Back in 1979, a mate got in to see Ridley Scott’s Alien at the Slough Odeon. Before taking his seat, he snuck down the back stairs, pushed open the exit door and let a group of us creep in. The film was X rated and we were 5 years shy of 18. The cinema was heaving – nothing special in those days – and we sat down by the smoking area to relax and enjoy the movie. Of course, relaxation was not the feeling Scott gifted his audience. Even the opening scenes aboard the Nostromo, just before the crew were awakened by Mother to pop down to some hellhole and get John Hurt to try on a new rubber face for size, were incredibly spooky. So well done was the air of suspense and menace that there was limited need for guts and gore to scare the bejeesus out of my adolescent arse. Yet, the chest explosion scene is possibly one of the most referenced examples of horror genius; completely overlooking the wonderfully grimy, dark and nasty space imagery the young Brit film director conjured up in a time when film makers could barely spell CGI. Throw in a talented but eclectic ensemble cast, a big bag of horse-guts and “In Space No One Can Hear You Scream”.
In Prometheus, Ridley Scott has not quite ‘gone home to mama’. Trademark superb visuals and mood blended with a varied script, and all with the definite aim to tell a story, not simply shock. Nods aplenty to the original movie and the whole Alien cult. Back is the homicidal android, with Michael Fassbinder wonderfully reprising the innocence cut with menace of Ian Holm’s original Ash. Dallas is alive and well in his Captain forebear, the nonchalant but ultimately heroic Janek by Idras Elba. Even the skittish Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) can be seen in the itchy character of Fifield (Sean Harris). Noomi Rapace’s wandering accent does not prevent her entry as the obvious Ripley ancestor. Scott builds the mythology and explains the origins of the Alien nasties as a bio-engineering project gone wrong, crafted by a bunch of ‘Engineers’. These are the same von-Daniken-Space-Gods who suicidally threw their own DNA into the waters of a nascent, turbulent Earth to create life (and man), whilst leaving the occasional calling card. He leaves enough unexplained to attract those all-important sequel dollars whilst neatly separating the story from its embarrassing post-Cameron legacy. To keep the pedants amongst us occupied, LV-426 becomes LV-223 – not the same planet where Newt played hide and seek with the face-huggers ? Geeks will love the homages to the original movie but the sheer number of linkages occasionally smacks of desperation. Check out Charlize Theron’s Ripley-like dash to strip into a spacesuit. There is also an update of H.R. Giger’s bone-clad, fossilized giant of the original which comes to life as a cross between Grant Mitchell and a Smurf, and with none of their charm.