Do you count yourself in that group of cinephiles who have spent years and years patiently waiting for Ridley Scott to get back in the saddle? We thrilled to Alien, where primal closed-in panic collided with a cast furrowed by seemingly unmarketable space-weariness, and to Blade Runner, whose pervasive uncleanliness and lingering ambiguity similarly raised it above its futuristic genre trappings. When we couldn’t catch a screening of Barry Lyndon, we even reveled in the Napoleonic glisten of The Duellists. But alas, as certain critical opinions hold, the psychic tautness grounding the elaborate production of those first few films eventually melted away, injecting pockets of discomfiting emptiness into a White Squall, or of bloated grandeur into a Gladiator. We don’t complain that Scott has stopped working; we complain that he’s stopped working to our exacting (and probably unfair) specifications.
But rumors of a distant Blade Runner sequel have surfaced, and the June release looms of Prometheus, a prequel to Alien. Could Scott have found his way back to whatever creative well nourished him so richly in the late seventies and early eighties? Either way, he’ll ride what looks like a groundswell of renewed interest in the Alien universe. In recent weeks, I saw enough midnight-movie types wearing T-shirts advertising an entity called “Weyland-Yutani” that, with assistance from Google, I remembered its place as the Alien’s presiding force of corporate amorality. Things have come along for the company; where once its brand existed only as a recurring crate stamp in Alien‘s backdrop, now its CEO is giving a dramatically shot TED talk on the state of mankind.
Could this be a two-in-one shot in the arm for both Scott and TED, an intermingling of reality and fantasy that revitalizes both the director’s and the conference enterprise’s sense of creative risk-taking? CEO Peter Weyland, as played by Guy Pearce, stirs up his crowd with the bold claim that, what with the intelligence humanity can now create, perhaps we’ve become the gods. But Weyland’s talk comes courtesy of the future, which is also Alien‘s past: “now” means 2023, 62 years before the events of Prometheus. As for how, precisely, Weyland’s prophetic grandstanding — a behavior not unknown at TED’s events, though at least we now see they’re in on the joke — connects with Prometheus and the established canon of Alien movies we won’t know for a few months. Until then, you can watch the new film’s trailer and speculate for yourself about whether it can possibly recapture that essence of paranoid isolation that made the original such an enduring cinematic experience.