The undertaking of Prometheus, the prequel to the Alien franchise was once barred by director Ridley Scott’s trepidation at the thought of telling the origins story of the infamous ‘Space Jockey’; a single image that in 1979 sent shivers down the spine of cinemagoers the world over. For Scott, the source of his hesitation had been the challenge in his mind at least of surpassing the origin story, conceived within the imagination of every Alien fan.
Fast forward to June 2012 and Scott, successfully for some, not so successfully for others, has given us the first part of what he hopes will be an origin trilogy, setting up the events of his seminal science-fiction horror film Alien.
Since Dallas’ (Tom Skerritt) discovery of the fossilised alien life form, affectionately known as the ‘Space Jockey,’ this creature has remained shrouded in mystery, hidden by the vast shadow and presence of the iconic Alien. The mysterious ‘Space Jockey’ that piqued Ridley Scott’s interest all those years ago is the motivation for his return to the Alien world, to answer the question of the creature’s identity; a question the three sequels failed to answer.
As an origins story, Prometheus stands with one foot firmly in the Alien world, and any charge that the films central motivation is to deliver something other than an Alien prequel is at best naive.
The discovery of a replica ‘Space Jockey’ on the charted moon LV-223, to the one Dallas discovers on LV-246, along with whilst less impressive nonetheless, the Alien in its earlier evolution; Prometheus is firmly situated within the world of Alien. Narratively the film provides the answer that the ‘Space Jockey’ belongs to a race known only as the ‘Engineers,’ who in their wisdom created life on Earth, and so too planned the annihilation of man by the use of a biological weapon: the Alien life form that like man, is a creation of the ‘Engineers’. Visually the film is branded as an Alien prequel through the iconography of Alien and ‘Space Jockey,’ and narratively by linking the latter to the God archetype; the only indication as of yet as to the identity of this still rather mysterious figure and his species.
Ridley Scott in neither Alien nor Blade Runner avoided depicting a dystopian vision of the future; though Blade Runner was heavily dependent on the imagination of author Philip K. Dick, as was the design of Alien influenced by H.R. Giger’s artwork.
The former was a claustrophobic horror flick set on board the mining ship Nostromo, with conversations between disgruntled labourers framed by an industrial and gritty aesthetic. Blade Runner meanwhile was a grand science-fiction film that mixed the starry-eyed aesthetic of the cityscape, the Tyrell Corporation building and technology, with the dystopian view of the hustle and bustle of the streets, an eye-manufacturing factory and strip club.
Nevertheless the sense of feeling one derives from each film is unmistakeably distinct, the one science-fiction horror, the other a science-fiction drama/detective thriller. Whereas Alien was a haunted house movie set in space with a human killer transposed to Alien creature, Blade Runner’s narrative and characters were centred on the relationship between man as God, and our creation: the replicants, and the search of four replicants led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) to find their maker.
The addition of Prometheus to Scott’s science-fiction oeuvre compromises the void of space and time: seventy years separating their views of the future. Two worlds distinctly separate have just been bridged by what is in effect the ‘Prometheus link.’
The protagonists of Prometheus and the replicants of Blade Runner are on the same journey, each in search of their makers. The narrative heart of these two films beats with a similar rhythm. Whereas Roy Batty is looking for a means to survive his pre-determined lifespan, ultimately learning from his maker why his death is inevitable, Dr. Shaw (Noomi Rapace) in Prometheus is presented with the unanswered question of why the ‘Engineers’ changed their minds, and instead chose to let man survive? At the centre of both films is the focus of the relationship between life and its creator.
Prometheus’ central themes of evolution, the relationship between life and its creator, specifically between man and his creator, and the quest to understand one’s place in the world, ideas expressed by Weyland (Guy Pearce), android David (Michael Fassbender) and Shaw, further compound the connection to Blade Runner. It is through familiar narrative and thematic concerns that Prometheus bridges the void between these two filmic worlds or universes; one foot in the world of Alien, the other firmly in the world of Blade Runner. The ‘Prometheus link’ whether intentional or not, serves to connect Scott’s science-fiction oeuvre.
Prometheus’ addition to Scott’s science-fiction cinema doesn’t alter the distinction that exists between Alien and Blade Runner, but worlds apart once; Prometheus has provided the opportunity to bridge the gap that existed between these two filmic universes. In fact, the ‘Prometheus link’ provides a new context for Alien.
The meditation on the origins of life and creation, what it is to exist whether android, replicant or human, this yearning and hence search of both to meet their makers, represents one half of a cycle: life. The bleak science-fiction horror film Alien, which one could argue is about life, though is in fact about the reproduction of an apocalyptic life form, originally conceived by the ‘Engineers’ as a biological weapon is about death. After all, a common fear innate to the franchise is that of the Alien reaching populated worlds, especially Earth; to which the outcome each protagonist is aware.
Alien is Ridley Scott’s science-fiction apocalypse, the created as destroyer, the inevitable end in a cycle of life and death; a science-fiction Armageddon. This idea of the created as destroyer is evident in both Alien’s Ash played by Ian Holm, as well as the propensity for murderous violence by Blade Runner’s replicants. In Scott’s vision, Armageddon is not led by a demonic figure with red horns and pointed tail, but rather the creature known as the Alien, that with pleasure we witnessed torment our beloved heroine Ellen Ripley across four films.
Scott has not abandoned the concept of an Alien prequel, rather he has linked his two science-fiction films and their universes to create a narrative of life and death; Blade Runner and Prometheus as a meditation on life, and Alien his apocalyptic vision.