Friday, July 29, 2011
Alien Terror Times Two: Prometheus and Aliens: Colonial Marines
It looks like next year is going to be a doozy for Alien fans:
* News of a Ridley Scott-directed Alien prequel, entitled Prometheus, has been in circulation since 2009. During the last few weeks, a plot summary of Prometheus appeared online and Scott himself made an appearance via teleconference at an SDCC panel devoted to Prometheus. Each of these instances gave Alien fans broad hints of what to expect from Scott's next contribution to the franchise. According to what has been released about the prequel so far, we'll learn much more about the origins of the derelict, biomechanical alien spacecraft that was first encountered on planet LV-426 by the Nostromo crew in Alien. Prometheus is slated for release in 2012.
* On the video game front, rumors of a first person shooter game called Aliens: Colonial Marines have also been in circulation for years. During the recent E3 conference that was held last month, Sega unveiled a few minutes of demo footage of Colonial Marines to provide an idea of what players will see in the next major Alien game. According to the press release and interviews with game developers, the game will be released in 2012 and will feature missions that take place in the adrift Sulaco spaceship, on LV-426, and in the derelict alien spacecraft itself.
What could these two upcoming releases mean for the future of the Alien franchise? Read on for a few ideas. WARNING: There are some minor spoilers ahead, most of which have to do with Prometheus. If you want to avoid knowing anything about the Alien prequel at this time, stop reading now.
The Alien franchise has been in a mostly dormant state for over a decade. If you consider the only true Alien canon to be the Alien movies, then the last Alien-only film was Alien Resurrection, which was released in 1997. There have been plenty of Alien comic books since then, as well as many Aliens vs. Predator comic books, movies and video games, but nothing that truly advanced the story that started in Alien has appeared in a long time. (Then again, depending on how you look at it, none of the Alien sequels continued the story of the titular Aliens themselves, just the story of Ellen Ripley.)
Many of the problems with the Alien franchise happened behind the scenes of Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection. While I appreciate respective contributions of David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet to the Alien franchise, accounts of what took place during the productions of both of their films strongly indicate that neither Fincher nor Jeunet were permitted much creative freedom when dealing with 20th Century Fox, the owner of the Alien license.
The Aliens comic books by Dark Horse provided some solid Alien stories for fans who wanted more deep space horror but most of the comics were little more than minor variations on the plot of Aliens, with Colonial Marines encountering a large hive of Aliens. Even the three-part miniseries story arc of the Alien invasion of Earth--the story that early ads for Alien 3 promised but never delivered--turned out to be anti-climactic and forgettable.
The Alien video games did not fare much better. Most of the games, such as Rebellion's Aliens vs. Predator titles and arcade shooters such as Alien 3: The Gun and Aliens: Extermination were largely first person shooters that either took place between Aliens and Alien 3 or after Alien 3. These games faithfully re-created sounds and settings from all four Alien movies, they didn't do much to push the franchise into new narrative territory. (That said, Rebellion did pull off a pretty impressive feat in their third Aliens vs. Predator game by effectively portraying a sympathetic Alien character known as "Specimen 6".)
The arrival of Prometheus promises to facehug new life into the Alien franchise. Even though this film is billed as a prequel, it looks like the story of Prometheus will expand the scope of the Alien saga considerably. According to the plot summary that has been released, the prequel is about the crew of a spaceship named Prometheus that are sent (presumably by Weyland-Yutani) to find the home world of the "ancient astronauts" who were responsible for humanity's existence on Earth. Given that this is a prequel, it's safe to assume that the home world that is found is also the home world of the Aliens and the dead Space Jockey that was seen in Alien. Whether the Space Jockey was one of the original ancient astronauts or one of their biomechanical creations remains to be confirmed.
On the basis of this plot, a few intriguing notions come to mind:
* I've read for years since the release of Aliens that many people--Alien franchise fans, cast and crew alike--would love to see an Alien sequel take place on the Alien home world. We're finally getting that kind of a story, but it's happening in a prequel, not a sequel. Does this mean that Prometheus is setting the stage for a series of stories that complement the Alien saga but take place on a much larger scale?
* One of the best things about the original Alien is how it captured the essence of the movie's single word title. Between the performances by the cast, the visual disigns by H.R. Giger, Ron Cobb and Chris Foss, and the direction of Scott, the movie conveyed the feeling of what it would be like to encounter an unknown and truly alien life form for the first time, in all of its messy, disorienting and chest-bursting glory. Few other monster movies capture that kind of a feeling and without it, I doubt that the original Alien story as written by Ronald Shusett and Dan O'Bannon would've had nearly the same impact. With Scott and Giger both involved in Prometheus, I wonder if they'll be able to take audiences back into the dark, terrifying and biological unknown.
* Even though the concept of "ancient astronauts" is closely associated with Erik von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods and has been used by many other science fiction narratives (including Paul W.S. Anderson's Alien vs. Predator movie), Prometheus looks to be plunging headlong into H.P. Lovecraft territory of "ancient gods from beyond the stars". It's only fitting--Alien obviously used Lovecraft's single novella, At the Mountains of Madness, as a point of inspiration and it looks like we'll be seeing more of the same in Prometheus (maybe a nod to Lovecraft's "The Whisperer in Darkness" short story?). With Guillermo del Toro's film adaptation of Mountains of Madness has been postponed indefinitely due to budgetary issues (read: the studios are too cheap to finance it), Prometheus may be the only big-budget Lovecraftian insanity we'll be seeing on the big screen for a long time.
How the plot of Prometheus will affect the release of Sega's Aliens: Colonial Marines game is unknown, but there have been some hints of some link between the two projects. Some have speculated that the long delay of the development and release of Colonial Marines was imposed so that it could be revised to have some connection to Prometheus. I suspect that the game's mission involving the derelict alien spacecraft will feature a connection to the prequel. The ultimate fate of the derelict alien spacecraft was one of the great unanswered questions in the Alien saga, and it could be that the soldiers who investigate the wreckage in Colonial Marines discover new, bone-chilling secrets that previous human visitors to LV-426 did not.
For as much as the game play imitates the action sequences of Aliens (as well as the game play of other Alien games that feature colonial marines), preview footage from Colonial Marines indicates that this will probably be the most visually impressive Alien game to date. Furthermore, Colonial Marines will be released on the upcoming Nintendo Wii U console, a console that promises to add even more levels of interactivity into video gaming than the previous Wii system, interactivity that will be made possible by motion controls, high quality graphics, and a touchscreen display. With so much potential, it would be foolish for 20th Century Fox ignore the opportunity to provide some tie-in between Prometheus and Colonial Marines, so it's just of matter of determining what the exact connection will be and what it will mean for other Alien games (if anything).
Indeed, Alien fans have much to look forward to in the coming year. If you cannot wait that long, though, there is also the upcoming Aliens: Infestation game for the Nintendo DS, which is slated for release this fall. (You can watch a preview video for the game here.) While Infestation promises to include similar settings and situations as Colonial Marines, the DS game will only be a 2D, side-scrolling shooter game; thus, I don't think the DS game will be as intense as Colonial Marines and I doubt that it will have any connections to Prometheus, but it'll be something to pass the time until 2012 arrives.