Ridley Scott Double Bill: Alien [1979] and Prometheus [2012]

This past week, I had a bit of an extraterrestrial overload. I watched two of Scott’s most talked-about films, the sci-fi/horror classic Alien (which spawned three sequels and a crossover series with Predator) and one of the most hyped films of this year, Prometheus which, as the British director has stated, is not a prequel to the 1979 film but merely shares “its DNA”. I liked them both quite a bit, albeit for different reasons.

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Dan O’Bannon
Cast: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm.

Alien brings a level of sophistication to the sci-fi/blockbuster game that we are not used to seeing, and it’s amazing that it achieves this even when showing us some of the most disgusting creatures ever captured on film. The visual effects haven’t held up so well, and anything involving computer screens or consoles looks hilariously outdated. That’s practically the only hindrance, as the art direction is remarkable and the Nostromo looks suitably futuristic even 33 years later. A lot of care and artful skill went into designing the film’s alien creatures, and it definitely shows. The casting is another high point. There are great actors all around but Sigourney Weaver is the standout. She commands the screen while her iconic character, Ripley, undergoes a significant change. Kudos must go, as well, to director Ridley Scott and writer Dan O’Bannon. The scenes in their movie drip with blood and tension, creating a science fiction tale that relies on classic suspense as well as old-school gore.

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Damon Lindelof, Jon Spaihts
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Patrick Wilson.

Prometheus, while not a direct prequel of Alien, does share some of its iconography and there are definite similarities between Weaver’s Ripley and Noomi Rapace’s Shaw. While not as well-made, there are echoes of Scott’s cult hit all over this one. Yes, it teases with deep questions that it doesn’t respond (maybe in the sequel). Yes, the plot has a lot of inconsistencies and the characters sometimes act in inexplicable ways, but it is also so damn fun! I had a blast and I needed that, since I hadn’t had any fun at the movies for a while. The flaws of Prometheus didn’t bother me too much, as I was too caught up in its beauty. The visuals (cinematography, costume design, art direction) are stunning and the cast, as a whole, is even better than Alien’s. Although every character could’ve used more development on paper, the actors make the most of them on screen. Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, and Charlize Theron are commendable but ultimately play second fiddle to Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace. The former does cold and detached brilliantly while the latter takes all of Ripley’s toughness and infuses it with her own sensibility. Oh, and forget the plot holes and the shortcomings of the script, Prometheus’s biggest misstep was the idiotic casting of 44 year-old Guy Pearce as nonagenarian Peter Weyland (in awful, J. Edgar-style makeup, no less).