliant John Hurt. The production design details and thought that went into every frame of the film continues to captivate the eye. The scripted, simple, but authentic dialogue, the lived-in reality of the Nostromo, the talent of an outstanding cast, a remarkably real menace and a minimal, brilliant score added up to one unforgettable classic that defined and influenced a genre for years to come.

If you think my observations are but the mere ramblings of a lovestruck, stargazing fanboy incapable of objective analysis think again. Okay, while it may be partially true, I thought I might approach Alien with new eyes. I'm not talking about some slickly crafted, state-of-the art styled surgical implantation a la Minority Report [2002]. I'm referring to the aid and enlistment of my teenage son to offer a fresh perspective.

The question posed to my son, famously referred to as the Boy Wonder, as much as your humble Sci-Fi Fanatic, was whether or not Alien still held up against its more sophisticated and slickly designed prequel, Prometheus, which clearly enjoys the benefits of over three decades of technological advancement.

My son often scoffs at my nostalgic turns from Land Of The Lost to Battlestar Galactica, but somehow with Alien it was different. The young man is not a massive science fiction fan or especially horror. Furthermore, he was less than enthused at the prospect of seeing Prometheus when I first proposed the plan of a double bill to which he declined. Along with his exceptionally good heart, he is building a rather savvy, good, business sense too. As I said, he first declined seeing the new Scott Free production until the mention of a splendid, thin, green, twenty note bill entered the equation. To quote another film that has had the same kind of profound influence as Alien, A Christmas Story [1983], "Yes, truly, a little bribe never hurts." It's without question an authentic example of life imitating art no doubt.

But I knew he might appreciate Prometheus if he gave it a chance. Before seeing that film I suggested we take a look at Alien, the film that spawned it. Of course, would it be the other way around? He watched holding his breath and I analyzed Alien over the course of two evenings.

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Speaking directly to the first fifty minutes of Alien, it's safe to say it is this crucial portion of the film that fans like myself have yearned to know more. It is this aspect of the film for which many hope Prometheus will lend answers to the many questions surrounding the derelict vessel, the space jockey, the cargo hold of eggs and face-huggers. Could we expect Prometheus to bring us closer to understanding those titillating mysteries that have propelled us to revisit the classic Alien time and again all these years?

Alien arrives with the Nostromo literally awakening. So too does its crew awaken from deep cryo-sleep. Their snug pods open, the lights turn on and all are symbolically born into a world where death awaits them thanks to the tentacles of a massive, heartless corporation called Weyland-Yutani. The life-affirming analogy was not lost on my son and Alien is filled with these kinds of parallels.

The crew receives a distress call, as Mother, the on-board computer, activates their lifeboat to respond to LV-426 to determine its origin. It's a risky proposition for a crew commissioned for off world resource mining and refining. When the craft lands systems malfunction and technology fails illustrating the fragile nature of the crew's equipment and the precarious nature of their existence.

Later, of course, Ripley deciphers the signal not as a distress message, but as a "warning." With three of its crew already suited and out discovering and exploring this strange place pounded by swirling wind and dirt, howling sound effects to underscore the otherworldly eeriness amidst a habitat likened to a "primordial" soup, there's very little chance to stop the inevitable fate of a crew literally set-up by corporate greed. The crisis that would befall the crew of the Nostromo began the moment the signal was received and the vessel activated.

Kane, playedby John Hurt, stumbles into the dark after the trio acknowledge the famous skeletal remnants of the iconic Space Jockey. A gaping hole in its chest and the strange appearance of holes in the ship's structure suggest of seemingly melted, normally impenetrable material suggests the Space Jockey was the victim of a potential struggle.

A hazy, blue beam of light covers a cold space where egg sacks dart what appears to be the inner landscape of the vessel's equivalent of a cargo hold. The mere touch or penetration of the laser film is compounded by an unsettling vibration of sound, perhaps the one received in a transmission by the Nostromo.

Fascinated John Hurt's character observes a sac through translucent skin in which he gleans life. Something moves, lives, breathes, thrives. It quivers inside almost excited by the prospect of a warm body at its threshold. Curiosity brings to Kane a life-altering and life-ending event. The egg opens like a flower blossoming and a spider-like face-hugger, as they are famously known, latches and adheres to the helmet of Kane. Acid melts the glass and before long Hurt is brought back aboard the Nostromo, against Ripley's good judgment, as countermanded by Ash, the ship's then unknown android lackey for the corporate arm, to lie prostate as an incubator for a new alien life. The process of life for this alien lifeform is indeed fascinating. It becomes clear that Ash is less interested in preserving human life than he is in sing it to fulfill a mission statement for Weyland-Yutani, a company that funded a deep space mission with more on its mind that ore mining. How this process plays out so gradually is one of the great genre-bending elements to a film that takes tropes and bends them into something beautiful, poetic and ultimately special in science fiction terror.

