Watched as part of the June 2017 Letterboxd Scavenger Hunt
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#27 and 28: Two Science Fiction Films With Similar Themes So You Can Compare And Contrast Them

2017 movie viewings, #88 and 89. This was a particularly great task to come across in one of these scavenger hunts, because it gave me an excuse to do something I've wanted to do for a long time, which is to watch the original 1979 Alien and its 2012 "reboot" Prometheus back-to-back, both of them directed by genre veteran Ridley Scott, although under writer circumstances that couldn't have been more different. (The former was written by Dan O'Bannon, a hippie from the "paranoid conspiracy" wing of the countercultural movement, whose only feature-film credit before this was the John Carpenter absurdist stoner classic Dark Star, and who managed to get himself banned from the Alien set because he turned out to be so difficult to get along with; while the latter was written by Damon Lindelof, essentially the #2 at JJ Abrams' fabled "reboot factory" of quickie journeyman screenwriters that has basically taken over Hollywood in the last 15 years, who are all precisely known for slick but empty scripts that are super-friendly to the corporate executives bankrolling the trillion-dollar Bad Robot blockbuster machine.)

And indeed, as embarrassing as this is to admit, I realized when watching Alien the other night that it was probably the first time I had ever actually sat and seen the entire film from beginning to end without interruption (versus the endless twenty-minute snippets I caught on cable as a teen; it's actually James Cameron's 1986 sequel Aliens, released my senior year of high school, that I'm much more familiar with as a full-length uninterrupted movie); and that when watched from start to finish, the 1979 original is essentially a perfect movie, in the sense that I couldn't think of a single solitary thing about it that could be changed for the better. And in this, O'Bannon actually deserves a lot more credit than his troubled career as a screenwriter usually affords him (a film student in southern California at the same time as now-fabled wrter/directors like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola, his abrasive personality prevented him from having the same kinds of success, eventually helming Total Recall but with the rest of his career stuck in B-pic projects like Lifeforce, C.H.U.D. and The Return of the Living Dead); because with Alien he got things exactly right, turning in a script that was part science-fiction, part horror, part slacker comedy (Harry Dean Stanton's "fuck you, where's my paycheck?" character Brett is essentially lifted directly from Dark Star), part '70s anti-corporate conspiracy thriller (Ian Holm's renegade android character Ash, who goes psychotically insane after being secretly instructed by his bosses to protect the alien they've picked up, even if it means killing the human crew, is an integral part of this movie being so exciting), all wrapped up by director Scott in a dirty, grungy look that was a subversive marvel for the science-fiction genre at the time, a deliberate attempt to create an indie-feeling "New Hollywood" character-based blue-collar film, only set in space in this case.

So what a disappointment, then, to watch Prometheus immediately afterwards, and to realize that it's about the most opposite experience from the original that you could possibly even make: muddled where the original was clear, plodding where the original was nail-biting, too obsessed with big-budget effects where the original was actively rebelling against them, with boring characters and a boring storyline and no subversion and a central premise that manages to simultaneously be both too complicated and too simplistic. A film that exactly succeeds at the things its corporate masters wanted, this ironically is the exact reason it's unwatchable, and when watched back-to-back with the 1979 original is such a heartbreaking example of everything that's gone wrong with Hollywood over the last 40 years, it made me want to weep over everything in mainstream filmmaking we used to have but we've now lost. I could go on and on a lot more about Prometheus's problems, but I won't because the movie literally doesn't deserve the wasted breath; so instead I'll passionately urge you to see the 1979 original if you never have, which I'm now convinced is destined by history to be eventually remembered as one of the most culturally and artistically important films of the entire 1970s. When paired with 1981's Blade Runner, it's a chance to see Ridley Scott at his creative height, before things with both him and Hollywood in general started going so disastrously, unforgivably wrong.

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