Poor Ridley Scott. Director of "Alien" and "Blade Runner," two of the most famous, and influential, science-fiction flicks ever made. Yet despite his love for the genre, the 74-year-old filmmaker has not taken a trip to the future in 30 years.
But don't despair. Fans of strong heroines, interstellar travel and alien slime things are already rejoicing, because Scott is back in the sci-fi groove with "Prometheus," which opens June 8.
"The reason I haven't made another sci-fi film in so many years, apart from the fact I've been busy making other films and exploring different genres , is because, frankly, I haven't come across anything worthwhile for me to do with enough truth, originality and strength," Scott says in the film's production notes.
The fact is, Scott had always harbored the idea of returning to the "Alien" universe, and three years ago he became intrigued with a visual image from the original film -- a giant humanoid with an exploded chest in the pilot's chair of a derelict spaceship. "Who was he? Why did he land there? Was he in trouble?" Scott told The New York Times. So began the quest for "a grand new mythology" set in the "Alien" universe -- but please don't call it a prequel.
"Prometheus," which stars Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace and Idris Elba, contains what Scott described to Entertainment Weekly as "strands of 'Alien's' DNA." But it's set 30 years before the original film, and features a group of astronauts traveling in the spaceship Prometheus to a planet called Zeta 2 Reticuli after discovering a series of star maps left by aliens on a Scottish cave wall thousands of years ago.
"The crew of the Prometheus thinks they're headed to a paradise to discover answers to the ultimate questions," says writer Jon Spaihts in the production notes for "Prometheus." Spaihts wrote the screenplay with Damon Lindelof of "Lost." "But what they find is a dark and twisted and frightening world," he says. "The cold and implacable environment is more like hell than heaven."
About that "Alien" DNA. In "Prometheus," Fassbender plays an android, just like Ian Holm in the original. There's a business element to the expedition, same as in "Alien" (and its sequel, "Aliens"), with Theron as a corporate overseer, sent to monitor the voyage. Extraterrestrial horrors, a key element of the "Alien" franchise, are a given. And Rapace, so fierce in the Swedish version of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," is the Sigourney Weaver/Ripley surrogate -- the strong female role model.
"Ridley creates female characters like no one else," Rapace told Entertainment Weekly. "I remember when I first saw 'Alien,' it was the first time I ever saw a woman that strong. I thought, 'Oh, my God, who is this woman?' Sigourney Weaver was my hero."
So, OK. Whether or not the filmmakers prefer to use the "P" word, this latest excursion into the "Alien" universe sure looks like a prequel. But so what? If anything, its attempt to explore deep themes -- like the origin of human life, arguably the deepest theme of them all -- is exemplary. And they're doing it in an entertaining context.
"I hope no one thinks we are overly pretentious," Lindelof told the Times. "We set out to make something entertaining and thrilling to watch, not a band of people sitting around talking about the meaning of life."
Evaluating 'Alien' and its sequels
BY LEWIS BEALE, Special to Newsday
"Alien" begot three sequels, and two "Alien vs. Predator" mashups. Here's a quick rundown of the four "Alien"-only flicks.
DIRECTOR Ridley Scott
BOX-OFFICE GROSS (all grosses in 2012 dollars) $279 million
PLOT A mining ship on a return trip to Earth receives a transmission of unknown origin from a nearby planet. The crew goes to investigate and finds a deadly creature that attaches itself to humans. The ship's corporate owners want the creature returned to Earth to be studied, but the alien has other ideas, and winds up killing everyone onboard except Warrant Officer Ripley (Weaver), who kills the monster.
WHY IT WORKS "For all of its technical accomplishments and cool atmospherics, nothing holds up better than the film's pure, visceral shocks," says S.T. VanAirsdale of movieline.com.
WHY IT DOESN'T WORK "Not exactly the headiest science fiction ever made, and the ick factor is awfully high," says Irv Slifkin of moviefanfare.com.
DIRECTOR James Cameron
BOX-OFFICE GROSS $177 million
PLOT Accompanied by a squad of Marines, Ripley heads to a space colony that has lost contact with Earth. They discover an abandoned site, with only one human survivor, a young girl named Newt (Carrie Henn). They also discover a large nest of alien creatures. The inevitable mayhem ensues, with Ripley, Newt and an android the only survivors.
WHY IT WORKS The rare sequel that is better than its predecessor, "Aliens" features an iconic, Oscar-nominated performance from Weaver, pedal-to-the-metal direction by Cameron, and enough thrills and chills for a dozen movies. A true genre classic.
WHY IT DOESN'T WORK It works. In every way possible.
ALIEN 3 (1992)
DIRECTOR David Fincher
BOX-OFFICE GROSS $91 million
PLOT The escape vehicle from "Aliens" crash-lands on an all-male prison planet. An alien has managed to smuggle aboard the ship, and creates havoc. Ripley leads the fight against the intruder, but then discovers that the embryo of an alien queen is growing inside her. Worried that the alien might be used by a corrupt corporation and turned into biological weapons, Ripley commits suicide.
WHY IT WORKS "David Fincher really understood the spirit and mood of Ridley Scott's original," says VanAirsdale, "and I appreciated that he sought to make a movie for grown-ups when the studio clearly sought summer sci-fi action-hero theatrics."
WHY IT DOESN'T WORK "Fincher's vision and the general unlikability of virtually everyone but Ripley gets pretty oppressive after a while," says VanAirsdale.
ALIEN: RESURRECTION (1997)
DIRECTOR Jean-Pierre Jeunet
PLOT Set 200 years after "Alien 3," Ripley has been cloned, and an alien queen is removed from her. The military wants to breed aliens and study them on a spaceship, using human hosts kidnapped by mercenaries. But the aliens escape from confinement, so Ripley and the hired guns try to escape and destroy the ship before it reaches Earth,
BOX-OFFICE GROSS $69 million
WHY IT WORKS "The visual style is striking, courtesy of French director Jeunet , and a cloned version of Ripley adds an air of 'Terminator'-like indestructibility to Weaver's character," says Slifkin.
WHY IT DOESN'T WORK "From the casting [Winona Ryder?] to the script to the very idea of Ripley being cloned and revived after 200 years, the movie never existed as anything more than a craven, misconceived Hollywood cash grab," says VanAirsdale.