Well, after fifty, knuckle-gripping, breathtakingly atmospheric minutes filled with either no soundtrack, haunting sound effects or an effectively minimalist score by Jerry Goldsmith, it was time to shelve Alien for the evening. It was late. It was time for bed. Besides Kane was in the midst of gestation. That and the image of an alien face-hugger's tail gripping a man comatose was more than enough to send a boy to sleep with.

Those life-changing minutes through my son's innocent eyes prompted one of the best remarks: "Dad, that was really good, but terrifying, I'm going to need more money for Prometheus." Hysterical stuff. It was like his variation on that moment in Jaws [1975] when Roy Scheider sees the shark for the first time and stunned says backing up, "We're gonna' need a bigger boat."

The Boy Wonder was literally freaked-out by Alien over thirty years after it was made. That my friends is living proof of a quality film. Yes, Alien was scary and still is. To further illustrate that point, a normally darkened room with only the glow of a teenage ipod and a closed door was now illuminated with a fish tank light,a butterfly nightlight stolen from his slumbering sister's room and a door half ajar. My son was not going into the good night lightly.

I confirmed there were indeed no face-huggers and assured him he could leave the light off. He retorted, "That's okay. Just in case, leave the light on." Yes, that's an effective science fiction and horror classic called Alien. I share this story as my way of emphasizing why this film deserves a Top 10 spot in the list of greatest science fiction films ever made. It is not merely my mind waxing nostalgically on a film made more than a quarter century ago, but rather witnessing the details brought to life on film that still lure viewers in with its every anticipating frame. We are seduced by the beauty of a film and the mysteries that surround these characters. We are shocked at times in the way Kane was shocked by the arrival of that titular character. Alien was mean, lean, serious business and still rivets with its every moment. Alien is without question an enduring, timeless classic. This was just a nice way to revisit the film and bringing my son on board for it offered a unique perspective.

Alien works for ten strong reasons. 1. Ridley Scott. A fearless director with a hunger to be bold, he is unafraid to hold the camera on a simple shot of a helmet or a computer screen. Each frame is filled with unique information and sometimes very clever subtext. We are invited into his world.

2. The Alien. The xenomorph and overall appearance of Alien's design by Swiss designer H. R. Giger is clearly important and cannot be understated. His influence, like Ridley's on film, has been profound. The monster design for Alien is one of the best ever made. Predator would follow.

3. The Mystery. The mysteries that surround Alien have continued to inform our thirst and hunger for more about the famous xenomorph. All of these unanswered possibilities continue to drive the franchise taking us full circle to Prometheus. Alien and its mythological foundations were incredibly intriguing. It's the very reason Ridley Scott has returned to that universe. In fact, as much as Alien is like two films, one of survival and one of discovery, it the this first portion of discovery that genuinely thrilled the mind. We wanted to know more. We wanted to go back to LV-426 to learn more about the derelict ship, the fate of the Space Jockey, where the eggs came from and so much more. It has been the why? that has fascinated us for years.

4. Production and art design. The film looks amazing from the spaceships to the space suits to the ship's interiors to uniforms to the Alien itself. It never hits a false note. Seeing the carbon dioxide spew from the top of the space suits is ingenious. The attention to lighting and detail is simply unheralded. This was a universe where blue collar workers had now reached deep space. It was grungy, sweaty and uniquely beautiful. It was the anti-thesis in many ways of Prometheus' clean, antiseptic and pristine looking environment. The juxtaposition is noteworthy. Alien offers plenty to captivate the human eye.

5. Visual effects. Supervisor Brian Johnson [Space:1999] and a host of visual effects creators additionally had a major impact on the world of Alien. For those who loved Space:1999, Alien took us deeper into that terrifying universe.

6. The Cast & Sigourney Weaver. Weaver is amazing and the strong character she embodied endures as much as the film. Why else would she become the face of a franchise as much as the Alien? She largely filled the vacuum of the female heroine absent from cinema. The female hero was truly born. Additionally, the actors selected ensure the material is executed believably and sell us the tale convincingly delivering dialogue with natural flair. The casting on a film like Lost In Space [1998] for example could spell disaster. Bad acting and poorly delivered dialogue can ruin a film.

7. Subtext. Sex. Birth. Death. Human nature. There are loads of symbols in play that gives the material, written and visual, greater weight than would appear on its surface. What could look more like a female vagina than the top of that fleshy Alien egg sac?

8. Jerry Goldsmith. The composer delivers a special and effective score that complements, and never overrides the horror.

9. Mother. There is evidence that computer technology is sometimes at odds with humanity and not necessarily the crutch we might like it to be. Space:1999 ventured to ask whether technology could be trusted. Alien takes a similar tact.

