I have an obsessive streak. When I like something, I really like it. That includes things like medium-rare steak and those songs I just have to listen to over and over again (perhaps by Kate Bush or the Electric Light Orchestra or Elbow or any number of tracks from popular film scores) but mostly I’m talking about books and films. In the case of the latter, the obsession that runs deepest is probably that classic science fiction horror movie from 1979 – Ridley Scott’s seminal Alien.
Alien is on my mind right now because I’ve recently seen the trailer for Prometheus, which is being touted as the prequel to what I usually cite as my favourite movie of all time. Prometheus is looking pretty exciting – not least because Ridley’s back at the helm. And yes, I’ll be the first to admit I’m an easy mark. I’m as susceptible as the next man to such fan-pleasing teaser shots as the Space Jockey rising out of the floor of the alien derelict, and the derelict itself appearing to topple from an unexpectedly upright position into the prone state we all recognise from the original movie. At the same time, I know there’s no guarantee the movie itself – by which I really mean the story – will be any good.
I was thirteen when Alien was released. It was the first film I got really obsessed with. Before it came out, I bought the novelisation, the excellent Scanlon and Gross Making of Alien book and scoured magazines like Starburst and Starlog for any preview photos I could find. Afterwards I bought the mind-blowing Giger’s Alien. At the time, I was convinced I wanted to be a film set designer, and all this stuff was just solid gold. Not to mention unbelievably cool.
I had to get my dad to sneak me into the theatre to see the film (Alien had an X-Certificate, so I was officially too young to be exposed to such corrupting material). Fortunately I was tall for my age and had chosen my bulkiest coat to wear. I vividly remember the signs in the foyer warning us about the strobe lighting and advising pregnant women to give it a miss. Talk about anticipation. The film more than lived up to my high expectations, and I’ve never been disappointed during the many repeat viewings I’ve enjoyed since, on both the big and the small screens. For me, that damn film just always works.
So, when I contemplate the idea of Prometheus, I do so with both trepidation and hope. I’m in my forties now, but that thirteen year-old kid is still inside me. I know that prequels and sequels frequently – perhaps usually – disappoint. But James Cameron’s follow-up to my beloved Alien proved to me that sometimes miracles do happen.
Aliens was a film I absolutely was not looking forward to. A military shoot-up from the Rambo II guy? Are you kidding? The whole idea was sacrilege. Then, some time in 1986, I found myself strolling through London’s Piccadilly Circus only to be brought up short by a window display in Tower Records. Staring out at me through the glass was a mannequin of what could only be some kind of super-evolved Giger creation (I later discovered it was a full-size replica of the Queen’s head and torso). I let go of my snobbery, and when I finally saw the movie I loved it to pieces.
As for Alien III and Alien Resurrection, I like them both in their own ways (check out the intriguing extended cut of the former, which gives you an insight into what the film might have been had David Fincher been given free rein), but they’re not a patch on their illustrious predecessors. And Prometheus? Only time will tell.
My attachment to Alien, strong as it is, has changed over the years. I called it an obsession. It certainly was to begin with; in some respect it still is, although I can’t summon those intense teenage feelings I experienced back in 1979. Still, the film feels like something that shaped me – perhaps because I was a teenager when I experienced it for the first time. That’s why the idea of Prometheus makes me feel just a little bit tingly, in the same way that on Christmas Eve – even now – I feel a little bit tingly too. Because, as old as I get, there’s still a part of me that believes – when the mood and the season are right – that there are fat men who slide down chimneys and glossy monsters skulking on haunted-house planets lost among the stars.