Have Your Say: PROMETHEUS and the Influence of Fan Culture
Academic & theorist Fredric Jameson believed that one of the great cornerstones of postmodernism was/is nostalgia. Our desire to revel in the past, past joys and obsessions, means the reuse and recycling of images from our childhood, far past their expiry date. He could not have predicted how this would be compounded by the internet and social networking. These sites allow people to share information and connect with celebrities past and present, sharing their love of films and television shows from long ago, keeping their names alive, that in the past would have been long forgotten. In some cases, this is a good thing. New generations discover films they might otherwise had never known, and technology such as DVDs allows their rediscovery. But fan culture has reached new heights, I believe, because of social networking sites, and the internet, that allows praise of work, and perhaps coerces filmmakers to revisit work that would have otherwise had best been left alone.
This trend began with Star Wars (I know that the three new episodes, and the reediting and reworked editions of the first episodes occurred before social networking; stick with me.), which were arguably one of the two sets of films around around which fan culture began to revolve. The other being Star Trek, but Star Trek has almost continuously had various films and television shows, and so in its constant state of reinvention, is expected to change and evolve. The documentary The People vs George Lucas covers well the history of Lucas' 'tinkering' and fan reaction. As is well documented, Lucas not only changed much of the original episodes, he destroyed the original prints, which is quite catastrophic in stupidity. There was nothing wrong with the originals (as evidenced by the films' popularity and endurance,) and to destroy the originals is a terrible loss to the history of American film. Whether it was his right to do so, as the originating artist, is another argument.
Which brings us to Prometheus. Without a doubt, Alien is one of the best sci-fi/horror films ever; its unique combination of questions of space exploration, human ignorance and sheer terror have stood the test of time. Each of the subsequent sequels have added to the series, expanding on the original mythology to bring in different themes on gender, motherhood, corrupt corporations, the military industrial complex, penal systems, etc etc. This mythology ended up centering around Ripley, one of the greatest characters in film, male or female. One of the things that makes the original film so great is that her gender is irrelevant; then again, the sequels all had a different take on her as a character and a woman.
Did there ever need to be sequels to Alien? Probably not, but they worked out well (albeit to varying degrees.) But Ripley's story concluded with Alien Resurrection. There really wasn't a story left to tell. Or so we would have thought. Director Ridley Scott had said he always wondered who the space jockey was. Where did its ship full of eggs come from? Why was it there? And how was it connected to the aliens?
Which brings me back to the influence of fan culture. The internet and all its trappings have allowed directors such as Scott to witness how beloved their films are. I don't think we have ever had such a proliferation of remakes and rehasings of old films and television shows as now. Part of this, of course, is the inability of Hollywood to either think of or take risks on original stories. Another part is nostalgia, and legions of fans who devote websites and twitter feeds to their favourite movies, allowing producers and distributors to see potential millions in the fans who would flock to see remakes, sequels and reinventions. Some have a logic, such as The Muppets and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; programs enjoyed by children who are now adults and have kids of their own to whom to pass on the love. Some, such as Footloose, are little more perplexing.
Making another Alien film seems logical from a purely financial standpoint. Its fan base is huge and it's already made more than $35 million its first weekend in Europe. But what about an artistic one? Would this have happened, say, ten years ago? While a great director, Scott's recent films have been less than stellar. I'm certainly not saying that he shouldn't be praised for his great work. But since the announcement of a sequel to his other great work, Blade Runner, I have been asking myself: why now? Is the time right for these new films? Will it get a new generation to love and appreciate the originals, in a way that they would not have, were it not for these prequels/sequels? Considering how easy it is to view the originals, I doubt it. The fact that the original screenwriter of Blade Runner might write the sequel is a good sign (though I'm not sure how it would connect to the book on which it is based, Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, unless it included parts of the book that were left out of the film.)
Could Scott not have made a completely new film? Was a direct connection to Alien necessary? Each of the sequels was done by different screenwriters and directors, so there is an argument for another take on the story. But, in my opinion, one of the things that made the original film terrifying was that we didn't know anything about the space jockey; we didn't know where it came from or how the alien eggs got on board. The unknown is the scariest thing of all.
So did we bring this on, as fans? In our constant discussion and praise of films we love, are we telling Hollywood that we want more of the same stories, when we are simply giving love to stories that are complete? Are we to blame if the result is a disaster, or to thank if it is a success? That last statement will of course depend on your opinion of the film. In the case of Prometheus, if it had been directed by someone other than Scott, and/or had nothing to do with the original films, would we love it or hate it more or less? Are we, as much as Hollywood, to blame for the stifling original work in favour of retreading old ground?
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