Film // Idle Thoughts // The Promethean Tyranny of Ridley Scott

In a recent interview once-excellent director Ridley Scott spoke about his plans for the Alien franchise. Inexplicably this upset me to a frankly unreasonable degree, in part because Scott used to be great but now just peddles in unnecessary/bad prequels, but mostly because the interview makes clear that Ridley Scott has no idea why his early movies were good or what people (meaning me) want out of a new Alien picture. It should be noted that my frustrations with the Prometheus/Alien franchise and Scott himself are entirely trivial so only read on if you can handle half-formed thoughts, circular logic, and self-indulgence.

The interview covered a lot of shilling for The Martian, and went on to explore Scott’s approach to the next movie in the Alien franchise, a direct continuation of Prometheus that still predates the events of Alien. What this interview failed to touch on was the absolute awfulness of Prometheus and its inherently redundant story. The movie featured characters without arcs (Charlize Theron’s wasted Meredith Vickers), events without reason (the idiot-brothers cradling a terrifying alien phallus monster), horror without purpose (the admittedly powerful alien abortion scene that then has no effect on the main character at all), and answers without questions (here’s an alien ship identical to the one from that Alien movie but completely unrelated to it!) And why exactly would the Prometheans put a map back to their world in an ancient Earth cave, except it wasn’t their world it was just a random factory planet, and it wasn’t an invitation it was a trap, but they had all already left the trap unattended because reasons, but actually there’s a Promethean right there, but oh no there’s a weird alien-hybrid that’s basically an alien but is completely unrelated to the alien from Alien because this movie takes place on a different planet to that movie even though it has basically the same name for no reason other than to confuse people?

Unfortunately it seems like Scott hasn’t acknowledged any of the problems with the Prometheus movie and it’s relationship to the Alien universe – he speaks of wanting to answer the big question at the heart of the Alien movies, “who would make such a terrible thing?“. Wait, what? Who made the alien? That has literally never been a big question of the franchise! The origin of the alien is ambiguous yes, as are that space jockey and its ship, but this forms the basis of the terrifying atmosphere of the first two movies – we don’t need to see the birth place of this species or the factory it was cooked up in or whatever as that just undermines the horror of it all. Besides which, it never really struck me whilst watching these movies that these creatures were anything other than just plain old aliens, literally. Just random things that exist in the universe, a deadly wild parasitic species that it is best to avoid. The space jockey is a good case in point here; it looked truly alien in Alien, a creature that was physically different to humans, with an unknowable and tragic backstory of how it came to encounter/die to a bunch of other aliens. Prometheus spends a good amount of screen time demystifying the space jockey, and instead of it being an imaginative creature that is different in form and thought to humanity, it just turns out that they are really tall blokes who are also idiots. I’m really not sure where Scott is coming from here – the origin of the alien isn’t a story that needs to be told.

The positioning of the alien always seemed to me to be one of a natural entities – the aliens are just creatures in space, driven only by a natural urge to eat, survive, and procreate. This is highlighted in the film Aliens by Burke’s (and by extension Weyland-Yuanti’s) plan to capture an alien for use as a biological weapon. By trying to subvert the natural order of things Burke essentially kills everyone on LV-426; from Newt’s parents through to the colonial marines they are all dead because the company tried to take a wild thing and bottle it up for nefarious uses later. Alien features a similar sub-plot wherein the company sends the Nostromo to investigate the Space Jockey’s signal in the first place (and also instructs Ash that the crew are expendable in pursuit of this goal). Both of these movies (still the only two in the entire franchise worth a damn) specifically deal with themes of the limitations of human technology/innovation in the terrifying face of nature; so many scenes in these movies show technology catastrophically failing to save the day (think androids). But now we’re being told that the alien actually is a piece of technology.

I think Ridley Scott is trying to tie into this theme by exploring the origins of the alien as a biological weapon, but this actually undermines the theme in both of those movies. The moral of Alien and Aliens is that messing with a dangerous natural organism and trying to use it’s power for yourself will just get innocent people killed. Except the proposed plot for Prometheus 2 is that the alien always was an artificial weapon of war, so does that mean that Burke was right? We should be trying to capture the alien and use it as a biological weapon because that was always the intent. I guess it doesn’t instantly justify Burke’s actions, but it certainly does cast a shadow over the idea of the alien as an unstoppable force of nature.

Also, Scott laments that he let “those movies get away from me”, which is understandable I suppose. Except to say that James Cameron’s Aliens is probably one of the best sequels ever made whilst Ridley Scott’s second entry in the franchise is abysmal so…maybe it was better that Scott walked away. The last thing to say in this probably unnecessary bit of soapbox nonsense is that I was sorry to see that Scott making Prometheus 2 has resulted in Neil Blomkamp’s Alien 5 being shelved. Whilst Blomkamp’s record is a little patchy, his movies do at least consistently offer some interesting concepts and some excellent robots (I really would love to see a bunch of Colonial Marine robots fighting a horde of aliens); I’m far more interested in seeing a new take on this franchise than Scott having a third bite of the apple when his second already caused the tree to rot.