It’s no surprise that Ridley Scott does not want to back a project with the name Alien. As a franchise, its respectability has been torn apart by unimpressive cash-ins and its association with the poorly-received Predator cross-overs. That’s probably why his latest work, Prometheus, isn’t advertised as a prequel to Alien, despite a large chunk of its target audience expecting it to be. Scott has described it as sharing “strands of Alien’s DNA”, and that’s fairly self-evident once you get further into the film, but its marketing hasn’t made a mention of the 1979 sci-fi, instead billing Scott as the director of Gladiator and Blade Runner, the latter of the two arguably a lesser-known work.
The great thing about this somewhat ambiguous connection is the freedom it’s given him: he’s set Prometheus and Alien in the same universe, but by refraining from giving the former a stereotypical, generic name like Alien: Legacy, he’s stripped away the audience’s expectation of constant references to the plight of the Nostromo. He’s created something that only drops occasional, subtle throw-backs to make the audience grimace knowingly; they’re almost like pop culture references in that you’ll feel good for catching them, without necessarily needing them to understand the film.
With that freedom, Scott’s created a whole new mythology surrounding the film. It’s compatible with Alien, yes, but only in that its subject matter is completely untouched by the ’70s classic. You may go as far to say that Prometheus answers a couple of questions from Alien, but poses new ones as well, maybe setting the foundations for an all-new franchise – and hopefully this time, one that doesn’t lose Scott alongside his drive and artistic vision. I’m not hyped for a Prometheus 2, but there’s plenty of scope for elaboration on either Prometheus’ or Alien’s stories individually.
Of course, one of the bigger factors might be in Alien’s age. After all, it’s been over three decades since the Xenomorph made its on-screen début, and fancy, big-budget sci-fi is a genre which now sees most of its interest from younger people, even if Ridley Scott’s name brought some older film fans into their local multiplex. Those younger fans will likely be more familiar with Aliens than Alien. Scott himself has pointed out that “[in Prometheus,] there’s a DNA of the very first Alien, but none of the subsequent [films]”, so I doubt that’s a connection he wants to emphasise.
Scott’s decision to forego the Alien title ultimately ought to be applauded; instead of latching onto a cult hit from many moons ago and using it to publicise his new project, he’s taken the opportunity to free himself from the boundaries imposed by its title and universally recognised antagonists. Now, let’s hope some more director-producers follow by his example…