10. No CGI. Thankfully the film benefits from the use of genuine craftsmen. It's never spoiled by the advent of computer technology. Good stories are often distracted by the detriment of computer graphics.

If the Alien is the perfect organism than Alien is nearly the perfect film.

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So what of Prometheus? Everyone wants to know if it holds up. Can it possibly deliver or match on the level of Alien? With all of Alien's sweat-making detail, claustrophobic confines and terrifying tension Alien set the bar. Certainly the right man was at the helm of Prometheus, but could Ridley Scott possibly meet expectations? High hopes have been drifting through deep space for decades and we had finally arrived to determine if Scott had done it again. For discovery of the answers to those questions, the Boy Wonder joined me with some apprehension. [SPOILERS DEAD AHEAD: RETURN AFTER SEEING THE FILM].

What was discovered on new moon LV-223? Without question Prometheus is an ambitious affair. Some of the questions generated from Alien are indeed answered to a degree or at least we are more or less enlightened to the greater mythological picture. Much is proposed. More questions are produced surrounding themes of creation and genetic engineering by aliens dubbed the Engineers. Sadly, Prometheus while certainly a technically brilliant marvel of a picture on many levels, left me unsatisfied on a few fronts.

Co-written by Damon Lindelof, Prometheus couldn't have found a scriptwriter more in touch with confounding its audience or creating more questions than answers than this man. As one of the primary scribes on TV series Lost, I've developed something of a love and less-than-love relationship with the writer. Hate is such a strong word. But, after investing years into Lost I found the metaphysical questions, the philosophical considerations and just plain endless puzzles to be overly mystifying to the point of unnecessary. As much as I loved the hell out of Lost for its first three seasons it lost me in the end to its seemingly endless list of unanswered questions. Lindelof was a large part of its success, but acted largely to its detriment as well.

Lindelof strikes again here with Ridley Scott's metaphysical Prometheus. The visit to LV-223 is largely focused initially but, like Lost meanders and takes liberties with the story's focus.

The inspired choice of actress Noomi Rapace, a new science fiction heroine to love. My exit from the theatre was less one of exhilaration, and rather more a quiet pondering. It left me deliberating, brooding, musing the arc of evolution and creation as it were in the hands of the mysterious Engineers. Michael Fassbender's agenda-driven David whispers to himself, "Big things have small beginnings," and Prometheus epically approaches its science fiction with big questions while sowing the small seeds to the massive Alien franchise that Prometheus would be intended to spawn.

Prometheus is filled with big ideas and a few thrilling moments, but admittedly the fan of Alien in me was looking for something a little closer in spirit to the primal beast of that 1979 classic. Again, Prometheus is ambitious, but it lacks the singular, driving focus of Ridley's original sexy beast. While the film opens with the kind of pioneering spirit of the original Nostromo crew's unplanned detour, the operating variables are different in Prometheus and thus it feels different. None of the tension is immediately felt. When the terrors of outer space do finally arrive they too are largely unique and again the rules governing the scenario are decentralized and far less focused. In fact, it's hard to even put your finger on the enemy or in David's case that's exactly what you do.

The old school thinker in me, that part of me that was raised and reared on miniatures and models, H.R. Giger suits and real tangible visual effects loved the film's substantive, physical strengths. Some of the vehicles and interior sets are stunning and the kinds of environments that computer graphics merely enhances and seemingly never detracts or distracts from. These are elements that certainly heralded Scott's return for many of us, but this film is much more Star Trek [2009] in its design and implementation of slick, new effects technology than the mood of 1970s space horror. Lindelof co-produced Star Trek by the way. I'm not sure I will ever love Damon Lindelof.

Like most films today Prometheus relies heavily on CGI. The ships and technologies are simply stunning. Like a painting they are a large portion of this mostly beautiful film. It is when the CGI is executed most notably on the alien lifeforms, the Engineers and pre-evolved face-hugger tentacles. It is also used to express affected human personnel. Damn it all, I hate CGI! I hate it... sometimes! It sucks! [I know, hate is a strong word]. Used properly and it can be breathtaking, but use it on lifeforms versus spacecraft and technology and it takes me out of the moment flashing back to the kinds of inhuman applications found in Van Helsing [2004]. It feels like a short cut. Some particularly thrilling moments are compromised by bloody CGI to a degree. While the Engineers look mostly magnificent they still can't fool the human eye. They are probably the film's greatest strength as far as new creations go, but compare the CGI veins and colorations applied here versus the effects employed in Alien in all of their reality-based splendor and it's no contest. Water dribbling down the jaws and mandibles of a man-eating xenomorph will always triumph over a CGI tentacle or computerized alien teeth. There's simply no chance I'm going to approve. The human mind through the eye is far too sophisticated to be tricked by Mother. Mother is a computer and Mother is evil. Ironically, I wonder if the Charlize Theron character with all her Daddy issues wasn't the basis for the Nostromo computer system one day.

