[The Week in Geek is a weekly Tuesday column that plunges headfirst into a deep pool of genre geekiness without ever coming up for air.]
I'll never see 'Alien' with the eyes of someone who saw it theatrically in 1979. I've seen beautiful repertory prints and flawless digital transfers, but I didn't see 'Alien' until 'Aliens' was hitting home video. By the time I saw the film, sometime in early 1987, I'd already seen it imitated (and sometimes parodied) elsewhere. The film made an impact on me, because it's a great film, but I've always wondered how much more I might have loved it if I would've been a movie-goer in 1979 and not a four-year old.
In that way, movies can be "of-the-moment" just like live theater. Sure, they last and live on, but the fact that they do means that would-be imitators don't have to rely on their memories alone -- they can watch and re-watch until they're completely saturated with their "influence." It's been 32 years since 'Alien' was released, and we're still seeing films that riff (or rip-off) what director Ridley Scott accomplished decades ago.
There's an argument that people like to use to defend remakes that says essentially that no one has taken the original version away. It's still out there ready to be watched, even if a remake exists. While that's basically true, it ignores a bigger problem with remakes which is the possible dilution of strong art. Every remake affects the impact of the original, almost regardless of quality. 2006's 'Wicker Man' is a terrible version of 1973's 'Wicker Man,' and it soils the title. For anyone watching the 2006 version first, it ruins the ending and almost all of the shock of the 1973 film. Even an excellent remake like Zack Snyder's 'Dawn of the Dead' finds footing with a new generation of movie-lovers by giving the film an exciting, modern coat of paint, reducing Romero's 'Dawn of the Dead' to an interesting, somewhat talky footnote.
Regarding 'Alien,' the 'Alien' franchise has something in common with remakes -- a reduction of power. 'Alien' doesn't become a better movie because 'AVP: Requiem' exists. Over the decades, 'Alien's' sequels have battered Ridley Scott's film to the point where its impact is now reduced to a no-contest discussion over which is better -- 'Alien' or 'Aliens.' 'Alien' is better, but it's also more imitated (because it's better), making it feel more creaky and old-fashioned than the shoot-em-up 'Aliens.' We're so far removed from the original now, after so many decades of crass merchandising and influence on other inferior films, and it always hurts me when someone watches the 1979 film for the first time and dismisses it as "okay." It's not 'Alien' that's not that great -- it's the 32 years worth of damage done.
I'm glad Fox and Ridley Scott aren't just making an 'Alien' prequel. 'Prometheus' may or may not be about space jockeys or xenomorphs, but the mere fact that they're not saying "THIS IS THE SEVENTH ALIEN FILM" is a huge positive -- especially from Fox, a studio that never met a franchise it didn't like to un-creatively bleed to death. 'Alien' doesn't need any more 'Alien' films, but using that universe as a launching point for a whole new original movie is a very intriguing idea. It's your cake and eating it too. It won't undo the damage already done, but if we can get an exciting new sci-fi movie out of it, maybe we can beat 'Prometheus' to death for a while and leave 'Alien' alone.