Scott’s brainchild (Wait doesn’t that make him Prometheus ?)
I have said this before and I’ll say this again – No other living director has mastered more genres in his lifetime than Ridley Scott. In fact if you sat down one day and binge-watched all of his movies, you’d be wracking your brains at the sheer diversity of the kind of characters and stories he tells so much so that you’d find no discernible pattern among them, no recognizable “signature” as you call it. If Stephen King were a director, he would be Ridley Scott !
Don’t know what I am talking about ? Well, let me jog your memory and take you through a few of his masterpieces over the last decade. Well, for our convenience I will mention only those films among his prolific stock-pile, that have earned him an Oscar nomination. Starting with Gladiator which introduced us to Maximus and gave us one of the most spectacular Roman-era films ever, to Black Hawk Down which many count as one of the most realistic war movies of all time as it takes on a nerve-wracking journey with American soldiers as they set out on a manhunt mission inside resurgent Somalia, to the most recent sci-fi space adventure The Martian which was a entertaining adaptation of Andy Weir’s book by the same name garnering Matt Damon a Best Actor Oscar nomination last year. Just from these three films, you can realize the range at which Scott operates.
Due to this exact characteristic of his style, many people I know are baffled when I tell them that Ridley Scott directed the original Alien in 1979 and basically redefined third encounters into a more visceral form through deeply haunting steampunk spaceships and a primal organism which was basically impossible to kill. Co-written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, the film was so influential that other directors jumped onto the spaceship and took up the mantle to take the story forward. You probably may not have heard of those directors but well, just for trivia – The 1986 film Alien 2 or Aliens as we know it was directed by James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar), followed by Alien 3 by David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network). Soon after that the “Alien” character became an asset for 20th Century Fox and has become a pet-project for several other films that came out in the 2000s such as Alien vs Predator or AVP in 2004 directed by Paul Anderson, better known for his Resident Evil adaptations.
Even though Ridley Scott was barely involved in telling the story after 1979, it was clear that the concept had a lot of merit and needed to be told by the original story-teller. And it had to begin from the very beginning, the time before Alien. Ridley Scott came back to captain the helm of his ship in 2012 with Prometheus with the stellar cast of Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace and Idris Elba. Michael Fassbender’s character David, as we know, was based on Ian Holm’s character Ash who was revealed to be an android in the ’79 film. Ash had been assigned by Weyland Corporation to bring the alien back on the ship for analysis but it was never revealed what the purpose of the analysis was and why Weyland Corp. was willing to sacrifice the lives of Nostromo’s crew to get to the alien life-form.
The story of David
Prometheus brings in a much more nuanced treatment to the story. One which had been missing from all the other Alien successors which more often than not told a familiar story of a ship’s crew stumbling upon an old alien ship and rejuvenating a dormant life-form which then pays back its gratitude by killing all of them. Through the android David’s eyes, Prometheus establishes the story on the age-old question – Where did we come from ? Were humans a result of evolution or intelligent design ? With this profound premise, we watch David as he learns that humans were, in fact, the result of intelligent design just like him. Thus, we watch the gradual transformation of David from a simple assistant Android to a being which had realized that the human design is not perfect. There was no god who had designed the human form, but an advanced race who were as imperfect as humans. As we would gather at the end of the film, the story was about the Prometheus race who had given birth to mankind but it was also about the Prometheus David who would begin the genesis of the Alien as we know him today.
Continued by Ridley Scott, Alien : Covenant takes place 10 years later from when the crew of the ship Prometheus are killed except for Noomi Rapace’s character, the strong-willed Dr. Elizabeth Shaw who, with David’s help, is able to maneuver an alien spaceship and leaves the planet in search of other inhabited systems to find answers to the million-dollar question – Why were Humans created in the first place ? Alien : Covenant begins with the crew of a ship, named the Covenant, who receive unaccounted radio transmissions from a planet on their way to Origae-6 on a colonization mission. Besides the crew, the ship hosts about 2000 other humans in cryo-sleep who would be the future settlers of Origae-6. Accompanying the crew, is another android named Walter who is a an updated clone of David. A familiar story takes shape as traversing through the sullen landscape, a few of them are infected by unassuming egg-shaped plants which spew out cellular particles intelligent enough to assume shape in mid-air and enter into their orifices. All hell breaks loose as the infected crew-members gestate and “give birth” to aggressive and vicious alien beings which wipes most of them out in seconds. The remaining crew-members are saved by a stranger who turns out to be none other than David.
From thereon, we are introduced to a David who has evolved into Doctor Frankenstein. Through his interactions with his counterpart Walter, we are given a deeper glimpse into the character and the stark differences in their personalities. While Walter is measured and reserved in his countenance, David is much more passionate and creative as is shown in a strangely unsettling scene where he teaches Walter how to play the flute. For some reason this scene would remind you of the interaction between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling, as if a predator were silently playing with its prey. With each scene, more layers of the new David are revealed and we get to know the plight of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw which was a bit disappointing as we had come to fall in love with Noomi Rapace’s portrayal which had more than carried forward Sigourney Weaver’s legacy.
David’s cold, calculating and proud showcase of his work reveals the maniacal brilliance that we had never seen before. This may, perhaps, be Scott’s long-time qualm about Ash – the fact that he had not been able to explore that character as much in the first film. With Alien : Covenant, he redeems himself through the treatment of this complex character who has metamorphosed into a crusader of sorts, driven towards spreading his creation throughout the universe. In WestWorld we see robots grow consciousness and wake up to an uncomfortable reality that they are not real people with real memories. David may also have grown a consciousness and become a sentient being whose only purpose in his eternal life was to play god and give the stars to his “children”.
Ridley Scott’s David is a new-generation psychopath – one who has technology at it’s disposal and utilizes human DNA as expendable test-subjects to manufacture evolution. This premise not only gives a whole new dimension to the Alien franchise but may well become a self-sufficient David franchise which would not require the Alien legacy to become its foundation. I can just say that we are privileged enough in our lifetime to see this master at work, weaving one of the most elaborate spin-offs in movie history with some of the most profound premises ever. It would be intriguing to watch how David wreaks havoc on Origae-6. I also hope that not all of the humanoid beings from the Prometheus race are extinct and that at some point in the future they would intervene David’s madness. Maybe, that would spawn another prequel franchise where we would see the origin of their answer to Alien – the Predators. Nerdgasm !
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