To compound matters, Ridley goes Alien 3 in the end on us and delivers a pre-evolved, computer-generated xenomorph following a Hulk-sized CGI battle between an Engineer and a pre-evolved face-hugger complete with movements that would make Ang Lee's Hulk [2003] proud. Okay, it's not that silly, but the CGI jiggle was notable.

One of the most thrilling scenes in science fiction memory. There are indeed plenty of moments to enjoy in Prometheus, and the cast is actually exceptional. Noomi Rapace shines as Elizabeth Shaw, Charlize Theron is quite tasty as Meredith Vickers and Michael Fassbender is splendid as David. Rapace, a Swedish actress and star of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo original, genuinely sparkles in the way Weaver commanded the screen all those years ago. She's quite a find and it's easy to see why Scott was smart enough to sign her. Seeing her character again in a Prometheus sequel would be a highlight.

Is Prometheus a proper prequel? Like the film proposes, that depends on what you believe. Indeed, there is plenty here to suggest an evolutionary move toward the setting of LV-426 and the creation of biologically-based weapons that both the Engineers and later humans would attempt to mine in the Alien franchise. The Engineers, as creators, were really no different than us as it turns out, but somewhere along the way they had a change of heart about their children.

The impressive Engineers. So Prometheus leaves us at an interesting end at the film's closing. It's as if the film takes us to a crossroads or more appropriately a fork in the road. Down one road you'll find Alien, Aliens, Alien 3 and thus Alien Resurrection of which Prometheus offers a nice starting point from a mythological perspective. It's clearly another piece of the puzzle from the mind of the master. Now, down the other road is the road to a sequel regarding creation and the Engineers and in many respects an entirely different science fiction concept, franchise or at least a new story. Prometheus is indeed thoughtful and I would love to see where someone, because I doubt Scott would return to it, might take the prospect of a Prometheus sequel. James Cameron anyone?

Nevertheless, the film is an altogether different animal. There is a thrilling, streamlined concept to be admired about the Alien picture and what it inspired that seems to speak to audiences about humanity and survival of the fittest. It was the perfect vehicle for the perfect organism.

Prometheus presents a very different thesis about creation and beginnings and is much grander in its scope. It's far less visceral and much more cerebral in nature though I was pleased Prometheus never let go of the horror aspects of this science fiction universe. Still, will it appeal to the masses? I don't know. People enjoy a nice bit of terrifying escapism, but when it gets too heady or too weird in its postulations people tend to turn off or run away, dub it weird and essentially scratch their heads. Keeping Prometheus mostly a secret may have worked to its advantage.

I applaud Scott for his effort here and for his bold vision to attempt something unexpected and unique. I won't let him off the hook completely. Looking at Alien through a prism tantamount to microbiology is interesting, but the minimalist design approach is not quite as thrilling. The primal part of the fan in me wanted to see the big bad Alien. Much had been put out there suggesting something different about Prometheus as if not to disappoint fans like myself, yet I still couldn't quite let go of the fact this prequel, while recommended, had somehow not integrated the face of the franchise - the Alien. Somehow, some way I had still expected its arrival. All these years of waiting and that's a tough pill to swallow. Of course, that's my problem with the film personally.

The audience I left with was mostly silent. It was mostly comprised of adults. I'm not sure if they were quietly contemplating the nature of existence or if they were fuming over the fact they never got an authentic Alien sequence as we've come to know and love. What did they see? Did they want this story to continue? No one left eager to see it again it seemed. I had two boys with me. One thought it was excellent. The other, mine, thought it was relatively frightening, a little incoherent at times, a little messy like evolution, but not nearly as good as the first film we had just watched a night earlier. I know I wasn't in a hurry to see the film again, but as of the release of this post I'm still thinking about it. It left an impression. It wasn't forgettable.

My second favorite scene from the climatic minutes of Prometheus. Comparing the film is obviously like comparing The Road Warrior [1981] to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome [1985], the DNA is there, but it's still a different animal. There's something about that 1979 film that will never be replicated. It captured every note perfectly. The whole thing converged at just the right moment in the universe. Films today are very busy. There's much more to thrill the eyes, and less the mind, with much of it nonsensical, pointless, white noise. Films often lack that brazen simplicity of Alien. Prometheus has more on its mind than Scott's original Alien, but it doesn't make it a better film.

