“Aliens” diverged profoundly, but sensibly, from “Alien”, in switching from horror to action, and revolving more around family and motherhood rather than class conflict and sexual violence. It was a surprising but logical escalation and iteration. “Alien 3” and “Alien: Resurrection” attempted to iterate on those excellent first two films, but did not do so in any sort of logical or cohesive way. The “Alien vs. Predator” films were effectively nonsensical. How to move the series forward? Sometime after “Prometheus”, director Neill Blomkamp attempted to make an Alien film set after “Alien” and “Aliens”, but ignoring the events of all other films, restoring dead characters back to life and so on. Ignoring the mess of those sequels certainly makes sense as an approach. Ridley Scott didn’t choose to do that, instead he simply moved back, into the past, before “Alien”.
Crucially, Scott didn’t just retreat into the past in the sense of the plot, with “Prometheus” taking place (for the most part) twenty-nine years before “Alien”, and concerning a scientific mission that ends up tying into the titular alien, and the “star jockey” seen in “Alien”. No, Scott also progressed the themes of the film backwards in as logical a way as Cameron did forwards for “Aliens”. What supersedes the ideas in “Alien” – sex, sexual violence, class conflict, but mostly vitally of all, survival? Creation. Religion. Evolution.
[Note: This reviews covers spoilers of the film from this point on.]
The film opens with an ancient race of aliens, the “Engineers”, engineering life on Earth. The main characters of the film are the religious scientist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace proving eminently capable to the many challenges Scott throws the character’s way) who seeks to find and meet her creators, and the brilliant android David (stunningly well-played by Michael Fassbender). Shaw is the main vehicle for Scott to explore questions of faith and religion, whereas David serves as a microcosm of the ideas of the film, being an entity very familiar with his creator and disappointed by the answers to the great existential questions.
The questions of this film, and the answers it does and doesn’t provide, both create an interesting work in their own right, and also reframe the later films of the series (well, “Alien” at least) interestingly, effectively suceeding as a prequel by fulfilling this double role. Some structural messiness is present in how content like the “TED 2023” short film, fairly important to setting up a lot of aspects of the film, only being available online, and not being part of the film itself. There is a wealth of deleted scenes, freely available on the home release, many of which are quite rich in content, some arguably vital to making the film work. For all its ambitions, the film feels oddly undercooked, unfinished, with gaps in logic and plot progression mounting up particularly in the third act to a noticeable level. The sense of the film exceeding its reach, and the wealth of available deleted scenes and ancillary content, has led to many fans constructing their own fan-edits of the film, some with fairly large divergences.
I myself viewed the “Agent 9” edit, the creator of which went so far as to edit the visual effects in himself for deleted scenes with unfinished CGI. Many of the scenes he added back into the film make certain characters make more sense and feel more fully-rounded, and I think including the “TED 2023” short film (hardly flawless, as it has dialogue even clunkier than the general film’s) as a sort of prologue was a fantastic choice, but there are also some baffling changes, like excising the original start of the film with the Engineers (which the entire film hinges on, and acts as a thematic bedrock for all the questions the film poses), and demystifying several sequences by editing back in dialogue that was wisely left out in Scott’s final cut – for instance, there is absolutely nothing gained by adding back in the dialogue to the scene where Weyland meets the Engineer, as the Engineer’s body language and actions already make everything he’s thinking abundantly clear. Just because content is available and didn’t make it into the film itself doesn’t mean it’s worth adding back in, and even if that principle held true, why cut out the literal beginning of the film then?
The actual film itself, “Ridley Scott’s cut” if it must be qualified amongst all the many fanedits, trades more in implication and suggestion than outright exposition like that, a wise move when dealing with the big existential questions like “who are we?”, “why are we here?”, “what happens when we die?”, a film’s answers to which will inevitably fall flat because we don’t live in a world where those answers can be easily provided. The way the film implies the crucifixion of Christ was the impetus for the Engineers to try and deploy the alien bioweapon onto Earth is hugely appealing to me, a gleefully madhouse science-fiction concept taking the franchise to new territory. It’s especially jarring when the film dips into nonsense like professionals acting remarkably unintelligently when it trucks in so many subtly-handled ideas like that.
It’s a movie that greatly appeals to me, and if nothing else, the C-section scene is body horror as memorable and well-done as the chestburster scene in the original “Alien”, in my eyes. It feels perpetually unfinished, a film full of great ideas and scenes that never quite made them all mesh together as cohesively as “Alien” did, but it’s still a gutsy, powerful work of science-fiction. I give it three and a half trilobites, and a Deacon.