Have Your Say: PROMETHEUS and the Influence of Fan Culture

WARNING: SPOILERS

Academic & theorist Fredric Jameson believed that one of the great cornerstones of postmodernism was/is nostalgia. Our desire to revel in the past, past joys and obsessions, means the reuse and recycling of images from our childhood, far past their expiry date. He could not have predicted how this would be compounded by the internet and social networking. These sites allow people to share information and connect with celebrities past and present, sharing their love of films and television shows from long ago, keeping their names alive, that in the past would have been long forgotten. In some cases, this is a good thing. New generations discover films they might otherwise had never known, and technology such as DVDs allows their rediscovery. But fan culture has reached new heights, I believe, because of social networking sites, and the internet, that allows praise of work, and perhaps coerces filmmakers to revisit work that would have otherwise had best been left alone.

This trend began with Star Wars (I know that the three new episodes, and the reediting and reworked editions of the first episodes occurred before social networking; stick with me.), which were arguably one of the two sets of films around around which fan culture began to revolve. The other being Star Trek, but Star Trek has almost continuously had various films and television shows, and so in its constant state of reinvention, is expected to change and evolve. The documentary The People vs George Lucas covers well the history of Lucas' 'tinkering' and fan reaction. As is well documented, Lucas not only changed much of the original episodes, he destroyed the original prints, which is quite catastrophic in stupidity. There was nothing wrong with the originals (as evidenced by the films' popularity and endurance,) and to destroy the originals is a terrible loss to the history of American film. Whether it was his right to do so, as the originating artist, is another argument.

Which brings us to Prometheus. Without a doubt, Alien is one of the best sci-fi/horror films ever; its unique combination of questions of space exploration, human ignorance and sheer terror have stood the test of time. Each of the subsequent sequels have added to the series, expanding on the original mythology to bring in different themes on gender, motherhood, corrupt corporations, the military industrial complex, penal systems, etc etc. This mythology ended up centering around Ripley, one of the greatest characters in film, male or female. One of the things that makes the original film so great is that her gender is irrelevant; then again, the sequels all had a different take on her as a character and a woman.

Did there ever need to be sequels to Alien? Probably not, but they worked out well (albeit to varying degrees.) But Ripley's story concluded with Alien Resurrection. There really wasn't a story left to tell. Or so we would have thought. Director Ridley Scott had said he always wondered who the space jockey was. Where did its ship full of eggs come from? Why was it there? And how was it connected to the aliens?

Which brings me back to the influence of fan culture. The internet and all its trappings have allowed directors such as Scott to witness how beloved their films are. I don't think we have ever had such a proliferation of remakes and rehasings of old films and television shows as now. Part of this, of course, is the inability of Hollywood to either think of or take risks on original stories. Another part is nostalgia, and legions of fans who devote websites and twitter feeds to their favourite movies, allowing producers and distributors to see potential millions in the fans who would flock to see remakes, sequels and reinventions. Some have a logic, such as The Muppets and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; programs enjoyed by children who are now adults and have kids of their own to whom to pass on the love. Some,  such as Footloose, are little more perplexing.

Making another Alien film seems logical from a purely financial standpoint. Its fan base is huge and it's already made more than $35 million its first weekend in Europe. But what about an artistic one? Would this have happened, say, ten years ago? While a great director, Scott's recent films have been less than stellar. I'm certainly not saying that he shouldn't be praised for his great work. But since the announcement of a sequel to his other great work, Blade Runner, I have been asking myself: why now? Is the time right for these new films? Will it get a new generation to love and appreciate the originals, in a way that they would not have, were it not for these prequels/sequels? Considering how easy it is to view the originals, I doubt it. The fact that the original screenwriter of Blade Runner might write the sequel is a good sign (though I'm not sure how it would connect to the book on which it is based, Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, unless it included parts of the book that were left out of the film.)

Could Scott not have made a completely new film? Was a direct connection to Alien necessary? Each of the sequels was done by different screenwriters and directors, so there is an argument for another take on the story. But, in my opinion, one of the things that made the original film terrifying was that we didn't know anything about the space jockey; we didn't know where it came from or how the alien eggs got on board. The unknown is the scariest thing of all.

So did we bring this on, as fans? In our constant discussion and praise of films we love, are we telling Hollywood that we want more of the same stories, when we are simply giving love to stories that are complete? Are we to blame if the result is a disaster, or to thank if it is a success? That last statement will of course depend on your opinion of the film. In the case of Prometheus, if it had been directed by someone other than Scott, and/or had nothing to do with the original films, would we love it or hate it more or less? Are we, as much as Hollywood, to blame for the stifling original work in favour of retreading old ground?
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  • Xaris

    there are universes that the director can revisit and universes that he should not. one of them is Blade Runner. I mean, what's the point? They are never gonna find another Roy or Tyrell to cast. They are never gonna make as great an atmosphere with digital effects. And who's gonna make the music this time? I've read two book sequels by other authors and they didn't stand up to the original. Again, as a fan of Blade Runner, please don't do this

  • Ard Vijn

    What is happening here is not so much directors being influenced by socially networked fan admiration as film companies noticing trends a bit better.



    In the case of Ridley Scott, he's been trying to get a new ALIEN film off the ground ever since the first movie. His displeasure at 20th Century Fox choosing James Cameron's project over his own is well known (Cameron even had to deal with a hostile English crew which actively disliked him for having taken the job away from Scott). More bafflingly, decades later the studio said "No" to a new project with both Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver attached, and chose Anderson's ALIEN VS PREDATOR instead.



    And now we have PROMETHEUS. My guess is that the fan reaction to the DVD re-releases of the four original ALIEN films did cause the Studio to deduce that a return of Ridley Scott to the franchise would actually be a marketable event.

  • stripeycat

    i would have thought that in this case, the director, as often seems to be the same where directors try to tread ground that has supposedly already been covered within a backstory (but which we as the viewers haven't as yet witnessed), was definitely influenced by public sentiment.

    I can only try to imagine the kind of trepidation someone like the man who tried to piece this together would have experienced in hoping to create something that would please millions of fans around the world anxiously hoping that the production would not turn out to be a pile of poop. And, a pile of poop which would be held up in comparison to and examined against both the original masterpiece, as well perhaps as with Scott's extravaganza of 1982.

    Don't know if fans should or shouldn't shoulder the lion's share of the blame here, but then, why does the movie machine bother making -any- sequels and, more recently perhaps, prequels? To give us more of what we want or more of what they're trying to guess we want, and to get those cash registers singing again?

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