Prometheus Unbound: Ridley Scott & Me

How much did I love Ridley Scott’s ALIEN (1979) after seeing it at the tender age of 11? Too much. The commercials for ALIEN terrified me and the film’s tagline (“In Space No One Can Hear You Scream”) sent unprecedented chills down my spine but I was determined to see it. I can’t remember how I convinced my mother to let me go to the movie with friends but she never set any rules regarding what I was allowed to watch and read. I’d seen plenty of adult films before but ALIEN was the first ‘Rated R’ film I saw in a theater without parental supervision. I went with three friends (one female and two male). One of the boy’s fathers picked us up in his custom painted van with plush carpet interior. When we arrived at the theater the boy’s father preceded to tell the woman at the ticket booth that he ‘approved’ of us kids seeing the film alone. We bought popcorn and settled in for the film.

I’d grown up watching horror and science fiction movies (Note: including ALIEN predecessors like PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES and IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE) but nothing had really prepared me for what I was about to experience. The POV camera shots combined with the murky cinematography and natural performances made viewing ALIEN an uncanny experience unlike anything I’d witnessed before. I spent most of the time watching the movie between the fingers of my left hand, which gripped my face tightly like an alien “facehugger.” By the end I had become a lifelong member of the Ridley Scott fanclub. Not only was ALIEN a great movie but it had also provided me with a female hero I greatly admired. Forget that bitchy broad Princess Leia, Ellen Ripley was my kind of space heroine! She was tough, smart, uncompromising and didn’t take shit from anyone. But in the face of incomprehensible danger she was also empathetic enough to worry about a cat. Last but not least, she managed to kill the monster all on her own without any help from the boys. You go grrrl! All the sexual innuendos in ALIEN (tentacle rape, white undies, etc.) went over my head at the time but I do remember feeling slightly unnerved by it. But feeling unnerved by a film is something I’ve come to deeply appreciate. It was only later when I started exploring H.R. Giger’s darkly erotic artwork that I would start to understand the sexual implications of Scott’s film.

I don’t remember discussing the movie much with my young companions. We were probably all in various stages of shock (at least I was anyway). I do remember coming home after seeing the film and being greeted by my mother who asked me about ALIEN and all I could muster was, “It was one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen!” Afterward I bought the novelization by Alan Dean Foster, collected the bubblegum trading cards (which I still own – see picture above for scanned evidence) and was inspired to buy my first film magazine, an issue of Famous Monsters featuring ALIEN on its cover. I read that magazine over and over again until it literally fell apart in my hands. Soon afterward I would buy more film magazines (Famous Monsters, Fangoria, etc.) and start reading reviews by film critics in my local newspapers, which led me to write my first movie reviews a few years later for my school paper. Seeing ALIEN in 1979 was one of the many important steps that led me to create Cinebeats 6 years ago.

Flash forward 12 years later . . .

I met my future husband at a screening of the director’s cut of BLADE RUNNER (1982) in 1991. Afterward we spent hours discussing the movie. The impact of falling in love while you’re immersed in the world of Phillip K. Dick as re-imagined by Ridley Scott and special effects guru Douglas Trumbull (2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, SILENT RUNNING, etc.) shouldn’t be underestimated. We’re celebrating our 15th anniversary this year and the foundation of our relationship owes a sliver of gratitude to Scott’s visionary science fiction film. Coincidentally, during our delayed honeymoon trip to the UK in 2000 we visited the London Museum where the Gladiators & Caesars: The Power of Spectacle in Ancient Rome exhibit was on display inspired by Scott’s film, GLADIATOR (2000). It was one of the most spectacular exhibits I’ve ever seen and it managed to make me feel like I could afford a trip to Italy as well as the UK that year. I must tip my hat to Scott for that as well.

Which brings me to PROMETHEUS (2012) . . .

Ridley Scott has always been a whipping boy for critics and while I haven’t liked all of the director’s films myself, I made time to see his third excursion into the realm of science fiction when it opened last week. Reviews of PROMETHEUS are unsurprisingly mixed but I personally enjoyed the movie a lot. It wasn’t without its problems and I had issues with the character development but as usual, Michael Fassbender managed to enthrall me. His performance as the android David was the key (or the finely stitched together monster) that held the film together.

All of Ridley Scott’s science fiction films can be linked to Mary Shelley’s gothic masterpiece, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, which happens to be my favorite work of fiction so it’s not too surprising that I’m drawn to Scott’s movies like a moth to a flame. Man’s desire to create life, both naturally and artificially, in an effort to fend off or put an end to our own mortality is ever present in Scott’s best work. In PROMETHEUS the director tackles these big ideas head on. Having only seen it once I don’t feel that I’m ready to really delve into the film’s execution but I was impressed with its depth and scope. It may not have hit every intended target but I appreciated how wide it was willing to throw its net. The production was stunning and I literally felt like I was walking through some of H.R. Giger’s paintings at times thanks to the wonders of modern film technology. I also enjoyed the way Scott’s film gently reminded viewers of the original ALIEN while embracing the new. PROMETHEUS seemed to want to mix the outright scares generated by ALIEN with BLADE RUNNER’s thoughtful slow-burn approach to maximize suspense. It worked well at times but I’d be a liar if I didn’t say I was hoping for a few more “jump out your seat” moments while watching PROMETHEUS. My desire to be scared witless undoubtedly colored my view of the film but I was able to put aside my expectations and enjoy the ride PROMETHEUS took me on. Overall, I think the film’s a fascinating and important addition to Scott’s patchy oeuvre.

So much has already been written about all of Ridley Scott’s film that its unlikely that I’ll throw my own hat into the ring but I may return to PROMETHEUS and write more about the movie in the future. In the meantime I’ll leave you with one of my favorite passages from Percy Shelley’s poem, Prometheus Unbound, followed by links to reviews of the film that I particularly liked.

This is the day, which down the void abysm
At the Earth-born’s spell yawns for Heaven’s despotism,
And Conquest is dragged captive through the deep:
Love, from its awful throne of patient power
In the wise heart, from the last giddy hour
Of dread endurance, from the slippery, steep,
And narrow verge of crag-like agony, springs
And folds over the world its healing wings.

Gentleness, Virtue, Wisdom, and Endurance,
These are the seals of that most firm assurance
Which bars the pit over Destruction’s strength;
And if, with infirm hand, Eternity,
Mother of many acts and hours, should free
The serpent that would clasp her with his length;
These are the spells by which to resume
An empire o’er the disentangled doom.

To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory.

Recommended Reading:
At the Cinema: Prometheus by Craig Bloomfield
Prometheus (2012) by Tony Dayoub
The Savior of Summer by Zach Baron
Recommended Viewing:
– Mark Kermode reviews PROMETHEUS on his radio show (video posted below).