Prometheus: Why Being Left In The Dark Is A Good Thing
Even if the upcoming Ridley Scott movie Prometheus turns out to be a steaming toilet-hugger instead of the Thrill Ride of the Summer, it has accomplished one thing very few movies have had the capacity for of late; that is holding the audience in both a state of anticipation and in suspense. This has been accomplished with a marketing effort that can only be considered masterful.
It can now be told that Prometheus is very much the Alien prequel it was presumed to be all along, but a prequel in the sense that it lives on the same timeline as the Alien universe resides. One movie does not end to begin the next, and yet there will be significant linkage to force the fans of Scott’s 1979 breakthrough into multiplex seats. Put it this way, this is not how Darth Vader came to be and then we see where that led. This would be more about the great-great-grandparents of Anakin Skywalker, to draw the analogy with the broadest strokes. This is about the stuff that happened way before the stuff.
What has been so great about how everything’s been handled up to this point is not what we’ve been told. It started with Scott’s initial statements of wanting to revisit that specific dark corner of the universe again, and fanboy nation lit up with glee over the prospect of more Alien films with the man that started it all.
It’s been a long time since the thought of going back there to LV-426 has been a good one, but not for lack of trying. James Cameron did surprisingly well by the premise, but that was because he understood it. Scott didn’t make a science-fiction movie initially, but instead made an Agatha Christie mystery set in a haunted house in space. That’s Alien in a nutshell. Cameron then made a war drama that was equal parts a broken-family drama, only it played out in a creepy crawly hive full of xenomorphs. Those who followed them had no wiggle room for reinvention, so David Fincher (Alien III) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie, The City of Lost Children) & Joss Whedon (yes, that Joss Whedon was a writer for Alien Resurrection) were stuck making Alien movies that were movies about Alien. They were saddled with the literal.
The Alien vs. Predator flicks that came after were little more than the over-stimulated wet dreams of the fan market too agitated to know that what they wanted and what was actually good were two separate things. They got explosions, carnage, star creeps, and that was it. It was a salad with no vegetables; all bacon bits and croutons, and it had equal capacity to nauseate. It also had the very strong possibility of destroying two of Fox’s most recognizable franchises (which is probably being very generous to Predator, which really only has the John McTiernan original to stand up for it).
Rant begins. I will leave this point alone for the most part, but would say that Fox had any number of ridiculously tempting possibilities on their table when it came to the Predator series, and faced with such a tempting array, they ate the packet of crackers instead, giving us gory b-movie fare instead. There was a whole societal order that could have been developed to make something damned near epic, and what did they do? They made a bunch of movies about a space Rastafarian that, like Ted Nugent, likes to hunt because “I likes ta hunt.” Rant ends.
It was a great time for Scott to step back into this realm because, frankly, it couldn’t get any worse. And any marketing division of any studio would give their eyeteeth, first-born and probably a testicle (perhaps not their own, but still) to pump Ridley Scott’s Return To Alien! Yet it didn’t go like that. The script was kept in a perpetual state of lockdown. No images were emerging, secrecy was sworn, and the primary thrust of press was that there was no press. Scott himself made denial his modus operandi, insisting the rules had changed. This was not an Alien movie, there’s nothing to see here, and bugger off.
Nobody is going to tell Ridley Scott what to do, but you can rightly imagine Fox wanted to, and wanted to very, very badly. Modern movie marketing now begins before the script is even completed. The treatment isn’t even emailed over before the marketing department is spreading the word around. On-set photos and details are disseminated, divulged and dissected on the internet before formal casting has even been finalized, and the final trailer for the movie winds up being more a two-minute version with a beginning, a middle, and far too much of an ending for anyone to even care about plunking down the $12-$15 dollars for a ticket afterward. Some of the worst experiences I’ve had at the movies in the past decade have been watching trailers that start off as intriguing, wind up telling me too much, and in the end make actually viewing the film superfluous. I saw it. It was the trailer, it was a free viewing and, frankly, it sucked.
The most masterful thing about Prometheus is that it has told us only what we needed to know at any given moment. It is science-fiction. It has basis in previous material. It will be similar in spirit to any number of previous efforts but might not actually be a part of those. Only recently has it come to light that, yes, this is the place where the Alien saga begins, but is not the most direct of descendants. Large parts of that info was not told to us, but was teased out and hinted at in the trailers, and because we weren’t told the entire story beforehand, we actually watched the trailers, searching for clues, making up assumptions and forging connections, and we talked about how it could pair up with our beliefs and preconceptions. In other words, everything that has come out up to this point has been carefully put out crumb-by-crumb to get you to actually go into the trap, which was what trailers and marketing were supposed to be about. They weren’t about giving you the YouTube edition.
So even if Prometheus ends up as disappointing, it has given back the audience of 2012 one thing it once had (or heard about) – the mystery and expectation of going to see a movie. The possibility of walking into the screening with a bunch of questions and almost no answers is a pleasing one, and one I hope Fox and the rest of Hollywood takes to heart. The audience wants to want.