Truth is Prometheus is a little disappointing. Even the Engineer-manufactured concepts of alien beginnings never quite materializes into anything substantial for me to sink my teeth and yet it's a genuinely intriguing film. It stands on its own. It's not better than any of the other four films. It is merely different. Like the building blocks of life, when it comes to the Alien franchise this film is all about the strands of creation that would one day create one of the great films of all-time. This is a solid science fiction film. My son thought it was frightening in parts, but not nearly as frightening as Alien, and that says something about both films.

I just wish Ridley had delivered the Alien prequel I had imagined and Prometheus just wasn't quite that film for me. It's also unfair for me to place that kind of expectation on the picture. This is an interesting picture with its head and its heart in the right place. The lack of a genuinely tangible villain in the film is of little consquence, because Prometheus is more interested in ideas and the existential. The film is more in keeping with the kinds of broader ideas associated with a picture like Blade Runner. Perhaps in time, like Alien and Blade Runner, I'll come to appreciate this one more. Referring back to the my ten reasons why Alien endures, I would note the lack of a triumphant Alien return and the improper application of CGI as the greatest detractors in Prometheus. A second viewing will be required to note the extent subtext is applied.

It all comes down to the thread of belief established in the film. We all have beliefs. We all have different ones. Like those beliefs that are vast and varied, opinions on this film will be equally so. How you see this film is as subjective as a belief in Jesus Christ, God or belief in nothing. Scott asks those questions. It's hard to say where you'll fall on this picture, but you'll no doubt have your set of views on it like man on religion. Without question Scott still has me thinking about this film. Like the Rapace character, I'm still searching and perhaps that was Ridley's desire for this film.

Prometheus was a Greek figure, a Titan, who is alleged to have created man from clay becoming a champion of man before he was punished by Zeus for his creations. Prometheus is indeed a cautionary tale in this vein and echoes the title's roots through its themes of biology and creation. Like anything from the intelligent mind of Scott, he subverts and offers a new twist to a long held and long established mythology.

Prometheus is both a contemplative film with elements of the science fiction horrors of Alien, but it's also one that really doesn't lend itself to Predators Vs Engineers and there's something to be said there. Big things have small beginnings and Prometheus genuinely takes that approach toward the seeds of its science fiction here enveloped within the scope of an epic journey. Still, that clever quote could be referring to Alien itself.

The bottom line is with all of the build and excitement that surrounded one of the best trailers I had witnessed in recent memory complete with its horrific score I expected something a little different. I had imagined something slightly different and thus my expectation was different particularly when the bar is raised so high for a director like Scott. Here I was expecting him to build the perfect beast in my mind. That may be completely unfair, because Prometheus isn't Alien, but it's nowhere near The Phantom Menace of prequels either. Despite some minor disappointments, Prometheus is a mostly compelling science fiction yarn worthy of your mind and imagination. Days after seeing it I can't stop thinking about it. Smart science fiction combined with thrilling moments like Prometheus is a rare thing and the good ones can have that lingering effect. Alien: A+. Prometheus: B+.

17 comments:

John Kenneth Muir said...

SFF:

Wow, this was a double-hitter, giving us a great look book at the classic Alien, and an intriguing and well-thought-out consideration of Prometheus.

You did a beautiful job on both reviews, and I'm largely in agreement with everything you wrote here.

One big point of agreement is regarding CGI.

CGI just does not understand the flesh, which is why it may get by in fantasy (like John Carter) or sci-fi, but in terms of horror it is more often than not a failure.

Horror is about the flesh; about the blood; about the tactile nature of "evil," in a sense.

CGI -- so far anyway -- just can't seem to get those qualities right, even at its very best (and Prometheus probably represents an apex, up to this point). I couldn't agree with you more on that.

I'm prepping my own Prometheus review for next week, and I only hope I can balance as effectively as you did a discussion of the film's strengths and weaknesses, and the delicate, personal dance of expectations. It's quite a tapestry to consider, but your approach -- reviewing Alien and Prometheus together -- is very illuminating and rewarding.

Great post!

best,
John

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thanks for the visit John. Honestly, it's tough to really be satisfied with compterized flesh and I agree it's at its best here.

Most of it is indeed gorgeous though.

SO hard to put my arms around this picture and contrast it with Alien. They are just such big films and as a fan of the franchise I certainly put them on a pedestal and you want to speak coherently about them and do them justice.

No small feat. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. TKU! SFF

The Film Connoisseur said...

I'll come back and read this on friday I'll be finally seeing it tomorrow night, when it premieres in my country.

le0pard13 said...

Splendid look at these films, SFF. I saw this in IMAX 3-D and I daresay it was gorgeous in that large format and immersive dimensional views for the audience. And yes, they couldn't have picked a more confounding writer to muddy the water, or our previous understanding. That said, the film continues to intrigue. So much so, I'm seeing it again this weekend.

