My favourite scene fron ALIEN is surely it’s most iconic- the craneshot pulling back from Kane as he rises up into the vast chamber and the reveal of the Space Jockey. Over the many years that I have watched this scene, the Space Jockey has been a source of constant mystery and wonder, both the Space Jockey and the derelict are Alien, unexplained.
Is it a gunner, or a pilot? Where does the creature end and the mechanism begin? How many centuries has it lain there, waiting to be discovered? Where does it come from? Is it a victim of the Alien lifeform as its outward twisted bones would suggest? Is the Alien native to this planetoid or the derelict ship? The questions have rattled around in the heads of fans of the film for decades. The sense of the unknown and alien is captivating, a stroke of genius by the film-makers, whether it was deliberate or not. It never needs explaining.
But PROMETHEUS, as the tantalisng trailers suggest, will change all that. Rightly or wrongly, I cannot say- it depends on how the film turns out and thats still a few weeks away. But I’m certainly conflicted on it. What cannot be argued however is that, after watching PROMETHEUS next month, watching the original ALIEN will never be the same again. The mysteries will be largely, perhaps completely, explained; the nature of the Space Jockey, its alien craft. Next time I see Kane climb up that wall into that chamber, the experience will be different. What I fear is that the scene will be lessened; indeed, it is hard to imagine any alternative. Even if PROMETHEUS turns out to be a work of genius, how can it not lessen the impact and mystery of that Space Jockey reveal?
A few nights ago I watched ALIEN again in a conscious effort to experience it one last time before PROMETHEUS, well, possibly spoils everything, at the very least changes everything. It’s still one hell of a movie. My wife remarked that it didn’t look like a film some 33 years old. Thats true and yet also untrue- in some ways it doesn’t betray its age, and it does indeed largely still hold up, but in other ways its utterly unlike contemporary films. Its middle-aged cast, its slow, deliberate pace, the ‘real’ sets grounded in reality, how it leaves so many things unexplained- in these respects it’s obviously an older movie, and better for it. And it has that haunting score by the great Jerry Goldsmith, such a major part of the movie- sadly Goldsmith is another lost great and the loss of his music is a constant vacumn to modern films. I wonder if, were he still alive, he might have scored PROMETHEUS? I wonder what that film score would have sounded like. One of those great ‘what ifs?’ isn’t it.
One of the things I am most curious about PROMETHEUS is in how Ridley Scott’s approach to film-making, returning to the sci-fi genre after so many years, has changed over the years- chiefly regards the pace of the new film, how he constructs his shots, how he uses the new cg tools. And the 3D of course; I don’t like 3D, but the idea of Scott using it is so tempting (I haven’t decided to watch it in 3D or 2D yet).
I wonder, also, what Dan O’Bannon would have thought of it, had he lived to see this new film. Thats one of the saddest things about all this. Like Philip K Dick never seeing the completed BLADE RUNNER, it’s such a pity that O’Bannon will never see PROMETHEUS. I realise O’Bannon wasn’t the sole creator of ALIEN, or involved in the making of the film to any major context, but the original premise was his baby, and I believe Giger was his suggestion for designing the creature. It would have been so neat for O’Bannon to see PROMETHEUS and give his opinion of it, it’s something I would have loved to have seen.
I remember, way back in 1979, reading an interview with O’Bannon in Fantastic Films, before the film came out. I remember being utterly gobsmacked by the pictures from the film and reading O’Bannon talking about the original script, and the making of the movie. During one bit he aluded to the Chestburster scene, but, bless him, he wouldn’t go into it because he didn’t want to spoil it for first-time viewers… I was re-reading that interview the other day and I read that part, and I thought, wow, can you imagine a time when that chestburster scene, so infamous now, was still a secret? That filmgoers could see the film and not know what the hell they were going to see when Kane doubles-up in agony at the dining table? That summer seems such a long time ago. I remember reading articles about ALIEN in Fantastic Films, Starburst, all the mags of the day. Without the internet, you could keep secrets and spoliers away from Joe Public so much easier. In some ways, things were better back then. You have to work so hard to avoid stuff nowadays. I’ve noticed you can already download the PROMETHEUS soundtrack from itunes, hear it on youtube, with the tracklist and everything, ‘spoiling’ a bit more of PROMETHEUS.