I first saw Alien in a friend’s house on, what I later realised to be, an early illegal Beetamax copy. I was twelve and to be honest because the copy was so bad frankly I didn’t really know what was going on. The memory it left me with was an unimaginable monster with acid for blood. Even at twelve this was an exciting concept. When James Cameron took the helm in Aliens, as we know, the character of Ellen Ripley became a household name. She returned in the weakest member of the franchise Alien 3. It was a very messy affair. At one stage it was going to be set on a wooden planet inhabited by monks, an entire script was written until one of the producers asked “A wooden Planet?? Really?” Though it still had it’s moments, notably Charles Dances sudden exit and that final scene where Ripley effectively ended the run. Until, that is, when they decided to rebuild her for Alien: Resurrection where we saw the lighter side of the seemingly eternal battle of Ripley Vs. Alien or Xenomorph as it has come to be called.
But I loved them all even the crappy ones. I own the box set, Alien for the sheer terror and that first chest burst, Aliens for “Get away from her you bitch”, Aliens 3 for we ran out of ideas but we need to make another and Alien Resurrection for the fun.
Alien Universe Themes
Ships that had character, the “Synthetics” or “Artificial People”, becoming heavily armed or climbing into a body enhancer in a terrible hurry, cryogenic sleep, in fighting, very, very long space journeys, opening fire and hidden agendas.
From the Greek Legend about the immortal who first created man from water and clay and then proceeded to steal fire from Zeus and gave it to man, he was brother to Pandora of the box, they were a family of menaces. I digress.
First Half an Hour Plot
I sat with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Wanting to enjoy it but scared that it would not live up to the butterflies in my stomach. At least I hoped they were butterflies. The opening shot was Ridley Scott “Movie Magic”, nothing like you had ever seen in an Alien movie before. The camera flies over a landscape, mountains, rivers, an eerily still lake and over a gushing waterfall, you can imagine that each still of that opening is a picture in itself.
Then we happen upon the buffest albino the screen has seen since the Da Vinci Code except this albino is certainly not human. He drinks something that is about to disagree with him unpleasantly and we are given a rapid tour through his internal system and shown a crumbling strand of DNA.
Scott has our attention. The story moves rapidly from there to archaeological dig in 2089 where Archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) confirms she has found a constellation which claims to be the origin of life. So the Space Ship Prometheus with 17 crew aboard is sent to investigate. All this takes place circa 30 years before the first Alien movie.
Back to the actual review
So the backstory to how it all began had begun. If you know the Aliens movies already you will see how Scott begins the strands that run through first two movies. If you don’t know the Alien foreground what you are watching is a fairly decent science fiction movie which succeeds where others like Sphere and Event Horizon and Mission to Mars failed to deliver.
All of the above elements from the other movies are present and so fans will not be disappointed. But the main themes here are the struggle between Science and Religion as well as an alarming number of the crew who seem to suffer from issues relating to their Fathers.
The Weyland Corporation gets some back history as well. One of the reasons this movie came into existence was the die-hard fans pre occupation with the massive being from the first movie (nick named Space Jockey). They finally get some sort of pay off.
The cast are more than adequate but still could have been better with the exception of Michael Fassbender who plays David, the artificial person, an android that could easily be the brain child of 2001’s HAL or a grown up and soulless version of his namesake David from A.I. Fassbender performance is particular, creepy and somewhat hypnotic. In a nice touch he delivers the most humour as he reflects and defends his position amongst humans. The other performance which caught my eye was Idrid Elba as Janek, Captain of the Prometheus, while the other characters are rushing around being astounded by their discoveries, he takes the piss and gets away with it until called upon to do his duty. Charlize Theron and an almost unrecognisable Guy Pearce also put in decent performances.
But still there were patches where I thought the filmmakers could have tried harder and even though we are talking about a film set in the Alien Universe (as there have already been four other films) on a purely human level there were some suspensions of disbelief that may come across as lazy.
On the other hand maybe they tried too hard to make it a stand-alone movie and still part of the franchise. Maybe they tried too hard to make it philosophical and an action movie.
Even though it may be flawed, it is still worth going to see in the cinema.
On a final note maybe, just maybe I missed Ellen Ripley a little bit too much.