I did get the sense 'Prometheus' is a compromise by the studio, specifically to get it to around two-hours for its theatrical run. More shows per day = more box office. I think a number of things were left on the cutting room floor. Perhaps, there's a director's cut in our future? I hope so.

Still, the fact that the film still fascinates and has me thinking about is testament to Ridley Scott as a filmmaker. Which means the Brit did his job. He's caught me again (damn him ;-)). I favor the Cinema Blend’s Unraveling the Unanswered Questions piece concerning those unsettled aspects in the film. Thanks for this.

Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

I wish you hadn’t compared Alien to Prometheus, Sci-Fi Fanatic.


Despite your enormous admiration for Alien and all your minor displeasures with Prometheus, you still graded the films within 10 percentage points of each other (if A+ = 100-96% and B+ = 89-86%). You obviously did like Prometheus a great deal; but you just couldn’t help comparing it to Alien and therefor found it lacking because of it.


I will admit that going into Prometheus, I too was looking forward to seeing how it would tie into the Alien universe, but I was actually hoping that it would not be a true prequel. I was not interested in a film that would answer all the questions regarding the origins of the xenomorphs and their creators. Part of Alien’s longevity as a film is that it leaves room for some questions and interpretation. While I don’t think Prometheus succeeds as a prequel to Alien, I do think it succeeds as a thematic parallel to it. I think the mistake that the scriptwriters made – I’m assuming with the blessing of Scott – is that they tried too hard to fit the parallels between the Engineers’ creation of Mankind and their creation of what eventually becomes the xenomorphs. For those of us who saw the film, the final sequence definitively answer the question of how the xenomorphic alien species were created, but still leaves the lingering question of how they spread to other star systems.


The Prometheus and Alien comparison doesn’t work on many levels, but the most obvious one is that Alien is essentially a horror movie and therefor a predominantly visceral experience. Prometheus is most definitely a science fiction film, because it is primarily focused on hypothesizing on the ideas of man’s origins, his relationship to his creator and the meaning of his place in the universe; which are all intellectual ideas that are examined from a scientific perspective, with a humanistic interpretation and very much an intellectual experience. You seem to be able to accept that the films differ greatly in their aesthetics, yet you still seem disappointed that Prometheus did not deliver the same visceral thrills of Alien. I think by separating the films and looking at them as individual and unique cinematic experiences, you can better appreciate both films. Yes, as long-standing fans of Alien (I saw it in 1979 in the theater and it was one of the most frightening film-going experiences of my then young film-going life) comparing the films is in our DNA, but I do think it is worth the effort to not compare them, because Prometheus is a much richer film-going experience by doing so.

Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

I could go on and on about CGI effects vs. practical effects and how one is superior over another. The bottom line in any film that is visually presenting an image (like and alien or a spaceship) that we as a film audience knows is not “real”, we are suspending our disbelief for the film in order to be drawn into the story and accept the story as “real” while we are watching it. I think most people use their dislike of CGI as an excuse for why they didn’t think this or that thing in a film was real. What they really had a problem with is the story; because if they had been drawn into the story, no matter what the special effects had looked like, they would have enjoyed the film. Special effects have been evolving since the beginning of film and with every generation of filmmakers, there is always some improvement in the technology to make the unreal seem real on film. While these improvements may not always seem like progress to older or more sophisticated film fans (I still don’t see 3-D as an improvement, but I am at least open to it as another visual alternative), they eventually become part of our visual associative consciousness. My eye now accepts all but the worst CGI (think SyFy Saturday night movies bad) as real and it never ruins or even detracts from my enjoyment of a film; as long as that film has a strong plot and interesting characters. From your review of Prometheus it seems you liked both plot and character, so I just don’t understand all the CGI hate.


One thing we can agree on about Prometheus, Sci-Fi Fanatic, is that the film does indeed “have that lingering effect” and because of this, I think it will stand up well with other science fiction film classics in the immediate future and for years to come.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Fran... Look forward to it.

L13... Cheers. I look forward to seeing it again as well.

Doc... Sounds like you wished for something in my review like I wished for something in that film.

Actually, Alien vs. Prometheus is more a play on Aliens vs. predator.

I actually reflect on both film extensively and note the significance in contrast but given the films share the same Ridley universe I don't see where my approach to the films is problematic. To avoid the conversation for me personally is pointless. If it works for you to keep it exclusive so be it.

I felt the final arrival of the alien felt a little too much like fan service but it was fine.

I'm not sure why you think I compare the films. I simply state a variety of reasons why I liked the films for different reasons and discuss my expectations on the material based on the mythology. I can separate the distinction between the two films and Prometheus isn't devoid of horror elements.

I stand by the reflections on the two films. I'm also comfortable with grade as I enjoyed Ridleys original a bit more. I will definitely see how Prometheus goes down in future viewings.

