Ask anyone about their first horror movie. Everyone responds differently, but you always see the same look in their eyes, a look of fear and awe I can’t even begin to articulate. That’s because our earliest horror movie experience leaves the boldest mark and, on a deep psychological level, ignites our passion for this kind of stuff. Nobody forgets their first time.
For me that film was Alien. I was ten years old and traumatized beyond belief. I watched most of it through my fingers, and it took several years and five more viewings for me to build up the gall to watch John Hurt’s chestburster sequence in its entirety. But during my first sleepless night, a strange thought popped into my head: I wanted more. I was born anew, transformed into what Bob Burns affectionately calls a “monster kid.” My love affair with fright blossomed with James Cameron’s Aliens and countless more sci-fi/horror films through the years. I wrote letters to Fox as a kid. I wanted to learn everything about movie making and devoured every book and magazine about the business. And eventually I got to work in it.
In short, the Alien series changed my life.
Back in my movie critic days, I wrote the first review for the god-awful Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. In it I criticized Fox for wrecking both franchises with bad ideas and hack filmmakers instead of making Robert Rodriguez’s Predator 3 or another Ridley Scott/James Cameron movie. Let it never be said that studios don’t listen to criticism because a few years later Fox has given us Predators (with decidedly mixed results) and, more importantly, Prometheus: Sir Ridley’s grand return to the Alien universe.
The project has been shrouded in secrecy since it was announced, and there’s been a lot of flip-flopping regarding its place in the series, but by now it’s blatantly obvious that Prometheus is an Alien film at heart. And that excites the ever-living shit out of me. I love how Scott & Co. are expanding the story by making a movie about the world around Alien instead of going through the motions of a standard sequel/prequel and the obligations that come with it. The universe is a big place, after all. There’s a lot more out there to be afraid of.
As Fox rolls out trailers and viral videos, I now find myself with feelings and sensations I haven’t experienced in over 20 years. That’s saying a lot for a franchise I thought could never be redeemed. It’s the kind of project you always dream about but hardly ever see, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I was this excited over a film.
Yet, amidst all this there’s something that has me worried: murmurs of a clash with the studio over the rating. It’s the age-old battle of art vs. commerce. Fox wants a PG-13. Ridley Scott wants an R. I’ve heard this not just through the internet but also from industry people I trust, and Damien Lindelof’s comments at last summer’s Comic-Con panel seemed like a sly tip-off as to what’s happening behind-the-scenes.
Normally, I don’t get all knee-jerky over a film’s rating. It’s hardly the deciding factor in what makes a quality movie. That being said, at least two different people I know with ties to the production have stated that Ridley shot “the goriest footage I’ve ever seen.” This seems to coincide with the director’s early promise that this installment would be “mean and nasty” and top everything we’ve seen before. The teaser seems to imply that the menace is something infectious or parasitic, which also harkens back to Alien’s basic fear of invasive body-horror. Which means, in order for Prometheus to work, it has to make us squirm. And you just can’t do that with a PG-13.
Imagine if Alien had been made in today’s studio system. Would it have been nearly as iconic had Scott been tiptoeing around the film’s rating? Would we be talking about its realistic cast of foul-mouthed grease monkeys or visceral scares if it were chopped down to satisfy general audiences? I seriously doubt it. You can’t fear the scariest animal in the jungle if it’s been declawed.
Look, Prometheus is a summer tentpole movie. It cost a lot to make. I get it. So did Die Hard, Terminator and a slew of other successful hard-R franchises we quote on a daily basis. Just because number crunchers in marketing are casting blind predictions of box office figures doesn’t mean you have to settle for less. Summer movies have become increasingly frustrating because of this mentality. It’s the equivalent of the restaurant industry serving only Big Macs to reach “the widest audience possible” – sooner or later it’s going to leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. I think this is part of the reason why the business has taken a hit the last few summers: People want GOOD movies, not ones that try to cater to EVERYONE. And as we all know, it’s the good ones that stick around forever.
Whether or not Prometheus works remains to be seen, but there’s a reason we should be celebrating it: It restores artistry and maturity back to a franchise that was headed down the Saturday morning cartoon route. And it gives the creator of an iconic series a chance to take the reins and steer it into new territory. So please, Fox, let Ridley Scott make the movie he wants (there are way too many versions of his film as it is). In the end, we might embrace Prometheus, we might not; it might be a hit, it might not. But we need this movie to be the best it can be. And that has always been the best ingredient for success.
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