Filmmakers are both visual artists and storytellers, and, when they take both responsibilities seriously, we often get great movies. The 1979 sci-fi/horror film Alien is a case in point – a beautiful movie that tells an engaging and coherent story. Alien was directed by Ridley Scott, who also made the unassailable sci-fi classic Blade Runner back in 1982, and was knighted by the Queen of England in 2003. He is Sir Ridley Scott now, and that respect is well-earned. However, lately he seems more interested in visuals than storytelling. It’s a nagging, consistent shortcoming that rears its head once again with the long-gestating Alien prequel, Prometheus. This new film is artfully beautiful, but in storytelling terms, it’s unbalanced. It’s a clever science fiction movie, and a lousy horror movie.
The plot follows a team of scientists who proceed on faith to a distant moon in search of the origins of mankind. When they land, they find that our creators want to kill us. To the film’s credit, this is a nifty sci-fi conundrum: Is it rational to have faith in our creator when we would seem to be such a hostile and dangerous creation? The same theme is illustrated in the fascinating relationship of mutual contempt between the ship’s android and the rest of the crew. The android knows his creators personally, and knows full well that they are far from benevolent, far from divine. This makes him wiser, and, in many ways, more human than his fellow travelers. While exploring this theme, Prometheus feels like a great science fiction movie.
As a monster movie, however, it’s inarticulate. As did Alien, this new prequel has fun with our fear of parasitic infection. Oh, does it have fun. However, this time the hapless space travelers are set upon by a veritable Pandora’s Box of interstellar bugaboos, none of which get a toehold into the plot. The film never settles on a villain, and this creates an un-developing tension, if any tension at all. All the ravishing beauty of Prometheus cannot fully compensate for the lack of dramatic momentum in its story.
Nevertheless, the cast is very enjoyable. Michael Fassbender steals the film as the aloof android. Charlize Theron and Idris Elba deserved more screen time; they were good characters. The heroine is played by Noomi Rapace, who gives a great physical performance in an underwritten part. Her character champions faith in a film that eviscerates faith. I think the screenwriters owed her more than just a starring role. Ah well, it was not to be. Maybe the Greek Titan Prometheus stole fire from the gods, and maybe the characters in this movie played with fire too, but Ridley Scott and the screenwriters have, in some ways, crashed to earth. Which reminds me: Charlize Theron’s character arc is the lamest since Boba Fett’s back in 1983, with phony apologies if it makes me a sci-fi nerd to say that.
If you want to enjoy an ingenious science fiction/horror film, Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien is a feat for the ages. The production design is a kind of beautifully disturbing art. The environments are unapologetically mysterious. The symphonic score is amazing. The characters are lived-in and lovable. The brilliant cast includes a very young Sigourney Weaver and a very authentic Harry Dean Stanton. The pacing is exquisitely, tauntingly glacial while the walls close in on our heroes. I would also argue that Alien does not look like it was made in the seventies, which cannot quite be said of that decade’s other best-looking flicks: Star Wars, Jaws, Close Encounters, chime in if others come to mind. Alien was ahead of its time. Check it out sometime, but be advised: It demands your full attention. This absolute masterpiece benefits from immersion in the visuals and the music.
Stories are everywhere and influence us all in deep ways. One of the key concepts of Quixote Consulting’s Influence: The Power of Persuasion training is the power of the story to influence yourself and the people who matter to you. Storytelling in business (and all of life) happens every moment of the day. We tell ourselves stories all the time – it’s how we make sense of the world. By telling a new story, we can change the story that people tell themselves. When you’re trying to influence for a mutually better outcome, what is the quality of the story you tell?