You say it doesn't succeed as a prequel but you think it is one. I think it's fine as a prequel but I also think it's fine to reflect on the new material against it's source.

I didn't think of this so much as a comparison really. I approached it as a fan who enjoyed the original and wanted to look at the two films giving reasons I enjoyed them both but I do think sharing the two within the same essay is fair and if comparisons are made thats inevitable but I'm more than happy to look at Prometheus on it's own. I just didn't love it.

I thought we agreed on more than just one thing but sometimes it seems we perceive things differently, you misunderstand my intentions or i dont articulate well but i do think you are more generous toward the film and that's fine.

While I certainly hoped for a few things I wouldn't compare Alien to Prometheus.

Mik said...

I also revisited Alien just prior to going to see Prometheus and was reminded at just how amazing the original film really is.

I enjoyed this post quite a bit, it was much more intelligent than some other Prometheus posts I've read and you found a way to verbalize what it was I was feeling post-viewing and couldn't put a finger on.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hi Mik,

Thank you. I appreciate that. That's pretty much what I was going for.

It was terrific seeing Alien on Blu-Ray the other night for the first time in quite some time and I marvelled at how much I enjoyed that film.

A few days later, I walked away from Prometheus liking it, but left somewhat cold on my enthusiasm for it.

I tried to put that together. A mammoth undertaking when we enjoy pictures, even classics like this.

Anyway, thanks for saying. I'm glad I wasn't alone on this feeling.

J.D. said...

Fantastic comparison and review, SFF, as always.

My fave bit was when you wrote, "My exit from the theatre was less one of exhilaration, and rather more a quiet pondering."

That's exactly how I felt. This was much less a mashup of SF and horror genres and going for a more hardcore SF vibe... until the last third of the film when it basically loses its mind and devolves into an action film with a weak climactic battle. I would've like to have seen something less conventional, esp. after such a strong first two-thirds.

I won't go into much detail as I'm posting my review tomorrow but I thought that PROMETHEUS was good but not great and definitely the strongest ALIEN film since Cameron gave it a go.

Alto, in regards to CGI, I will have to go with Doc on this one. Unless it is glaringly obviously bad, I am willing to give most CGI a free pass. Technology has made great leaps and bounds and most of the CGI in PROMETHEUS did not distract or take me out of the film at all. I thought it was integrated pretty seamlessly except may be for the big squid alien at the end. That was the only time it looked a little less than amazing but still pretty impressive.

I also enjoyed the visual homages to H.R. Giger. that brought a smile to my face.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thanks J.D.

Fair enough. Like you and Doc both said, the CGI is here to stay so of course my mind is willing to work with it, but it's simply notable to me and not nearly as convincing as the original's approach to effects or the more conventional effects employed by someone like del Toro. The squid thing, a kind of pre-evolved face hugger, was enh.

I think that last battle scene was a little anti-climactic too and I agree I would have enjoyed something different there.

But again I did like the film and I look forward to giving it some additional viewing.

Certainly it's a solid SF picture and one that is head and shoulders above a whole host of drivel that has been released this year.

I look forward to your take on it. It's fantastic to see the various perspectives on the film. It certainly has people talking and its amazing how many can have different opinions on it and still like it so much.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Loved your nostalgic musings about Alien, as you know, this is a flawless film in my book, and still, as your sons reaction testifies, a very effective horror film. I love simply looking at this film, I love how at times it feels like it was black and white.

As for Prometheus, I personally enjoyed it inmmensely. I didn't hate the CGI, in fact, I think it was damn near perfect...which is a rare thing because normally I HATE CGI, but when its done book, as it was in Prometheus, well it works. The beasts on this one where awesome!

But I hear ya, I'll always prefer practical, no matter what, overuse of CGI will always seem like lazy filmmaking to me. Always. I talk a bit about Scott's love for practical effects on my review, Scott even says that practical effects are more cost effective than CGI. I dont think he abused the CGI on this one though, he used it when he had to.

Alien is a much simpler film, it's a monster movie, plain and simple and as such, its quite effective. And while a film like Alien was new and fresh at the time, we couldnt expect Ridley Scott to do something as simple, he's matured as a filmmaker, cinema has matured, and so have audiences which are more sophisticated, Prometheus was going further, exploring deeper themes. Thats why I think Prometheus wasnt just another monster movie, it was aiming highter thematically speaking, and I loved it for that.

Though, as you've mentioned, the film still manages to entertain with its monsters and mayhem. I'm glad about that!

Hey Gordon what about the Xenomorph in the ending of the film? That was obviosly the grandaddy of the aliens we see in the other movies! And he does the chest bursting thing too, did that not satasfy the Alien fan in ya? I was like whoa!!

