When I was younger, I was absolutely obsessed with the Aliens movies. Well, correction: I was obsessed with Alien and Aliens. The other two movies were of such questionable quality that I’d rather pretend that they never happened.
It was one of the first bits of horror I watched growing up and it had a deep and affecting impact on what I consider scary. The alien in these movies is not something to be reasoned with. It’s not evil. It’s just a very well-designed killing machine; incapable of remorse or mercy. It has no back-story, no motivation, no explanation; it does what it does and the protagonist has no recourse but to simply deal with it. It’s shadowy and elusive and brutal.
So when I heard about Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s prequel to Alien, I was concerned. The Alien creature lost a lot of its mystique because of mindless and pointless repetition. The boogeyman is not scary when it’s dragged into the light, kicking and screaming. In the latter sequels, the Alien is put onto the dissection table and pointlessly and needlessly over-analyzed. There was no more fear; it just became a part of pop culture, something that used to scare us.
And now, Scott was once again returning to the well. Except, instead of revisiting the alien and telling that same damn story all over again with a pointless origin story, he showed another aspect to the story. Instead of a direct prequel, he created a story that took place in the same universe and, while it does shed some light on the story in Alien, it is not directly about those later movies.
And in some ways, this is the best kind of prequel. It’s not like the Star Wars prequels, where Lucas shoehorns in pointless contrivances just to work in familiar characters and uses needless and tedious exposition to elaborate on parts of the back story that no-one cares about. Scott attempts to tell a new story that just happens to take place in the Alien universe. By the time it was over, I had re-examined the events in Alien and re-contextualized them, but in a way that didn’t cheapen or lessen the fear or impact of that movie.
Even better, he avoids explaining everything fully. By the time the movie is done, you’re still left wondering and that, I believe, is for the best. For horror, it’s always better if the audience is guessing at the end, at least just a little bit. There should be an element of doubt and curiosity. It is the unknown that people, in general, fear the most. And by leaving questions unanswered at the end of Prometheus, Scott has left a lot unknown. He fleshes out the universe without taking anything away from the fear and the unknown terrors of the original movie.
And so while Prometheus is not a great movie, it is a great prequel. It has its problems and its “the hell?” moments, but it doesn’t detract from its predecessors.
If you’re a fan of the series, check it out.