With the release of Alien Covenant, it’s time to put to bed everyone’s favourite argument about everyone’s least favourite prequel. I’m sure you’ve heard a variant of this complaint before: “The problem with Prometheus is it’s set before Alien but the technology looks better”; or, maybe “I would have liked Prometheus if it had stuck with the retro 80s idea of the future from the Alien films.” I think Prometheus is a bad film, but this argument misses its real faults. It’s the modern obsession for logically nit-picking at movies masquerading as an aesthetic concern. It sides with nostalgic familiarity over the innovative and creative. Ultimately, it’s not a way of looking at film that will help us spot when something really new and original comes along.
While there are a few satisfying explanations for why the technology in Prometheus would be slicker than the clunky monitors of Alien (a common one seems to be that the Prometheus mission was far better funded), the need for an explanation misses the point. It’s natural for films to adapt their vision of the future with the changing times, just as our idea of the past has updated with historical study. To not change makes it difficult for a film to stand on its own two feet with new audiences; in the case of a sequel or prequel, it makes it dependent on the original audiences. Take Mad Max: Fury Road for instance, a film that radically overhauled the iconic look of the originals to use new special effects. Why was Fury Road praised for its visuals while Prometheus was criticised for them? There’s a few possible answers. For one thing, Fury Road deliberately blurred the line between sequel and remake, partly by way of its audacious visuals. The world of Fury Road is also so high octane that it makes it almost plausible that society would accelerate into a sun-bleached desert in Max’s lifetime. But let’s face it, the real reason is that more imagination and effort went into the visuals of Fury Road and it just looks cooler.