While Ridley Scott’s Alien prequels may have been divisive among fans and critics, they ultimately hold together better than The Predator. Both the original Alien and Predator are fundamentally B-movie concepts; a monster stalks an isolated group of characters, picks them off one at a time until it's defeated by the last survivor. Of course, if they were nothing but silly horror flicks they wouldn’t be considered classics now. Alien has Ridley Scott’s taut direction and uncanny eye for visuals, a great ensemble cast and – of course – H.R. Giger’s nightmarish creature design. Predator has a perfect high-concept idea, a script dripping with quality one-liners and Arnold Schwarzenegger at the peak of his stardom.
As a result, it’s interesting to see how the Predator and Alien franchises have evolved alongside (and as a part of) each other. The original movies are quite focused but suggest a much wider mythology and so, through various sequels, video games, comics and even crossovers, they’ve both constructed a robust expanded universe for fans to explore. That said, many of the sequels have been greeted with mixed receptions. Predator 2 is a fun, gory action flick, but essentially xeroxed the structure of the original, while Alien: Resurrection’s mix of gothic horror and goofy comedy was greeted with bemusement. The less said about the reaction to the Alien Vs Predator movies, the better.
Whether they succeeded or not, each one of these sequels at least attempted something interesting. The same can be said for 2018’s The Predator, which was directed by Shane Black. Black had a history with the series, having played the role of Hawkins in the original, who is the first onscreen casualty of the titular hunter. Black’s gift with crafting great characters and dialogue is evident in the latest sequel, and the movie brings new elements to the series lore like the Predators upgrading themselves through DNA splicing. While the movie is fun it’s also something of a mess, and often spoiled by choppy editing.
While Scott’s Alien prequels might also be messy, they made a genuine attempt to push the series in a new direction – and in their own way, they kind of succeeded. Let’s take a look at how the Alien prequels and The Predator attempted to evolve their respective franchises, and why the former did a better job.
- This Page: What The Alien Prequels Got Right (And Wrong)
- Page 2: Why The Predator Is Weaker Than The Alien Prequels
The Alien Prequels Were Doing Something Really Interesting
It’s no secret Prometheus started life as a straight forward Alien prequel. The original script by Jon Spaihts was called Alien: Engineers, and while this draft and the final film are similar in structure, a lot changed once Damon Lindelof (Lost) was hired to rewrite. For years, Ridley Scott had stated he was disappointed none of the sequels explored the backstory of the dead Space Jockey creature seen in the original, and if he returned, that’s what he would focus on. Scott always saw the xenomorph as a biological weapon designed by these beings, and that’s what Alien: Engineers explored. The script contained all the classic tropes; eggs, facehuggers and new twists on the classic Giger design.
While this story got Scott excited enough to sign on, he wasn’t interested in making a monster movie. He felt the xenomorph had been "cooked" by decades of overexposure, and he wanted to make a movie exploring the relationship between God and subject, parent and child. Lindelof’s rewrites would zero in on this by removing a lot of the Alien references and turning the movie into more of a spinoff. In the story, a team of scientists tracks down their creators in the Engineers, only to learn their "parents" hate them and planned to wipe them out. Then there’s David 8 (Michael Fassbender), an android created by Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce). Despite being physically and mentally superior to the beings he serves, he’s treated with open contempt by them. There’s also Vickers (Charlize Theron) icy relationship with her father Weyland, and Shaw’s (Noomi Rapace) unwavering faith in God despite the wealth of evidence such a being doesn’t exist.
This is weighty subject matter for a mainstream blockbuster, and at times Prometheus poses fascinating ideas. Sadly, its hampered by faulty plot logic and characters beats; seriously, who tries to pet a clearly hostile alien snake? Alien: Covenant later had the tricky task of being a sequel to Prometheus and prequel to the Alien series, but it continued the creator/created subtext by revealing David tracked down the Engineer home planet and wiped it out using their own biological weapons. He then proceeded to experiment with their black goo, seeking to create his own perfect being – in this case, the xenomorph itself. The movie ends on a staggeringly bleak note that set up a third movie, but Covenant’s lukewarm financial performance means – sadly – David’s quest for self-made godhood is unlikely to receive a finale.
The Alien Prequels' "Problem" Is Actually A Strength
In spite of their strengths, the Alien prequels are undeniably flawed. Scott feels more engaged by the themes and visuals of these entries than the characters populating them, which is best illustrated by Shaw’s nasty fate in Alien: Covenant. Another controversial issue with the prequels is Scott’s open reluctance to actually use the xenomorph. He wanted to phase the beast out and focus instead on David 8, as he sees A.I. as the new alien lifeform. There’s a tip of the hat to the Giger design in Prometheus with the Deacon creature seen in the final scene, but nothing demonstrated Scott’s boredom with the xenomorph better than its reappearance in Alien: Covenant. The final act turns into a lame monster movie as a couple of weightless CGI aliens chase after the heroes, and these sequences hold none of the terrifying power of the original movie.
Scott’s plan to boot the xenomorph from its own series has been – predictably enough – controversial among the fanbase. However, in a strange way, this sidelining of the Starbeast actually works in the prequels favor, as it allows the narrative to focus on David instead. David 8 is far and away the most fascinating character of both movies; an intelligent, vain and calculating villain played with relish by Fassbender. The android’s hatred for his creators and quest to transcend his origins is what powers both movies, and opened up a wider universe for the series. Of course, it could be argued this theme is better suited to a Blade Runner movie than Alien, but however flawed the execution, the prequels made a real effort to reinvent the series.