Overall, I know I'm gushing with Prometheus, but damn, minor glitches here and there, to me it was practically perfect...I had an immediate desire to see it again because it has so much info to take in.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Ha. Love your enthusiasm and glad you returned for a little additional input.

Loved your review. I'll head back over to comment another day properly. I have a busy one ahead today.

Look, as I said, on numerous ocassions, this is a smart film with a lot on its mind. It's very cerebral and, I agree with you, it's very sophisticated.

Additionally, the CGI, and I definitely tried to make this point in that paragraph, is exceptional when it comes to sets, production, gadgets, ships. I loved it. It was beautiful on many levels, just gorgeous.

In fact, as you note in your review, Ridley is unafraid to expend energy on terrific sets and the sets here are just incredible. I was really wowed by some of them. It's just the use of CGI on the living.

It's, well as John noted, something about the living flesh that always seems to distract a little for me. Alien may have been simple, but everything felt REAL. I like that in a film. BLADE RUNNER - REAL. And I'm not comparing films.

As I also note, Prometheus is a far different animal than Alien. I know you spent a bit of time comparing and even used the word "compared." But, I agree, within the scope of the mythology and the universe Ridley plays in you can't help but discuss its merits against Alien a little bit. It's only natural.

But, again, a solid film and one that I may grow to appreicate with the next viewing a bit more. I need to see. Your ethusiasm, J.D.'s, Doc's, I get it. It's rare to see someone managing all of these immense, complex elements in one place. It is as Doc says, truly "masterful" in some ways, but yet I, again, there were things I had hoped for.

Having said, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE those space suits. Damn! Now that is physical beauty, tangible and just plain gorgeous. No, I definitely want to see it again as I mentioned.

I liked the xenomorph at the end, but it was a little too "well, here's your alien."

I agree too, as much as this is a wonderful science fiction picture to really explore and I will continue to do so, it does have its horror moments that make it quite special.

That Shaw scene is just killer!

Anyway, thanks for your input and I look forward to seeing it again.

But, Alien and Prometheus [while different] are both splendid films to get lost in and I know I will appreciate additional returns to the film for that reason.

Cheers Franco!

The Film Connoisseur said...

Agree about CGI working better on inanimate objects when applied to living things it just doesnt work so well, case in point: the monkeys in JUMANJI and INDY 4...wow...but when done well, it works, for example, Jurassic Park and Prometheus both did a great job with the CGI creatures.

I'm gonna go check out again this weekend, there's a lot of input to take in, how about that opening sequence huh? I've got lot's of questions in regards to it, but I loved that the film didn't answer everything, I loved that about it.

I don't know if you are familiar with Aurthur C. Clarkes RAMA novels, but I love em! They present us with similar ideas to the ones we saw on Prometheus, especially when dealing with alien engineers and the idea of their always being something bigger out there.

Highly recommend those books if you havent checked them out!

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

TFC

I will have to check them out someday when I can kick back on a beach with no worries. : )

Yeah, the Engineers were pretty cool. I felt as much and did say so in the review, but the face-squid was a little dodgy.

I agree as well that the film leaves things open-ended to the benefit of fans and viewers. Absolutely.

As you noted, I love that it tapes the philosophical questions of existence and life that Blade Runner did so well. Perhaps that aspect of the film will allow this film to equally endure through time. Cheers, sff

emon xie said...

I really, really enjoyed this comparison, and while I felt you might have been kinder & gentler about the CGI than I'm inclined to, I really applaud how you've broken down the components to explain how a crew with less tools at their disposal made a film that holds up more timeless and maintains integrity from a production design standpoint. The Weta contributions for the tentacle monsters simply look summer movie quality, not on par at all with the rest of Prometheus's production design, or remotely with that of Alien, Or Aliens. There, I said it. IMHO Alien A+, Aliens A-, Prometheus C-.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Boy, great, great comment and I fully appreciate your courageous stance on this one.

Honestly, I'm still wavering in my support of some of the CGI. I think you are right. I may be kinder than I should be, but then again I'm still pretty hard on those aspects of the CGI that really detract from the picture.

I'm still thinking about this film. Not quite as much lately, which makes me wonder where I'm going with my take on Prometheus down the road.

I intend on seeing it again and while I love some of the production design, some of that CGI is exactly how you called it.

Your summation on Alien and Aliens is spot on. I fell very much in the same camp with you on them. Those films are really remarkable and still hold up and always will.

Will Prometheus? I'm not convinced. I need to see it again and offer an additional assessment. C- is harsh but not unfair in certain sequences. I felt very unsatisfied by some of those key action moments. My gut reaction was not positive, which is why I want to re-evaluate these details more closely.

Thanks for joining and your strong opinion here which I admire and agree with on many levels. I'll be back on this topic down the road too.